Learning Advice

Pass ICAO English Test

Aviation English Asia has a strong record in helping students succeed in aviation careers.  In this article we will explain the level of English proficiency needed to pass the ICAO English test. So, when it comes to Aviation English most people will tell you ICAO Level 4, but what does that really mean? In layman's terms, at ICAO Level 4 you should be able to listen to, read and discuss the main ideas, technical vocabulary and details in most professional material. At this level, you are able to participate in a more sophisticated or professional conversation regarding your specialized area of expertise. You can generally handle predictable and unexpected topics of communication. You need to show competence in 6 skills of the ICAO Language Proficiency Rating scale.

  • Pronunciation
  • Structure
  • Comprehension
  • Vocabulary
  • Fluency
  • Interaction

Let's examine what is required for each of those skills at ICAO Level 4: Pronunciation

Pronunciation, stress, rhythm, and intonation are influenced by the first language or regional variation but only sometimes interfere with ease of understanding.

This means that you have to speak in a way which is intelligible to the aeronautical community -  International English rather than British or American English.  It is acceptable that your pronunciation and accent are affected by your first language, eg Chinese and you are not expected to be a perfect speaker of English.  It is still expected that you will make some pronunciation errors, eg stressing the wrong part of the word or speaking in a broken rhythm but it's acceptable as long as it only sometimes interferes with understanding.

Structure

Basic grammatical structures and sentence patterns are used creatively and are usually well controlled. Errors may occur, particularly in unusual or unexpected circumstances, but rarely interfere with meaning.

Relevant grammatical structures are determined by language functions appropriate to the task.  This means that you need to be proficient in grammatical structures that are used in flight operations.  You should be able to express yourself with a variety of alternative structures and again, it is expected that you will make some grammatical errors.  This descriptor highlights that such errors could occur in non-routine situations, but the meaning is generally understood.

Vocabulary

Vocabulary range and accuracy are usually sufficient to communicate effectively on common, concrete, and work- related topics. Can often paraphrase successfully when lacking vocabulary in unusual or unexpected circumstances.

The key words here are common, concrete and work related topics.  You will need to know both general and aviation related vocabulary which could include everything from basic things like parts of an aircraft and weather conditions to health and physiology.  You should also have sufficient ability to paraphrase (eg explain using different words) in non-routine situations.

Fluency

Produces stretches of language at an appropriate tempo. There may be occasional loss of fluency on transition from rehearsed or formulaic speech to spontaneous interaction, but this does not prevent effective communication. Can make limited use of discourse markers or connectors. Fillers are not distracting.

Fluency is your ability to express yourself clearly without pausing too much.  You should also be able to use appropriate conjunctions.  It is acceptable to pause when changing from routine speech eg phraseology to spontaneous (instinctive) speech in interactions.  You shouldn't "um" and "ah" too much when thinking about what to say.

Comprehension

Comprehension is mostly accurate on common, concrete, and work- related topics when the accent or variety used is sufficiently intelligible for an international community of users. When the speaker is confronted with a linguistic or situational complication or an unexpected turn of events, comprehension may be slower or require clarification strategies.

Comprehension of different accents or variety of speech is a very important skill and needs to be "mostly accurate" on common, concrete and work-related topics.  It is expected that your understanding will be slower in non-routine situations. Comprehension refers to listening comprehension rather than reading.

Interactions

Responses are usually immediate, appropriate, and informative. Initiates and maintains exchanges even when dealing with an unexpected turn of events. Deals adequately with apparent misunderstandings by checking, confirming, or clarifying.

Another valuable skill is the ability to be able to ask questions to check that information is correct.  The responses should be appropriate and give the relevant information.  The speed of response should usually be immediate, even in non-routine situations.

How does an ICAO level relate to other tests like IELTS, TOEFL or TOEIC?

Good question.  If you you have an A grade in an English exam you'd probably be surprised if you failed an ICAO English test.  But that's exactly what happens to many applicants, who have all the skills 'on paper' but have great difficulty in communicating effectively in English - particularly in speaking and listening. Many school systems puts too much emphasis on performance in exams, and not enough on actual functional ability - so most English courses and language centres will not give you sufficient preparation for the ICAO English test. We've seen people with IELTS band 8 scores get ICAO level 3 scores in an ICAO assessment.  It's very difficult to compare other tests to ICAO.  Unlike other tests, ICAO scores are based on the lowest level that you achieve.  You could get a score of 5 for Pronunciation, Structure, Vocabulary, Comprehension and Interactions but if you only score 3 for Fluency then ICAO Level 3 is your final grade.

