Article written by Michael Egerton for Aviation English Asia Ltd
When starting an Aviation English course, a lot of candidates initially find listening comprehension of pilot / controller dialogues difficult. Some students ask what they can do in their own time to prepare. If you want to develop genuine proficiency in comprehension of pilot / controller dialogues, the answer is a little bit more complex than the throwaway advice that is sometimes given by General English teachers. But before we give you our advice on how to develop your English listening skills in an aviation context, let's look at the reasons why.
Listening comprehension in General English tests
In General English tests like IELTS, TOEIC and TOEFL, listening comprehension is assessed in a relatively simple way, and there is an emphasis on whether a candidate can understand the overall gist of a recording, before assessing whether a candidate can understand smaller details. For this reason candidates are often told to improve their English overall, immerse yourself in an English speaking environment, and do things that native speakers do such as listen to English songs or BBC news reports. In some tests there is positive marking so if you get a question correct, then your overall score will be higher regardless of whether you understand the situation overall. Perhaps most critically this type of General English test doesn't assess accuracy in matters which are critical to pilots and controllers such as flight levels, speeds and headings.
Time-wasting or throwaway advice?
How effective is this type of advice? Well, there is a lot of information in news stories that native speakers will miss, or at least not focus on. And in everyday life native English speakers are not going to correct every mistake or misunderstanding you make in conversation. But the main difficulty is that just listening to news stories doesn't give learners any feedback on whether their comprehension is accurate or not. Furthermore, most recordings are not pitched at a particular level, so this type of audio might not be suitable for self study. Surely learners can look for a transcript and check against that? Possibly, but sometimes the transcript doesn't reveal implied meanings and intentions.
Overall that type of self-study isn't a particularly productive use of time. Self-study definitely has it's place, but we have seen students who have been told to practice listening and like good hardworking students they have followed that advice and listened to youtube videos featuring ATC but not actually made any improvement.
You have probably heard the idiom "practice makes perfect". Well it's not true. Repeating the same mistake over and over again is the definition of insanity!
"PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT"
Listening comprehension in Aviation English tests
Aviation English is more complex in that the audio used in ICAO assessments generally falls into one of four main categories.
- Pilot / controller dialogues - this is an extended communication between a pilot and controller using a mixture of phraseology and plain English.
- Instructions from a controller - typically a maximum of three instructions is given in one clearance
- Dialogue between flight crew - captain to first officer, or flightcrew to cabincrew
- Monologues - typically a summary or a report of an incident
You might find that you have more difficulty with one type of audio than others. Every learner is different and you would be surprised in the difficulties that even experienced pilots have.
In order to improve your listening comprehension, the first thing you should do is identify your problem and why you have it. The best way to identify a problem is to call Aviation English Asia Ltd on +852 81799295 and arrange a consultation ($250 HKD). If you don't know the source of your problem, and you still keep practicing the same way you could waste a lot of time.
Classifying difficulties with listening comprehension in ICAO English tests
AEA teachers are language experts and can diagnose a problem and identify the source of the problem. Then you can focus on developing the skills you need so you can progress faster. For example, difficulties with listening comprehension in ICAO English test tend to fall into one of these categories:
- Lack of familiarity with radiotelephony / standard phraseology
- Lack of aviation-related vocabulary - aileron, backtrack, laminar flow
- Lack of proficiency in identifying non-technical vocabulary - which significantly changes the meaning of a sentence
- Lack of proficiency in identify the grammatical structure of a sentence - which significantly changes the meaning of a sentence
- Lack of proficiency in identifying sounds - leading to confusion of "similar" sounding words
Typically there will be a correlation between core language skills and listening comprehension. Once we have identified your problem we can identify the best type of self-study for you.
This article is copyright protected and many not be modified or reproduced without express permission of Aviation English Asia Ltd.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 course 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 the ICAO test.
What should I do now?
A focus on unusual and strange occurrences during flight operations
English learning advice from Aviation English Asia. Article written by Michael McBride. How would you communicate the following situation to the controller?
In this article I'm going to explain the different components of Aviation English, and explain why English is important and essential for communication in unexpected situations.
