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ICAO4U – aviation language ICAO4U exam stage 3: describing the photograph

ICAO4U exam stage 3: describing the photograph

Seems easy, doesn’t it? The ‘postcard’ with one or two airplanes or some situation at the airport. But when was the last time you actually described the photograph or a painting to somebody? Especially under the time restriction of 30 seconds and some stress connected with taking an important exam?

The most frequent mistakes that the candidates make at ICAO English exams.

  • Extensive thinking-over ‘what to say’ , ‘how to construct the utterance’, ‘which construction to use to impress’ before actually starting to speak. If you construct the sentence before saying it, coining it to perfection, you waste time. 10 seconds? That’s 30% of time dedicated to this examination module. 
  • Interpreting the situation. Don’t do it here. If you are presented with the photograph depicting runway incursion case, say it/ name it. That’s where you start. By interpretting/ concentrating on the reason and possible outcomes of the situation, you waste time and run risk of failing to carry out the task itself, which is: ‘describe what you see’. The time for the interpretation comes in the subsequent stage.
  • Following the description presented by you, the examiner will ask 5 questions included in their sheet and some additional follow-up questions invented by them in course of the conversation, according to the content of what you say. The examiner and you will have 10 minutes for that! 

How to do it perfectly then?

Say 5 sentences which are not very sophisticated grammatically but communicatively efficient/ effective. THAT’S THE CHALLENGE: JUST LIKE IN ATC COMMUNICATION. Grammar: keep it simple: ‚There is … / There are ….’; ‚The picture shows …/ The photograph depicts …’, etc. You can include both constructions in one utterance:

‚The photograph depicts a very dangerous situation on the taxiway/ runway. There are two commercial heavy airplanes: one is landing and the other lining up. It’s a clear case of runway incursion’. 10 seconds.

Structure/ organize your utterance. There are phrases to keep your description neat and facilitate the comfort of listening: ‚in the foreground’, ‚in the background’, ‚in the distant background’:

‚In the distant background of the picture, there are a few heavy airplanes parked on the apron in front of the terminal. The jet bridges are extended so the boarding is probably in progress’. 20 seconds altogether already.

What to do with the remaining 10 seconds?

Use the knowledge that you have, i.e. describe the weather… You are unbeatable here: ATIS vocabulary:).

‚It seems that the visibility is limited to …Strong gusts of wind are probable. The cloud-base is low. There are many water patches on the apron. That runway is wet so the stopping distance will be longer. I can see the birds so there might be increased birds activity in the vicinity of the airport’. 

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