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Advice for improving your English and passing an airline’s English test from Aviation English Asia.

Article written by Michael Egerton

Prepare for an airline interview or prepare for your career?

Whether you are applying for a job as a pilot, member of ground staff or a member of cabin crew one of the assessments in which you are required to perform well in is the airline’s English assessment test.  For prospective airline pilots this is likely to be one of various types of ICAO English test taken at a particular stage of the selection process.  For cabin crew and ground staff the airline is likely to have it’s own in-house English assessment, which could be either a specific test which you need to pass in order to proceed which your application, or alternatively your English language proficiency could be assessed during your HR interviews.

In this article I’m going to point out three common mistakes made by many prospective pilots and flight attendants when faced with an airline English proficiency test, and show you how you can avoid making that mistake.  But first of all let’s look at why airlines have English tests in the first place.

Learn English as it is used in an aviation context

Learn English as it is used in an aviation context

Why do airlines have English proficiency tests as part of their selection process?

Airline careers are highly desirable for many young people. Airlines are large organisations that offer great benefits like housing allowance, health insurance and frequent travel to their employees.  Some airlines are national flag carriers so it’s not surprising that airline jobs attract thousands of candidates each year.

In each recruitment drive, the airline has to select the most appropriate candidates for employment, as they will make a significant investment in that candidate’s training and development.  Airline English tests are a valid and very appropriate means to filter out unsuitable (or not yet suitable) candidates.  English is a world language, and a high standard of English will also highlight a candidate’s manners and social behaviour, ie is this candidate a person who is polite enough to deal with our customers, is this a person who we would like to sit next to on the flight deck.  In addition to the aptitude and ability to perform the basic duties of the position, the airline will want to ensure that you have:

  • sufficient language proficiency to meet the requirements of the job.
  • sufficient potential to successfully be trained for the things that you don’t yet know how to do.

So, in plain English, the airline wants to know that you can speak English well enough to do the job properly, and you can understand enough English to be able to learn how to do the things that you can’t.

Depending upon your experience and the position you are applying for the airline will probably not expect you to know everything about handling a big jet, or the procedures needed to carry out an evacuation but they do expect you to have a reasonable level of English.  Airlines are after all, judged on the conduct and performance of their front-line employees.

If you have failed an airline’s English test it’s probably because you haven’t prepared sufficiently for the test, or you have prepared for the test in the wrong way.

The biggest mistakes made by candidates in preparing for airline English tests

Mistake number one – focusing only on the test

It’s a common mistake, and an understandable one.  You have an English test coming up as part of your interview and you might want to get some practice by having a mock test, perhaps by asking a friend to ask you the questions that they were asked last time.  Perhaps if you could remember the answers it will be easier…

If (like us) you live in Hong Kong you will have been bombarded by advertisements for “star tutors” that offer courses focused on passing English tests, eg IELTS, HKCEE etc.  You might be able to pass a written exam by following their methods but if you think that you can pass an airline English test, which will almost certainly be oral you are wildly mistaken.

Speaking English doesn’t work like that.  It takes time to develop a full command of the language, and consistent practice in developing the strength needed to pronounce certain words.  Listening to and understanding different accents is a skill that takes time to develop.  Furthermore, the assessor’s aren’t that stupid – it’s easy to see if someone is trying to remember an answer.  When assessing language it’s not just a matter of what information you give, but how you give it.

Of course, it’s natural to want to practice things like mock interviews with friends or perhaps a tutor, but to be honest it’s not enough.  What you need is a thorough and wide range of proficiency in English and particularly English as it is used within an aviation context – and that is our goal.

Mistake number two – doing the wrong type of course

ICAO recommend that pilots and controllers take aviation-specific English courses.  Some people try to cut corners and settle for a general English course.  The result is often that they get bored or find that it doesn’t suit their needs.  This is also often the case with people who tried studying at large franchised language centres, particularly those that have “secret study methods”.  These courses are designed to appeal to as many people as possible, with the lowest skill level of teacher possible (the “secret” is that they withhold any actual teaching, you have to figure it out for yourself) so don’t be surprised that learners who settle for this type of course make very slow progress.  That type of language school doesn’t have the capability or resources to give aviation students the kind of language training they need.

When you learn English it is important that you focus on practicing the right skills, and as most language schools try to cater to as many people as possible it’s often difficult to practice the skills that you really need. For a pilot, ATC or member of cabin crew the most important skills are speaking and listening.  Many people unfortunately focus only on academic performance in English and neglect to build their English comprehension skills.  Aviation English Asia courses give you sufficient practice of the skills that you need, as recommended in ICAO Document 9835.

