Author Archive for: Michael McBride

English learning advice from Aviation English Asia.

A look at grammar and beyond to help flight attendants communicate with English-speaking passengers.

Written by Michael McBride

In this article, focussed on cabin crew English, we will examine language for making suggestions and advice to passengers on board.  A flight attendant will be expected to have information about the origin and destination and to give information clearly and thoughtfully.  We will look at grammar, examples, vocabulary and you will be able to practise with a visual scenario and a quiz at the end.

Giving advice – grammar for cabin crew

It is important to keep advice simple and clear.  Modal verbs will be particularly useful.

  • You should/must/have to + base of verb
  • You should visit the Tower of London.

However, be careful with the meaning.  To offer a general suggestion use “should”, to be more emphatic (stronger emphasis) use “must” or “have to”.   This is if you have a strong knowledge and experience of the place in question.  Usually “must” and “have to” are used to talk about an obligation or necessity.  “Must” and “have to” are slightly different – must is used to talk about an obligation where you have authority, whereas “have to” is use to talk about an obligation where the authority is coming from an external source, eg

  • I must go home now I’m tired (it’s the speaker’s decision)
  • I have to be at work at 8am (the obligation is from the employer)

You can use these phrases to exaggerate (make bigger) the importance of something, eg

  • You must visit Harrod’s department store.  It’s an essential destination for every visitor to London.

You can also use regular verbs to offer information.

  • I recommend/suggest verb-ing
  • I suggest visiting the Empire State Building.”

These verb constructions possibly give more authority and formality, particularly with business passengers.  Suggest and recommend are again slightly different – recommend is only used when you have had personal experience of something.

Remember you will probably be busy and have other important tasks, so keep it simple and clear.  To offer more information use the linker because plus it is + adjective/phrases.

  • ….because it is beautiful and well known.

If you do have time, you could ask short closed questions to show interest with the passenger and to make them feel more comfortable.

  • “Have you been before?” /  “Is this your first time in x ?”

Other communication techniques

Giving advice to passengers after they have asked you a question requires a friendly, approachable attitude.  Even if you are busy you need to show you are happy to speak to the passenger with good body language and posturing.

  • If you have nothing in your hand keep hands open and if the passenger is seated try and make full eye contact.  You may consider changing your posture, eg bending downwards so they are not looking directly up at you.
  • Gesturing involves your hands while you speak.  When giving information it shows more confidence if you keep hands apart and move them from time to time.
  • When asking the passenger a question to show interest remember to use rising intonation towards the end of the question.  “Do you go there often?”

Vocabulary for cabin crew – how to remember and what to remember

When learning any new vocabulary you need to learn in groups or categories, for example:

  • Parts of the aircraft
  • Food and drink
  • Safety procedures
  • Tourist information

Also you should be realistic, for every lesson or day of study, only expect to learn and remember 5 -10 new words.  You must decide what is the most important for your job.

The topic of this article is about giving information to passengers, and in particular this includes tourist attractions, so that is one vocabulary group.   Now consider word families:

  • a tourist / tourism / tour
  • a sightseer / sightseeing / sightsee
  • explore / exploration / explorer (e.g. Christopher Columbus)

Which part of speech are  the above words, eg verbs, nouns or adjectives?  When you learn new vocabulary it is helpful to write (n), (adj) or (adv) after each word to help you remember how they should be used.  In time you will be able to recognise patterns between words.  Also study the English words for the major tourist attractions in the country/city you are flying to.  If you fly to Europe, for example, equip yourself with a little bit of knowledge of the top 10 tourist attractions, for example: –

The Eiffel Tower, River Seine, Louvre (Paris)

Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square (London)

English for cabin crew – practice activity

Picture scenario

Now look at the picture below, imagine the passenger is asking the flight attendant for information about what to do in London.

  1. What questions do you think the passenger will ask?
  2. Work out the answers to the questions as a cabin crew member.  (Remember, grammar, intonation and body language)
  3. What do you think will happen next?
In-flight English for cabin crew

How would you answer her questions in English?

Now study the picture and describe everything you see including: –

(a) What are the names of the objects?

(b) What expressions (use adjectives) can you see on their faces?

(c) What body language and gestures are being used?

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s cabin crew courses please visit  We can help you improve your English whether you are an experienced pilot, a cadet entry pilot, a controller, 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.

English learning advice from Aviation English Asia.