The best way to pass an ICAO English test The courses offered by Aviation English Asia Ltd are different because they focus exactly on the skills that you need to perform well in an ICAO test.  But you won't just train to pass the test, you'll be able to function in an aviation environment with greater safety and knowledge.  As you improve your English, you can also learn about aviation and improve your technical knowledge. Each stage contains 10 units of between 60-90 minutes each that will give you intensive practice of the skills you need to pass an ICAO test. 

What should I do now?

Just call +852 81799295 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and ask to arrange a consultation.  

Advice about improving your English and passing an ICAO English test from Aviation English Asia.

*** UPDATED FOR 2018 ***
In this updated version of an article we originally published in 2014, we de-emphasise the role of non-routine situations in ICAO English tests.  Non-routine situations do occur, but there is too much emphasis on non-routine situations among the Aviation English teaching community that can often neglect the need for developing proficiency in routine tasks for flight.  Therefore you should obtain advice from Aviation English Asia Ltd teachers in a consultation before you start a course, as the balance of routine-non-routine situations that are relevant to you at this particular time could be very different. 

As a pilot or controller, you are no doubt expecting a number of non-routine exchanges as part of your ICAO English test, but they don't get more unusual than this incident which occurred in August 2010. So with that in mind, read the article and then answer the questions. 

A crocodile

Crocodile causes panic among passengers and crew

It has been reported that a small airplane crashed in the Democratic Republic of Congo on 24th August 2010, killing all but one of the passengers.  The cause of the accident was an escaped crocodile which created panic among the passengers and crew. The propeller driven plane was approaching its destination when a crocodile hidden in the smuggler’s hand luggage escaped and caused distress. Passengers stampeded to one side of the tiny plane, causing it to be thrown off-balance. The original cause of the crash was originally thought to be a lack of fuel but the anonymous sole survivor has revealed their story to the magazine Jeune Afrique.  The crocodile also survived the crash, but was later killed with a machete by authorities. The reptile was being smuggled by a passenger who had plans to sell it illegally. The sole survivor told authorities that the crocodile escaped as the plane was on its final approach. "The terrified flight attendant hurried towards the cockpit, followed by the passengers." The pilots, 62-year-old Belgian Danny Philemotte, who was also owner of the tiny airline, Filair. Philemotte and his first officer, 39-year-old Briton Chris Wilson, were unable to maintain control of the Czech-made L-410 Turbolet once it became unbalanced.  The twin-engine plane crashed into a house just short of the regional airport at Bandundu killing the pilots and 18 passengers on board. The flight had originated in the capital city of Kinshasa. Experts say that such a crash would be rare. "It's possible. It's remote," John Cox, a former airline captain and now airplane safety consultant, said to ABC News. "You could run the centre of gravity forward where it wouldn't be controllable. Twenty people at 200 pounds each, it's possible."

Comprehension questions

  • When did the incident occur?
  • Where did the incident happen?
  • During which stage of flight did the crocodile escape?
  • How did passengers and crew react?
  • Do you believe that passengers running from one side of the aircraft to another could cause the plane to crash?

Although this kind of incident appears far-fetched- incidents with animals sometimes create difficulties for pilots.  To perform well in an ICAO English test (and for aviation safety) you are going to need to be able to describe this kind of situation clearly in plain English.  With professional training from Aviation English Asia you will be able to understand a wide range of unexpected situations that can occur in flight, organise your thoughts and report them clearly and without hesitation. You will also be able to report the routine situations and reinforce your aviation knowledge.

Vocabulary

Find synonyms (words that mean the same) for the following words in the article above.

  • member of cabin-crew
  • cleaver
  • fuel-depletion
  • nameless
  • loose
  • began
  • carry-on bags

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit http://aviationenglish.com. We can help you improve your English whether you are an experienced pilot, a cadet entry pilot, a controller, aerospace engineer or flight attendant, with custom courses designed specifically for your needs. 