Mistake number three – not starting a course early enough

If we could give one piece of advice to potential airline employees it would be to take a placement test to assess your current level of English and then see how much you need to improve.  We can then give you an estimation of how long you should expect before you reach that level, and how often you should practice.  These tests are done independently by a third party so you can be sure that you won’t be buying courses that you don’t need.  The placement tests offered by Aviation English Asia are consistent with the results of assessors within major airlines.

Trust me – I’ve trained a lot of prospective and current airline employees. I strongly recommend that you take a placement test and expect to practice English consistently for at least 3 months per level.

The BEST WAY to prepare for an airline English test

In this article you have learned that you should avoid crash courses, avoid only focusing on the test, and avoid unsuitable courses and tutors.  Now I will show you what you should do to pass an airline’s English assessment.

Learn and practice English as it is used in the context of aviation, over a 12 week period (at least)

Aviation English Asia courses feature all of the grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, comprehension and fluency practice of general English courses, with the added advantage of being directly related to your career.  You will be more motivated and enjoy learning English more when you have a clear objective.  If you think you know everything about aviation and are familiar with aviation terminology, you should still learn how to express it clearly in English – so Aviation English Asia courses are equally suitable for experienced commercial pilots.  It’s exactly the same for cabin crew, whether your are a prospective employee or experienced crew members – practice English as it relates to your everyday life.

One of the biggest advantages of an Aviation English course is that you will develop a wide vocabulary and become confident in dealing with unexpected situations.  You will still get thorough practice of all the language skills needed to pass an airline’s English test, and personal focus on the skills that you most need to develop.  Of course, you can supplement this with additional General English if you want extra practice but it is no substitute for a core Aviation English course.

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.  If you haven’t already please join the Aviation English mailing list for instant access to free demonstration units of the ICAO Aviation English Online course, special offers and details of courses in your area.

Of course, feel free to leave a comment or even a suggestion for a future article.  We value all of your feedback.

Advice for learning English from Aviation English Asia.

Article written by Michael Egerton

One of the most complicated areas of English is the correct use of articles.  In English there are two articles – a/an and the. In this article you can learn some simple rules that will help you use articles correctly. But first of all, look at the sentences below. Can you explain how and why the articles are used?

  • 1. I had a baguette and a cup of coffee for lunch.
  • 2. The baguette was good but the coffee was awful.
  • 1. My brother is a pilot.
  • 2. He is the captain of a Boeing 737.
  • 1. I saw a security officer holding a machine gun.
  • 2. Airport security officers are allowed to carry guns.
  • 1. I feel cold. Can you pass me a blanket.
  • 2. I feel cold. Can you pass me the blanket

The Airbus A380 is the biggest passenger aircraft

The definite article – the

Here are four rules to explain the use the definite article the. After reading match each rule with one of the examples below.

Rule 1: the – used where there is only one.  For example, “I saw the nice lady from HR.” Here, we’re talking about a specific noun.  There is probably only one nice lady from the HR department.

Rule 2: the – used before geographical nouns eg seas, rivers, hotels, pubs, museums and newspapers.

  • names of rivers, oceans and seas: the Nile, the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Black Sea
  • points on the globe: the Equator, the North Pole
  • geographical areas: the Middle East, the Northern Hemisphere
  • deserts, forests, gulfs, and peninsulas: the Sahara, the Persian Gulf, the Forest of Dean,

Rule 3: the – used with superlative adjectives.  For example, the Cadet Pilot Programme is the easiest way for local people to start an aviation career.

Rule 4: the – used when both the speaker and listener already know the thing, design or idea being talked about.  For example,  “The car was blue.”   Here, we’re talking about a specific car, the car that hit my Cessna. The definitive article is also used to talk about aircraft when describing or comparing their features, eg the Airbus A380, the Boeing 747.

Examples – which of the above rules do they demonstrate?

  • We have a cat and a dog. The cat is white and the dog is black.
  • The Atlantic Ocean, the Sun, the River Nile, the Black Swan
  • The WOMBAT test was really easy
  • Have you checked the fuel?
  • The Airbus A380 is the largest passenger airliner. Concorde was the fastest passenger aircraft.
  • The Air Traffic Controller’s daughter is really pretty.
  • I passed the ICAO English test

The indefinite article – a/an

Here are four rules explaining the use of the indefinite article a/an

Rule 1: a/an – used with professions.  For example, “I’m a lawyer“.