Summary of Aviation English language
Aviation English (AE) is split into three key areas;
- Plain English used in an aviation context and
- General English.
All three areas work side by side to create language ‘moments’ in the sky and on the ground. Phraseology is the scripted communication that every pilot and controller has been trained to use. Plain English is a way to communicate simply without use of over-complex language. It may help to aid understanding and deliver the meaning of something and indeed save lives in certain situations. General English is not a specific part of many Aviation English courses but it is integrated and assumed. You need General English as the foundation before you add the building blocks to create your dream home. The main rule is that you cannot have one linguistic area without the other. It is a fair assumption that some people discredit or rather devalue the use of ‘plain’ and General English in Aviation English, but the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) completely disagree. ICAO state that pilots/controllers at level 4 standard can “handle successfully with relative ease the linguistic challenges presented by a complication or unexpected turn of events.” After all, unforeseen events in the sky may not be as predictable as a holding pattern around London Heathrow.
Phraseology will not get you out of every situation
The official phraseology used by aviation personnel is highly specific and fine-tuned, it will form the basis of all flights, and is indeed a ‘special’ feature of Aviation English. Phraseology is the result of decades of expert knowledge due to accidents, incidents and logic. The framework needed to get from A to B safely. However, it is not enough and you need Plain and General English to get you out of strange and unpredictable problems.
English is one of the most important aspects of ICAO level 4+ language testing. For example, what if there are animals loose in the aircraft? What if there is a piece of luggage blocking the taxiway? How would you explain this to a controller in English? Professional Aviation English training with Aviation English Asia will help you integrate all 3 aspects of Aviation English language. This is done by training you to use a wide range of language skills to get you out of those ‘sticky situations’ when you need to explain an unusual situation. The ICAO level 4 requirements state, “(this person) can often paraphrase successfully when lacking in vocabulary for unexpected circumstances.” This requirement means that you do not need to know every word in aviation or general English, but you do need to know how to get around not knowing certain vocabulary.
Advice on how to communicate in unusual situations
It is essential for any uncertain communication that you maintain a connection with the pilot or controller, “checking and maintaining exchanges in unexpected turn of events” (ICAO). Aviation English training can help you to build solid communication strategies to solve these communication difficulties and ‘fly out of danger.’ In the classroom or online course you will get plenty of practice on using these language skills. Relevant grammatical structures include include stock phrases such as:
- [subject] is similar to…
- [subject] is like…
- [subject] looks like...
- [subject] appears to be...
- [subject] seems to be...
and stock phrases/expressions to help you describe unusual situations. You will also be trained to create and change words to combine both simplicity and clarity in your exchange over the radio. You cannot use a dictionary in your ICAO test and you cannot search for one in your cockpit! A wide vocabulary is very important in aviation as you might be communicating with another non-native speaker that doesn't recognise the words that you used. You will need to learn how to paraphrase so you can use alternative words. You will learn aviation-related words as part of your pilot/controller training and also in Aviation English training.
It is advisable to learn words in groups, such as technology, mechanical parts, weather related etc. It is much easier for you to learn when you can see a pattern. It is also good for your wider English knowledge to study word families – receive, reception, receiving…etc. And it is a good additional communication strategy to find words with the same meaning, these are called ‘synonyms’, eg, fire, blaze, explosion etc. Maybe you will remember one word more than others. For more practical study, try creating situations and imagine how you would communicate it. For example, animals escaping into the terminal, damage to aircraft by animals. Then think of the connected vocabulary – containers, cages, hinges... What information is key when listening? And if the person you are speaking to doesn't know what a “cage” is, how could you communicate this?
How would you communicate these problems?
- A lot of cargo + gate
- Animal + in terminal
- Rain + window
- Phraseology is vital but is also not enough
- Communication strategies
- Structured learning of words, phrases etc
What to do next
For more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit aviationenglish.com
How many is too many when making errors in Aviation English?
English learning advice from Aviation English Asia. Article written by Michael McBride
In this article I am going to focus on accuracy and making errors in Aviation English communication. As ICAO state, “errors may occur” at ICAO Level 4. This article will examine what kind of errors you can reasonably make and what you need to do to be as accurate as possible. To be accurate is also to be realistic, you cannot expect to be correct in what you say all of the time, so what ‘errors’ are important and what aren’t to be ICAO operational?
