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ICAO4U – aviation language Listening: how to learn, what learning strategy to adopt

Listening: how to learn, what learning strategy to adopt

The most frequently asked questions by the candidates who prepare to the Test of English for Aviation at

  • what method should I use to learn to understand the messages?
  • what are the listening techniques?
  • what should I concentrate on?

I hope that the advice (on the basis of my examination experience and observations) I present below will turn out to be useful.

However trivial it may sound: LISTEN:)! PRACTISE:)! As much and as extensively as possible. There are numerous sources of recordings available on the Internet, so appropriate selection poses some challenge.

  • do not listen to the native speakers only. During TEA session only 10-15% of recordings are produced by the native speakers. The messages are read out by the speakers of various nationalities and ethnicities. Exposing yourselves to various accents will also let you work out flexibility in understanding. It is the invaluable skill as during the examination your the first message may be said by a Chinese speaker, the second one by a French one, the third by a Spanish, etc. The differences deriving from the origin of the speakers are very audible, nobody polishes anything here up to the near-native level
  • repeat short messages, not the whole ATIS or ATC Clearance at full length. Single message at the exam consists of one, maximum two sentences. I believe it is beneficial to start with the recordings which feature subtitle display as it significantly facilitates understanding. Read while listening, but repeat without looking at the text
  • find the content which refers to non-typical situations as the TEA examination recordings comprise this type of situations only, for example: emergency situations
  • record your repetitions and compare their accuracy with the original versions
  • use the speakers, not the headphones! During the examination you will not use the headphones!

Of course, effective remembering of the two sentence non-standard message at first listening is enormously demanding. It does pose difficulty to everyone. During the examination you may always ask for the recording of any individual message to be played again. So do not be discouraged by failure to understand at the first attempt. Also, try to use some of the following techniques which may help you understand better:

  • concentrate on the verbs and nouns primarily as they carry meaning. When you manage to remember them it shall be easy to construct the message. You are not expected to repeat the message in actual words. You answer the question What is the message not Repeat the message
  • when you confront the message which consists of two sentences, try to remember the details of the second one. Practice indicates clearly that if candidates attempt to remember every word from the first sentence, they fail to produce the message from the second one

In the second part of the examination you will be asked to listen to 4 longer recordings: 4-5 sentence ones and take notes to report  the message later. You MUST take notes, the sentences are full of information. Note:

  • verbs and nouns
  • numbers and proper names

The third part of the listening section require candidates to ask questions and give relevant advice to the speakers. During your practice sessions on the recordings available on youtube ask questions to the messages produced by the pilot. During the examination you are supposed to ask questions to find out more. Asking ‘Wh’ questions is definitely a very effective strategy. Just do your best to resist the temptation to give advice when we expect the questions:). Many candidates forget about this and they have their grades significantly lowered for not adhering to the instructions. Ask straightforward questions rather than polite forms like could you tell me or would you be so kind… Make your questions simple and ask more than one, otherwise the examiner is expected to elicit more.

When you prepare and practise advice giving,   create relevant and prompt advice to the message presented by the pilot. Also more than one piece of advice. Use imperative, no ornaments, please.

Enjoy your preparation and exams! Good Luck!