Are you a pilot or a traffic controller? Active or going through training to become one? Sure as hell the challenge of taking an ICAO language proficiency test is imminent. And it doesn’t really matter whether you have just been granted a private pilot license or a seasoned TRE with thousands of flight hours in the logbook. On top of it, you won’t get rid of it once and forever’: the spectre of ICAO test will haunt you every 3 years and plague your pilot’s or controller’s life out. But is it that terrifying?
Mastering English to the extent the ICAO wants you to – i.e. allowing you to operate efficiently as a pilot or a controller – is possible, and not just in theory. It is much like going through a physical training test when you have to be able do a known number of sit ups, pull ups and run 400-meter dash under 1 minute. Considering you know the basics, clearly see where your goal is and have time and motivation, you can boost the skills no problem – all technique are out there available.
My job here is to give you this road map so that it helps you reach your goal. And to warn you about possible stumbling blocks and pitfalls along the way and also places where you can take a shortcut. Having a real guide (a teacher) is way more useful, of course, and you will need one at a certain point of this journey. But there is a whole lot of things you can do YOURSELF.
So in this blog I will
- go through ICAO requirements for each of the six skills (descriptors)
- describe prep process stages
- answer the question whether you can start to learn aviation English from scratch
- go through pros and cons of self-prep, group training and individual coaching
- give recommendations on how to boost each skill on your own
- review the existing text books and courses
- list extra resources you can use in your training
- analyze test formats and testing centers
- advise on how to maintain you level after passing the ICAO test
- pinpoint common mistakes
- give hints on how to master standard phraseology
- share my experience of teaching aviation English (as a private language expert and a language training center employee).
But before we dive into actual techniques and practices let’s hold on for a second and make sure we are mentally set for this. Learning has a lot to do with psychology. So the way you set your mind before you start this race will be critical for success.
What can get in the way
- Any kind of negativity. Being frustrated from time to time during learning process is OK. But positive emotions will make the task easier. Make up your mind to meaningful work flow, set aside fear of failure or any bad feelings English (or teachers, or native speakers) may evoke.
- Anticipation of immediate results. It’s a widespread myth that you can ‘memorize all the answers in just a week’ and then pass the test with flying colors. It’s not hard at all for the examiner to determine that you are citing things by heart. What’s even worse – all those answers you memorized just for the sake of your ICAO test won’t help you a bit in your professional life. Being confident and using your intermediate level (successfully communicate and understand) – that is the skill you are looking for. So you’d better be spending your time and money on that.
- Blame game. I’ll-pay-and-they’ll-teach-me approach is so attractive, isn’t it? But let’s get back to the analogy of physical training – there is no on-the-field coach who will do sit ups for you. I’ll tell you more: the better your coach, the more sit ups you will do in between your workouts. The teacher arranges the learning process, but you equally share the responsibility for the result. And the sooner you take this responsibility for the result the quicker you’ll get it.
- Mission accomplished. Pass your test and forget about it – a not too smart attitude. Since you are investing in your English, do that not for the sake of the test but your speaking skills in general. Foreign language skill is your asset – think about it this way and let it be your motivation.
- Perfectionism. Done is better than perfect, otherwise you just risk to push your inner mute button. Allow you to make mistakes and speak at a very basic level.
Home Assignment 1: check your present mindset, adjust it if needed. Find out what exactly you lack right now: knowledge, information, motivation, tools, guidance?
And let’s go.