Rule 2: a/an – used with some expressions of quantity. For example, “I need a bottle of water”.

Rule 3: a/an used in expressions with “what + countable noun”.  For example, “What a beautiful day for flying!”

Rule 4: a/an used to refer to a thing or idea for the first time. For example, “I met a nice girl last night.”

Examples – which of the above rules do they demonstrate?

  • I’m an accountant. My brother is a pilot.
  • What an incredible landing!
  • The passengers will board in a few minutes.
  • A couple of landing cards please.
  • I practice English 3 times a week.
  • I’m reading a good book. The author is Peter Nock.

No article required

There are four rules explaining the use of no article.

Rule 1: no article used before some forms of transport.

Rule 2: no article used with exclamations with “what + uncountable noun”

Rule 3: no article used before some geographical nouns, languages, meals, airports, mountains and stations. For example,

  • names of most countries/territories: Australia, China, Canada; however you do need to use the before countries that are a collection of states eg, the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, the United States
  • names of cities, towns, or states:London, Singapore, Vancouver
  • names of streets: Scenic View Road, Oxford St.
  • names of lakes and bays: Lake Michigan, except with a group of lakes like the Great Lakes
  • names of mountains: Mount Everest, Mount Fuji except with ranges of mountains like the Andes or the Himalayas
  • names of continents (Asia, Europe)
  • names of islands (Hong Kong Island, Lantau, Lamma) except groups of islands like the Philippines, or the Canary Islands

Rule 4: no article used before plural and uncountable nouns to refer to things in general.

Examples – which of the above rules do they demonstrate?

  • What amazing weather!
  • I had dinner with the captain.
  • I bought “Pronunciation for Pilots” online.
  • Mt Fuji is in Japan.
  • I go to work by train.
  • What noisy passengers!
  • She can speak Portuguese.
  • I like girls.
  • Police officers in Hong Kong carry guns.
  • Peanuts can be dangerous during flight.

Activity – Newspaper headlines

Newspaper headlines rarely use complete sentences. Look at the list of headlines below and see if you can write them as a complete sentence using verbs in the correct tense and articles as appropriate.  You can find the answers on our Facebook Discussion forum.

Example:

  • Headline – FAA to announce new taxi instructions
  • Full sentence – The FAA is going to announce some new taxi instructions.

Global Airline Traffic Surpasses Pre Recession Level

Heroic Flight Attendant Lands Plane

FAA Slow to Require Action On Cockpit Fires

Passengers Stranded On Desert Island

Pilot Loses Certificate For Buzzing Beach

Fuel Dump By FedEx Plane Most Likely Cause of Mysterious Crop Damage

Early 787 Simulation Raises Concerns

Magnificent Man and His Homebuilt Flying Machine Go For Record at Age of 94

6 Year Old OHIO Girl Placed on FAA Watch List

Tiny Turtle Returns Plane to Gate

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.  If you haven’t already please join the Aviation English mailing list for instant access to free demonstration units of the ICAO Aviation English Online course, special offers and details of courses in your area.

Of course, feel free to leave a comment or even a suggestion for a future article.  We value all of your feedback.

English learning tips from Aviation English Asia

In this article I’m going to give some proven advice on language learning, and I’ll even give you my Top Five Tips for Developing Good English Learning Habits, so you can be successful in an airline career.

If you are reading this article, chances are that you are preparing to either take or re-take an ICAO English test.  If you are not taking this test (it’s for pilots and air traffic controllers) then you will still find this advice very useful, no matter what your intended career.  If you follow my advice, you can save a lot of time and money in learning English.

Let me start this article by telling you a few things about me, that maybe you don’t know.  The first time I learned a foreign language was in high school, back in the UK – I was supposed to learn French.  I was actually quite good at French because I was good at mimicking (copying) sounds.   My teacher didn’t see it that way though, in fact my teacher never saw or heard me speak French at all.  There were too many other students (about 30 in a class) and they were all of mixed levels.  The teacher never gave us any opportunity to practice speaking in French to each other, we just watched her write on the board and occasionally copied her in choral repetition (repeating words as a group).  I only learned French for two years, and I was glad to drop the subject.  I didn’t particularly hate learning French, but I just didn’t feel motivated to learn it, or didn’t feel any great need to learn it.