A look at different passenger profiles and language functions to resolve problems on-board.

Written by Michael McBride

In this article,  we will focus on problematic situations that can occur during flight.  This could involve dealing with intoxicated passengers or uncooperative people in the air.  We will look at different questions to consider when faced with a difficult situation, suitable grammar forms and you will also have the chance to practise using visual examples.

Passengers – a diverse mixture

As a member of cabin crew on a commercial airline you will come across a large mix of people from all backgrounds and cultures.  Although there are many stereotypes in society, it may be useful to be aware of them for quick and efficient handling of passengers.

  • A stereotype is a cultural and social expectation that may not be wholly true and accurate but exists in society and we cannot avoid them.

Would you provide the same service to an elderly man the same way you would treat a 20 year old man heading on holiday?  What language and service would you provide someone with full religious garb, or a pregnant woman finding it difficult to enjoy the flight?  Or simply, how would you treat an angry passenger compared to a co-operative and peaceful passenger?

Of course your airline will tell you to treat everyone with the same high-class service, but you must have some awareness of different people so the language you use can be adapted for each situation.  The wrong form of service language could make a situation worse.  Let’s now consider this with grammar and context.

Passengers - a diverse mixture


Describing appearance and emotions – grammar and context

It is useful to ask yourself questions when you have to deal with a problem passenger and keep in mind these questions need to be answered within a few seconds: –

  • Who are they?
  • Why do you think they are complaining or not co-operating?
  • How will you resolve the situation?
  • What language will you use?

With your trainer at Aviation English Asia you will work on adapting language to specific contexts and types of passenger, but now let’s focus on grammar and vocabulary in a more general approach for difficult passengers.

After considering the problem at hand e.g. a passenger is complaining about their meal, and evaluating the situation consider your language.  It is advisable to not use overly direct and plain language.  Using formal verbs like “reject” and “decline” could create more tension and escalate the problem.   Use of apologetic language may soften the situation, look at the following and consider which is more effective?

  • “I’m sorry, sir, but your card hasn’t been accepted.”
  • “Sir, your card has been declined.”

The first example may use more words but projects politeness and calm.  Notice also the use of contractions is vital, for instance, “hasn’t” as opposed to “has not.”  Contractions are made for spoken English but long forms are also used, but they show more emphasis and authority, which is not effective when trying to calm down a passenger.

Politeness and consideration should always be used.  This can also be reinforced by modal verbs that are not strong but still project advice, suggestion and recommendation.  For example: –

  • Sir, you may like to try this meal instead.
  • Madam, would you like to try this option?
  • You could try this meal instead, sir.

Escalated problems, in other words situations you probably cannot handle on your own need to be directed to your senior colleague.  With this it will also bring a new set of language tools if your senior only speaks in English.

Basic description language includes: –

  • Use of adjectives and nouns e.g. angry passenger
  • Keep it simple and use the present simple or progressive tenses e.g. he is not moving from his seat.
  • Using stronger tone and stress will show your English speaking supervisor the situation is more important compared to if you use a lighter tone.  Think of the importance of the problem.

Practice – context and language.

Situation 1

In-flight English for cabin crew


  1. Context.  What type of passengers?
  2. Predict.  What could be potential problems?
  3. Communicate.  What language will you use?

This picture shows a group of young travellers, maybe college students heading for Spring Break.  There is a possibility they may be noisy and even over-bearing towards other passengers.

Situation 2

Credit: Sky News

  1. Context.  What type of passengers?
  2. Predict.  What could be potential problems?
  3. Communicate.  What language will you use?

Looking at the body language and gesturing of the male passenger there could be a problem with his meal.  Did he order it?  Is there a problem with what is on the plate?  Also consider his age and background.

Situation 3

Credit: unknown

1      Context.  What type of passengers?

2      Predict.  What could be potential problems?

3      Communicate.  What language will you use?

A number of situations could be predicated here, from complaining to even an argument between passengers.  How would you handle the situation, would you need more help from a supervisor?


Think of some more situations and consider what you would say.


  • Be aware of your passengers and who they are
  • Ask yourself a series of questions to evaluate the situation
  • What could happen next, will you need a supervisor?  How would you speak to the supervisor, how would you describe the passenger?

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s cabin crew courses please visit

English learning advice from Aviation English Asia.