Help from Aviation Professionals

Get professional help preparing for your theory exams/interviews with Aviation English Asia Ltd's Native English Teachers, who are also experienced aviation professionals.

Each weekend our Basic Aeronautical Knowledge Certificate Programme, Radiotelephony 101, and Study Groups cover a range of topics at PPL/CPL level. There is no need to commit to a complete course, but AEA students enrolled on Aviation English courses can attend at a discounted rate. External students are welcome to attend at the standard price.

Visit http://aviationenglish.com for more details. Telephone +852 8179 9295 to talk to us before attending.

English learning advice from Aviation English Asia. Article written by Michael Egerton.

Aviation English Learning Strategies
Aviation English Learning Strategies

This article is about developing strategies to optimise the English learning process. As a pilot or ATCO your time is valuable so you will want to learn English in the most efficient manner possible.  In the last article I described some techniques that will help you improve your English learning. Now I'll provide some advice specific to pilots and air traffic controllers.

There are hundreds of language schools offering English courses, and the market is very competitive. It is important to realise that there are no "magic pills" or secret learning methods that will help you climb an ICAO level overnight. Learning a language is a complex process and there is a lot about language learning that humans don't yet fully understand. If a language school does claim miraculous progress due to their learning method you should be suspicious. However, most linguistic experts will agree on some principles.

1. Choose Aviation English Asia Ltd - the best Aviation English training provider

Your first choice of language school should be Aviation English Asia Ltd, because all teachers are suitably qualified and experienced.  If you are not able to attend a course with Aviation English Asia Ltd in Hong Kong, you should visit www.aviationenglish.org and find a partner organisation in your country.   The Aviation English Organisation ensures that all teachers should have an externally assessed teaching qualification, specifically CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL (other qualifications are not suitable equivalents) and experience within an aviation environment or access to an SME (Subject Matter Expert).  These are only the minimum standards, and Aviation English teachers in a curriculum or test design role should have an MA in Applied Linguistics.  Some teachers may hold higher English teaching qualifications such as DELTA and Trinity Dip TESOL, which are usually obtained after 2-3 years teaching experience.

These qualifications are well regarded and involve the teacher being assessed whilst teaching in a classroom, and also completing a significant amount of coursework about teaching practice. Be cautious of schools employing teachers that have online TEFL or TESL certificates which can be completed alone in hours, rather than the 4-6 weeks of observed practice required for a CELTA or TESOL.  All courses should conform to the Aviation English Rating Organisation, Syllabus and Teacher Assessment (AEROSTA) Framework which is your guarantee of quality.

2.  Remove limiting beliefs about learning Aviation English

Attitude and motivation are very important to learning a language, as is an open mind. Particularly consider limiting beliefs about age affecting ability to learn a language. There are a number of views regarding this, though factors such as time, effort and opportunity are likely to be more significant than age. Research show that adults actually have better language learning strategies than children - the advantage that children and adolescents have is that they have a lot more opportunities and time to learn a language. There is some evidence to support the belief that our ability to acquire a native accent declines after adolescence but our ability to learn a language does not. As a pilot or controller you don't currently need to achieve native proficiency so don't give your self unnecessary pressure.

3. Be realistic in your goal to pass an ICAO English test

The current standard of English proficiency for flight crew and controllers is ICAO Level 4. At ICAO level 4, the requirements do not require you to be a speaker of perfect English. Your goal should be to communicate safely and effectively during radiotelephony and crew-crew communications. You don't need to be able to communicate like a native speaker, although there are obvious advantages for achieving proficiency at higher levels. Most people learn English better when they are free from external stress and pressure, almost anyone can learn a language - it's just a matter of time and effort. Aviation English Asia Ltd can give you feedback on how long it will take to achieve your goal.