I didn’t learn another foreign language again for a long time.  I chose to learn Mandarin in evening classes at my university.   I learned Mandarin for 2 hours per week, for 8 months.  There were about 15 people in the class and they all became great friends.  Naturally a few people dropped out, because they were busy with their careers but most of us managed to stick together as a group and help each other.  Of course, this was in London so there wasn’t much opportunity to practice speaking in Mandarin day to day.

In each class we were told to memorise a list of words both in pin yin (romanised) and as hanzi (Chinese characters).  Within weeks we were told to not use the romanised characters, just remember the Chinese characters.  In each lesson we would often have to memorise 20 or more hanzi and be able to read and pronounce them correctly.  Very few of us managed to do this and we forgot a lot of them, probably because they were words that we would never use (eg. planned socialist economy).  It was painful having to look up the Chinese characters in a dictionary so I could pronounce them correctly.

When I moved to Hong Kong I started learning Cantonese instead. By this time I had a lot of experience in language teaching so I could recognise the techniques that the teacher was using. My Cantonese teacher spoke to me in 100% Cantonese (or not at all) so I used the target language all of the time. I learned vocabulary from pictures not a dictionary – only later did I learn to write the word in chinese characters or pin yum. I studied Cantonese with my teacher 6 hours a day, five days a week, for 6 weeks – then I went out and practised some more.

Which language do you think that I can speak better?

My Cantonese is much better than my Mandarin, and my French is now non-existent. So what is the difference that made the difference?

The main difference is not the length of time studying, or the environment I studied in, but the teaching method. In language teaching there are two distinct families:
1. Grammar Translation
2. Communicative Method

In school, most people learn through Grammar Translation. It does have some advantages, but it’s a very slow method. Schools often use this style of teaching when they are teaching a “foreign” language or when there are a lot of students in a very large class. Grammar Translation teaches you to remember many different grammar rules, and learn vocabulary by memorisation. In these classes the success of the method is judged by how you perform in the exam. This often means that learners can read and write – but not speak and hear very well. Just like my French class, it’s not fun.

In Communicative Method the emphasis is on meaning rather than the more traditional approach that emphasizes structural/grammatical competence. The learner gets to practice using the language in a way that is meaningful to them. So how can knowing this help you pass the ICAO English test?

The most important reason is that it can help you realise that not everything your high school teacher told you was correct. There are better ways of learning, and a good teacher will help you discover them. Your teacher in high school might have told you to memorise vocabulary lists, read newspapers and complete gap-fill exercises but that isn’t exactly best teaching practice in the 21st century. I don’t mean that your previous teachers were necessarily bad teachers, but they might have been forced to use a teaching method that was the only method they had particularly big classes.

So what I’m trying to say, is that I understand what it is like to learn a foreign language, and that my teachers weren’t always right either. If you have ever found it difficult to make progress in English, or achieve that breakthrough I have some great advice for you.

So here are my Top Five Tips for Developing Good English Learning Habits

1. Use the target language – that means just use English, not your native language. Avoid translation unless you really need help. Some words might not have an equivalent “concept” in your native language so in this situation translation would be pointless. When you use the target language you are training your brain to make connections that will help you remember words more easily.
2. COW – Concept, Oral Form, Written Form – when you learn new vocabulary try to understand the meaning (the way the word is being used in a real situation) before learning the pronunciation or the written form. If you know what a word means, then the pronunciation will be much easier. The last thing you should be concerned about is the written form. Don’t worry about spelling until you have mastered the pronunciation of the oral form of the word.
3. Don’t focus on grammar too much – a good communicative teacher will present grammar structures in context so you can learn them naturally. The most important thing is that you can communicate. You can work on your accuracy later.
4. Have clear goals – know what your current level is and how long it will take you to reach your target level of English proficiency. This will help you be realistic about what you can achieve – a complete ICAO level in 3 weeks isn’t going to be possible so don’t rush through your English course. Take regular English Assessment Tests to find out if you are on track to reach your goal.
5. Make learning English a regular habit. Don’t just practice English with your teacher, make sure you practice English with other students, and at every opportunity you can. If practicing English is a regular part of your life your brain it will become easier and more enjoyable.

I’d also like to share with you one more great piece of advice about developing a good attitude towards learning. This one is really important.

You should practice English because you enjoy communicating with other English speakers, not just because you need it for your job. If you only learn English so you can pass the ICAO English test, or pass an airline’s interview procedure you are giving yourself a lot of additional pressure. Be nice to yourself, and enjoy learning English. Improving your English is an investment that will always pay off, no matter what your career.

For more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit http://aviationenglish.asia
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.





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