A look at grammar and beyond to help communicate with the English-speaking passenger

Written by Michael McBride

In this article, specifically for cabin crew, you will learn different ways to communicate offers of service to passengers (food/drinks etc), dealing with formality/informality and different verb uses.  Also, you will be able to practice using video/image excerpts and advice for your future cabin crew English training.

Grammar focus – form and register

Although regarded by some people as a difficult area, grammar forms the building blocks of any language and once you have got a range of good grammatical phrases/expressions you can be confident in your job.  Hopefully what you learn in this article will be developed with further training, as learning English is an on going process.  Now looking at the words above in the subtitle…

Form relates to how something is constructed, for example we form regular past tense verbs using verb + ed, or modal verbs using modal (can/could etc) + verb infinitive.  Obviously connected with this should be meaning, otherwise why bother saying it?

Register refers to how formal or informal something is.  This can be expressed using different forms, and context (where something is said) plays a major part of this.  It can include the usual polite exchanges, such as please and thank you, but even this has different registers: “thanks” vs. “thank you very much.”  You can also change register with verbs, which is the main focus of this section.

Grammar and offering service on-board

As a member of cabin crew, you have to make passengers feel comfortable and provide a service, from offering drinks and food to helping them with their bags or opening an overhead compartment.  These expressions might include: –

  • Can I help you with your bags?
  • Do you want me to do that for you?
  • Can I get you a drink?  Here you go, thanks.

The above offers of service are clear and direct English, but to add a higher register and feeling of added politeness you could change the above with the following.

Could (modal) + verb infinitive

Would + Like instead of Do You

Thank You

Sir/Madam (especially in business class and on flagship airlines e.g. Cathay Pacific.)

How would you change those offers of service?


You should have something similar to this: –

  • Could I help/assist you with your bags, sir/madam?
  • Would you like me to help you with that?
  • Could I offer you a drink, sir/madam?  Here you go/are, thank you.


Modal verbs (can, could, would, should etc) will be very useful for your cabin language repertoire and they are easy to use because the form is always modal + verb infinitive.  You can change them to suit context and register and the degree of something, for example, “should” is a stronger suggestive modal than “could”.

Also notice that the verb infinitive can also be made more formal and courteous, for example, get -> offer.  It would be useful to have a range of both register forms depending on your airline’s needs.  Your instructor at Aviation English Asia will help you develop and understand these verb forms further.

Put it into practice

Visual exercise

Now you have the opportunity to role-play cabin crew scenarios using a range of media.  With the picture below answer the following questions: –

  1. What is happening?
  2. What part of the flight could it be?
  3. What do you think the cabin attendant is saying?
  4. What do you think the passenger is saying before and afterwards?
  5. Who else could be involved in the communication?


Do the same checklist of questions for the following scenarios: –

  • A passenger is having difficulty storing their bag in the overhead compartment
  • In the first class cabin, the passenger is trying to open up their flatbed.
  • A child passenger has just vomited in their seat

Video exercise

The following video link should act as a further role-play situation.  Pretend you are the cabin attendant and passenger, write down a list of questions and answers you expect.  What polite register language would you use?  You could also predict unusual actions for example, the passenger drops the glass of juice, what ‘offer of service’ language could you use?

Serving drinks
Credit – “primaseason”

Advice for training and practice

For further training you need to first evaluate your English skills.  However, if you can understand a lot of this article you are probably an intermediate user so “In-Flight English” with Aviation English Asia is a good choice for you.  The course allows you to improve your English while at the same time exploring and debating incidents that can affect cabin crew members.  You will go beyond grammar forms by putting language into context and practicing the English skills needed to become a cabin attendant.  There are also options for you to gain certification for your language ability from Cambridge ESOL, which will help you gain new positions or enhance your current position.

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit If you haven’t already please join the Aviation English mailing list for special offers and details of courses in your area.

English learning advice from Aviation English Asia.

Article written by Michael McBride

In this article I will focus on the context of the ICAO recommended English language requirements. In other words, why have ICAO shown so much interest in English language proficiency.  We will also look at various examples showing poor English skills that contributed to aviation incidents/accidents and then a quick look at what ICAO expects from you.

Do you know why you are here?

These should be fairly simple questions for you:

Why are you in English language training? Who are you and what do you want to achieve?

It goes without question that you should be here for the fundamental reason of preventing injury or even death in the sky or on the ground with intelligible and effective English skills.