4. Accept that learning Aviation English takes time.

Be wary of English courses that promise quick results. Reliable, proven systems like ICAO Aviation English for Commercial Pilots is designed to take 100 hours over 6-12 weeks for each ICAO half level, eg (ICAO level 3 lower is 6 weeks, ICAO level 3 upper is also typically 6 weeks in duration). Developing a strong foundation in English always involves a commitment of time and effort. Improving your ability in English involves more than memorising phrases and questions - you need to be able to comprehend and respond appropriately. You will also need to be able to explain non-routine situations that could potentially occur during flight operations in addition to handle routine scenarios. There are many factors influence the speed with which a language can be acquired so it is very difficult to say exactly how long it will take to reach ICAO level 4. ICAO Aviation English for Commercial Pilots features an accurate placement test before starting a course so you can be sure that you start a course at the right level, and also ensure that you are really making progress. Always be aware of "magic pill" solutions - learning a language will take time and it's more likely to be several months between ICAO levels rather than weeks.

5. Start to improve your English as soon as possible.

When planning on taking a course it's critical that you take a placement test before you start. This will give you an accurate idea of how long it will take, and also ensure that the course is neither too easy nor too difficult. If you have been given 3 months to reach ICAO level 4 you should start to improve your English as soon as possible, rather than in 2 months time. Find out your ICAO Aviation English level now. The more time you give yourself then the less pressure you will feel, and you are likely to enjoy your Aviation English classes more.

6. Focus on the skills you need.

An English course shouldn't be just memorising words and vocabulary, and neither is focusing on grammar. An English course should be communicative and give you the opportunity to practice the language that you have learned in a realistic context.  English for ICAO compliance requires effective speaking and listening and class time should focus on communicative activities that require interaction between people. Although reading and writing are important, these activities are best used outside the classroom as homework activities. Every second of classroom time is a valuable opportunity for you to practice speaking and listening - don't waste time on the skills that can be developed outside class. A good example of an out of classroom activity is reading books and magazines graded at an appropriate level. Reading is an excellent way to improve your vocabulary and you will also pick up a lot of grammatical structures naturally. There are a wide range of aviation themed books and magazines available. Interact with us on our Facebook page. There are also a lot of aviation websites, videos and forums online that offer text and rich multimedia that can help you develop your language skills.

7. Choose an aviation specific English course.

An aviation focused English course is likely to be more interesting for you than a general English course. The course materials will be more relevant and can even reinforce knowledge that you will need for your career. Furthermore an aviation English course will be a better use of your valuable time because it is specifically concentrated on helping you develop the language skills that your needs for ICAO compliance. Your teachers will be very interested in aviation and keen to hear about your experiences too.

8. Be responsible for your own learning.

No matter how good they are, you shouldn't rely on your teacher 100%. You need to be active in your learning and take every opportunity that you can to practice English. Ask questions and be interested in people. Speak and think in English at every opportunity. Use the language that you learn in each lesson rather than letting your notes gather dust.

Aviation English Learning Strategies

Aviation English Learning Strategies

9. Don't be afraid to make mistakes

Many English learners are perfectionists that try to get everything correct first time - the result - they lose their fluency. It's ok to make mistakes, your English teacher can't correct every mistake you make anyway. If they did then the class would be painful for the teacher. You will learn English faster when you are relaxed and less concerned with making mistakes. The same is true for pronunciation - it's strange that one of the best ways to improve your pronunciation and fluency is often... not to think about pronunciation and fluency.

10. Talk to your friends and colleagues in English

Talking in English isn't just limited to the classroom or during radio communications. Take every opportunity to practice and interact in English with friends and colleagues. Invite them to study with Aviation English Asia and you can make learning English more enjoyable, and the skies safer.

For more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit http://aviationenglish.com.  You can arrange your consultation by calling +852 81799295 or emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

If you haven’t already, please sign up to our newsletter using the course enquiry form on the right hand side. You can then receive updates and course information from Aviation English Asia as soon as they are available.

This article is copyright protected and many not be modified or reproduced without express permission of Aviation English Asia Ltd. 

Hong Kong

Aviation English Asia has been offering part time and full time courses in Hong Kong since 2009.

All courses are available in Hong Kong. Check the schedule above for details.

Vietnam

Aviation English Asia has been offering part time courses in Vietnam since 2014.

All courses are available in Vietnam - typically every 8 weeks, or by special arrangement.

Taiwan

ICAO Aviation English, English for Aircraft Maintenance Engineers, Technicians and Mechanics, and English for Flight Attendants are available in Taipei, Tainan and Kaosiung.

Cambodia

Aviation English Asia has been offering part time and full time courses in Cambodia since July 2018

All courses are available in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Check the schedule for details.

  

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