Posts Tagged ‘Hong Kong’

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.

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Pass the CX ICAO English test with Aviation English Asia.

If you are based in Hong Kong and want to become a pilot then you will surely be aware that one of the best (and least expensive) ways of getting on to the flight deck is through an airline’s cadet pilot programme. This has since be opened to people of other nationalities so local Hong Kong people must now compete with native English speakers. One area of difficulty is passing the ICAO English test.

Aviation English Asia have a complete course to help you pass the CX ICAO English test. Our ICAO English for CPP course will give you the skills you need to pass Cathay’s ICAO English test. We have a thorough understanding of both learner needs and what the CX assessors and Flight Ops recruitment departments want so you can be sure that our course is the best possible preparation for the ICAO English test.

Learning English for aviation is a long term goal – you can’t take a magic pill to learn English overnight. Language centres in Hong Kong often don’t teach you the study skills and habits that you need to learn effectively. Even the better schools offer completely inappropriate courses for candidates who want to join the cadet pilot programme. Aviation English Asia offers a better solution.

Here are ten reasons why:

  • Aviation English Asia are experienced in assessing English for the purposes of the CX ICAO test.
  • We understand what the assessors and recruiters want. 
  • Aviation English Asia courses are flexible and fit into your timetable easily.
  • We won’t sell you a long course that you don’t need (and don’t have time to attend).
  • Aviation English Asia only employ CELTA / DELTA / Trinity Cert TESOL qualified native English teachers (all our teachers have between 5 and 15 years of teaching experience and have externally assessed teaching qualifications – they don’t have ‘online’ TEFL certificates).
  • We accurately place you at the right starting level.
  • We understand what is required of cadet pilots.
  • We give you constant feedback and assessment to make sure that you are always on track.
  • We want you to succeed – our students are our best advertisement and our goal is to produce competent English speakers for the airline industry.
  • Aviation English Asia have a 100% success rate.

100% of our students have passed the CX ICAO English test.

Find out your ICAO Aviation English level now.

Although Aviation English Asia has an excellent track record in preparing candidates for the CX ICAO test we won’t give you the answers to memorise. We don’t offer that kind of preparation. Instead we will help you develop the English language skills you need to pass the test, without having to cram for the answers at the last minute.  Fluency in English can’t be faked and the assessor will know if you are memorising answers.  Remember that our goal is to produce competent English speakers that can communicate clearly and with grammatical accuracy.

What happens in the ICAO English test?
The assessor will be looking at your language skill in 6 separate areas. 
These are Structure, Pronunciation, Vocabulary, Comprehension, Fluency and Interaction.
English courses available in mainstream language centres in Hong Kong rarely provide sufficient practice in these core areas as they are designed for a more regular function.  This is typically academic study eg IELTS or TOEFL, or alternatively for general or business English eg BULATS.  Mainstream English schools usually lack the expertise to train learners to meet the requirements of the ICAO Aviation English test and can only provide a very general English course.  As the environment is very mixed the learner in such an environment will often pick up “Chinglish”  errors as a result.  Furthermore the timetable and length of the course make it very difficult for CPP candidates to learn English well.

To pass the CX ICAO test you will need to score level 5 in each of these areas, though candidates that were told to reach ICAO level 4 have recently been allowed to pass with level 4 scores.

It seems that one of the difficulties is that people are not aware of their English ability in terms of an ICAO rating before they take the CX test.  If your English is generally pretty good we recommend taking our Aviation English assessment test first so that you can have a realistic idea of how good your English really is.  This is very inexpensive at $968 HKD for both an 60 minute online, and an in-person assessment.

If you take the CX ICAO test and do not achieve the required standard in any of the 6 categories the assessor will most likely recommend between 100 and 300 hours of English training.  That can be expensive, if you choose the wrong school / tutor.  There is also the danger that the English training might not be appropriate for CPP candidates needs.

Find out your ICAO English level before you attend an interview.

There IS a better alternative to mainstream schools and tutors (though I am sure some of them are also very good in their area). There is also more than one ICAO English test in the world, just as there are many types of English examination. Before you take the ICAO English test I recommend taking an independent assessment. This will give you confidence when you sit the CX ICAO test and a more detailed understanding of your language abilities and weaknesses.

For more information about ICAO Aviation English for the CX CPP please visit:

and also join in the discussion about the CX ICAO test on our Facebook fan page.