Despite some airlines having their own Aviation English tests, as do some language academies, the common goal is to make sure pilots/controllers can communicate effectively in routine and non-routine situations.  Obviously a lack of English awareness could lead to an aviation incident or accident.

  • Generally, an aviation incident is an event that results in injury or damage to people/aircraft or at least is a cause for concern eg. a near-miss.
  • An accident usually means resulting fatalities from an aviation related event

Specific incidents/accidents showing lack of English communication

We will now look briefly at some aviation incidents/accidents, be aware that a lack of English skills was one factor in the problems that occurred.

  • Heathrow LOT 282 incident (2007).

This incident is a recent example used by Aviation English instructors to show that a clear and effective use of English could resolve an issue quickly.  From AAIB (2008) reports we are informed that the aircraft had navigational aid problems and pilots showed poor situational awareness, but also the responses by the crew to the English speaking ATC were practically unintelligible.  Good communication would not have escalated the chain of problems and the crew showed a lack of even basic English competency, for example the commander reported position as “330” instead of the actual “030”.  This could have been fatal but thankfully the aircraft eventually landed safely and was a recent ‘wake up’ call for all ICAO level 6 and lower Aviation personnel.

Please study the AAIB report here

  • New York Avianca 52 accident (1990)

This accident highlighted the problem of unsuitable AE lexis/vocabulary in alerting ATC of on-board problems.  Not far from Kennedy International flight deck problems resulted in a command for “priority landing” rather than a much better “emergency” command given the seriousness of their situation.  The captain and co-pilot did not ‘agree’ with the English commands, in other words there was little understanding in plain and phraseology English between them.  One thought “emergency” was stated, rather than the less critical “priority landing.”  Was there a Spanish-English translation issue here? Was it a lack of confidence and competency in English communication?

For a transcript of the communication before this tragedy resulted please click here

ICAO outcomes and recommendations

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is the general authority in aviation, underneath their position of authority are national regulators, with international organisations, such as JAA and Eurocontrol feeding expertise and recommended practices into the national regulators and ICAO.  The ICAO English requirements (level 4 etc) that you are studying for affect private pilots, commercial pilots, helicopter pilots and air traffic controllers.

ICAO English requirementsImplementation of ICAO recommended requirements for English Proficiency were originally set for 2008, but after this being unrealistic the date was changed to March 5th, 2011.  This is the date you must target for level 4 proficiency.

The overview of English proficiency as stated by ICAO is as follows: –

“The English Language shall be available on request from any aircraft station on the ground or in the air.”

Which means you must have the capability to respond in English even if in your ‘local’ airspace.

“Clarify that both phraseology and plain English proficiency are required”

As has been stated clearly in previous articles, you must be generally and on the whole effective in communicating phraseology and unexpected events, which may require plain/general English.

ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements (September 2004) 9835 Document is seen in AE teaching as the guide to getting you at your required level of operation.  The articles I have written take information from this master document.


ICAO gave a series of recommendations after the Avianca accident, for example, including setting a fixed language of terms.  (ICAO, 1991)  It must be clear that  ICAO gives recommendations, not accreditation of assessment. Targeting the level you require is your first step with AE instruction, once you have obtained this after being tested by your airline or academy your English skills will become a long-term component of your career, with testing every 3 years if under ICAO level 6.

Your instructor at Aviation English Asia will guide you through the ICAO recommended practices in your course.  Remember you are interested in being intelligible, effective communicators for the majority of the time in both routine and unpredictable situations, using fixed phraseology and also plain English when required.  It should remain one very important part of your aviation career.


  • What is the difference between an incident and an accident?
  • Must you speak English all the time on the radio?
  • What basic English problems caused the Heathrow LOT 282 incident to be in the news?
  • What, in your opinion, are the key words that describe ICAO level 4?
  • How will you be tested?
  • Evaluate your next step, what are the most important reasons for your training?

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit 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.

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”?
  • “Affirm”
  • “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.

Next steps

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 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.

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, pronunciatAviation English Pronunciationion 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 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?


  • Intelligibility, intelligibility, and intelligibility.
  • Try to be as accurate as possible but being understood is key
  • Listen to a variety of accents from real ATC recordings. What sounds do you find difficult to both speak and listen?
  • What to do next

    For more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit 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.

    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;

    • Phraseology,
    • Plain English 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 and above 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?

    1. A lot of cargo + gate
    2. Animal + in terminal
    3. Rain + window

    For feedback on your answers please email


    • 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