Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Challenges Teaching Aviation English

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Aviation English is more prominent today because of a  March deadline imposed by ICAO ((International Civil Aviation Organization) for all commercial pilots and air traffic control crews to demonstrate a Level 4 proficiency in the language.

That makes Mr. Darren Cairn's timely  masters thesis, An Insight into Aviation English: The Importance of Professional Collaboration, published just last week, more important.

Mr. Cairn provides a primer for English professors hoping to meet the overwhelming demand for specialized English for pilots and air traffic control crews.

Challenges to ESP Professors
Aviation English, as an ESP, centers around the special needs of the student, the pilot, in this case, who usually knows more about the subject than the professor. Therein lies one challenge and opportunity for the professor to take chances and innovate.

By nature, ESP professors are called to be daring in the classroom.

While a plethora of information, research, and standardized tests exists for Business English, Aviation English is a developing field and the rush is on now to fill gaps given the ICAO mandate. The absence of standards and developed course curriculum poses additional obstacles to ESP professors.

Specialized English for pilots is the main thrust of a course. However, General English is important as well (p.22-23).  Pilots must be able to describe and analyze situations and communicate with the air traffic control officials beyond the technical operations of the the aircraft.

Mr. Cairns also tackles the native-speaker paradigm for Aviation English. Basically, it does not apply (p.27).  A pilot needs to be able to communicate  intelligibly in English and thus perfection (however relative a condition that is) should not be the aim, if ever.

The  nascent field of Aviation English provides both rewards and risks for ESP professors. As the frequency of international flights increases and the Chinese air market matures, future demand is a near certainty. The time seems right to gain the specialized aviation knowledge and apply your own winning formula for classroom success.

*** If you are in São Paulo and need English lessons, or Elite English Services including translations (Spanish/French/Portuguese to English), please contact Professor Winn by sending an email to for a prompt evaluation. Buy your English-language texts today!