Do you say /lunway/ instead of /runway/? Is this a problem? A guide to pronunciation in Aviation English.
English learning advice from Aviation English Asia.
Written by Michael McBride
In this article I am going to focus on pronunciation in Aviation English, the different characteristics and ICAO requirements. As the ICAO advises, "pronunciation must be given high priority." It must be stressed that your Aviation English training requires you to practice both listening and speaking, which form the main part of the ICAO tests, so pronunciation is essential. General components of pronunciation Pronunciation is of course a fundamental part of language learning and allows the speaker to express themselves coherently and accurately. You will have experienced the feeling of knowing the meaning of a word but if you cannot pronounce it properly you are left with feelings of inadequacy. If you can pronounce words how they should be you are given the confidence to keep on improving your language skills. Included in the general pronunciation umbrella are the following: -
- Stress – The emphasis of words or parts of words (syllables), but also can include weak sounds
- Rhythm – The speed of communication, including when to pause and when to speed up
- Intonation – The high, middle and low levels of speech, especially noted in asking questions
In your General English training you should have knowledge and practice of these pronunciation areas, for example vowel and consonant sounds, knowing when to emphasise sounds/words and how to question by raising your voice higher or lower. ICAO Aviation English pronunciation requirements According to the ICAO, level 4 candidates must "use a dialect or accent which is intelligible to the community," in other words, pronunciation is crucial. Let’s look at the word "intelligibility" as it a key part of Aviation English. This term is linked to how someone is understood and not necessarily that person being 100% correct all the time with how/what they say. Please do not mistake intelligibility with accuracy, although similar they are separate terms. This is especially relevant to ICAO Level 4. The other person must be able to understand you but you do have the space to make a few mistakes. As ICAO state: "Pronunciation, stress, rhythm and intonation….sometimes interfere with ease of understanding." (ICAO 9835) So to be more positive this means although pronunciation is "high priority" (ICAO) to get to operational level there is room to make some errors. If your voice is unclear, the words are not understandable and too many (instead of a few) mistakes are made how can the controller/pilot communicate with you effectively in the sky and on the ground? Advice on how to improve pronunciation To improve your pronunciation is all about being aware of your mouth and what sounds it produces within the English language. What sounds do your front mouth/lips make as opposed to the back of your throat? You may find it harder to pronounce ‘back of the throat’ sounds like "k" or "q", through knowing what are your weaknesses you can then focus on repeating these sounds until practice makes perfect. In order to be intelligible over the radio be aware that omitting key vowel and particularly consonant sounds can decrease all understanding. Not saying consonant sounds at the end of words is a particular problem with some learners. Do you say "requ vect" when it should be "request vectors?" Looking at the word "vectors" consider the following: -
- "Vec-ors" – is this recognisable?
- "Ve-tors" – how about this?
Linking to ICAO requirements it may be all right to accidentally omit consonants in the middle of words, but be careful and try to self-correct whenever possible. Strategies to self-correct and practice problem pronunciation will be taught in greater detail with your instructor at Aviation English Asia. You should have the ability to correct yourself, but don’t expect to be perfect or fluent at ICAO level 4. Further advice It is certainly advisable to listen to a range of accents and dialects, linked again to the ICAO requirements about being understood in an intelligible way of speaking. It is not enough to role model and listen to your teacher’s accent alone. What accents are must difficult for you to understand, what is your developing accent going to be? What works for you?
- British English – this tends to include stronger pronunciation of consonants like "t", for example "often" is usually pronounced "offt-un"
- American English – in comparison consonant sounds tend to sound weaker, "often" sounds like "off-un."
You certainly need to be aware of different accents and practice listening to them so you eventually are able to work out what the word is quickly and efficiently. Listen to authentic recordings on www.liveatc.net and our youtube channel. Select an audio recording. Is every consonant sound like "t" and "l" pronounced? Why or why not? Listen to the speed of interaction. What differences can you hear with native and non-native English speakers? Checklist