What is an error and what is a mistake?
The basic difference is that an “error” is something you do not know the answer to, maybe through a lack of knowledge or skills. A “mistake” is when you forget the answer to something you previously knew. So we must look further into the first term – error. This is where problems can arise and what you need to target in getting your message across even without being 100% accurate and using other words and communication strategies. Let’s look at the term in more detail by separating it into the following: -
- Global error – something is said incorrectly and it affects the meaning entirely
- Local error – some parts of what is said is wrong but overall it doesn’t change the meaning, it is understood to a good extent.
As you probably would guess ICAO will tolerate local errors more, as they state the candidate “rarely makes global errors…and some local errors.” In other words you must avoid making global errors as much as possible and understand that local errors could still guarantee ICAO level 4 as long as it is not frequent. Which do you think is local and global from the following: -
#1 “My job is check first the aircraft status.”
#2 “My jos is first the aircraft status.”
#1 is not grammatically correct, but the meaning is clear = local
#2 could be interpreted correctly but it is unclear and when in a pilot-controller situation (as one example) is there enough time to try to understand what is spoken? It totally interferes with the interaction = global
Advice and information on how to reduce errors
Do you think mis-communicating “he speak” rather than “he speaks” on the radio will be seen as a major problem in the eyes of ICAO requirements? Is it really crucial to meaning? Well, the simple answer is that it is a local error and if all you need is Level 4 it is not a serious issue, it depends how far you want to go, ICAO level wise. I must stress that ICAO is more interested in appropriacy and intelligibility than correctness all the time, which means not everything has to be correct but it must be understood overall. As I have mentioned in previous articles, you need to practice communication strategies to reduce errors and increase accuracy which can be helped by practising the following: -
- Synonyms – use words of similar/same meaning if you forget your first thought
- Word families – practice the different forms of words eg. extend, extension, extended, which one is used when?
- ‘Invent’ new words rather than struggling to remember the correct word for something e.g. “animal container” instead of “cage”
Furthermore you must always be able to check and clarify certain uncertain interactions, which ICAO state as “using clarification strategies” when communication problems arise. Do not give up, you might not be accurate with a message first time around, so adopt the 3 Cs rule. Clarify, Check and Confirm. Which “C” do you think applies to the following: -
- “Is the altimeter 1014”?
- “What is the altimeter setting?”
The 3Cs provide a way to make less mistakes in interactions and carrying out a full procedure in the air or on the ground.
Answers – Check, confirm, clarify
An error is only an error if it is not understandable to the vast majority of speakers/listeners. You must focus on working on the core sounds of words to become more accurate in terms of pronunciation (previous article) and the above strategies in terms of vocabulary and understanding. In conclusion, remember that your training time might be limited with due to your schedule, so do not worry too much about local errors like missing out the/a/an and “s” in 3rd person verbs, your instructor will probably not focus too much on correcting this. Of course this depends on what level you need and your current English ability.
Enrol in a course with Aviation English Asia. Practice and interact in English with colleagues, Aviation personnel and friends using Aviation related topics, such as discussions and even arguments. Your Aviation English course will be communicative, which means that you must talk, make mistakes and not give up to gain fully from the course. After all, the ICAO recommended testing system is communicative, which I will focus on in the coming weeks.
Re-write the following sentences, which ones do you think would be acceptable for ICAO Level 4?
- Avion Air 734, has things in the air flying around, need you
- Something in the cabin, possibly fighting
- It seem to coming out of cargo hold
- He have problem with baby out now
- Some local errors are acceptable, meaning and intelligibility is more important than full and complete accuracy.
- Communication and clarification strategies should be practiced
- It is good to make mistakes in your training, keep at it, and don’t give up. Continually focus on communication of Aviation related topics in and out of the classroom. Errors and mistakes should reduce the more you practice and communicate (speaking and listening).
What to do next
For more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit http://aviationenglish.com. If you haven’t already please join the Aviation English mailing list for special offers and details of courses in your area.