Nose gear pizzazz

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Guys! You didn’t have to go through this just to get me to write again! I’m kidding, of course, what I mean is that this event has been relevant enough to make me find some time to post on the blog. Yay!

I’m referring to the precautionary landing made by a TAM A330 last September 26 at JFK International Airport, in New York City. As they were approaching, pilots received indication that their nose wheel steering might not be fully functional, so they decided to go around and run some checks, after which they attempted a second approach. This time, the tower informed them that their nose wheel seemed to be cocked at a 90º angle. Even so, they decided to land, which they did without any problem, as the nose wheel just realigned by itself.

I received the audio recording of the exchange between pilots and ATC almost immediately after the fact, and since then I’ve been asked by various students to confirm that the pilots in question “speak bad English”. I wouldn’t say that.

After all, they were able to make themselves understood by several American controllers, and managed to sort out the problem relatively smoothly. Some mistakes were made, but none of them really affected the communication. Obviously, the Brazilian pilots have a… guess what? A Brazilian accent! (No?! Really?!) That’s not an issue according to the ICAO guidelines, although I have to confess that this is what surprised me the most, being that Brazilian English proficiency examiners tend to be quite prejudiced against their own accent, sometimes issuing candidates a 3 in Pronunciation, when in fact what they have is a regional accent, being totally intelligible nonetheless.

Having said that, we can certainly use this event to help us develop our own linguistic skills, why not? So, I do have a few pointers for students:

1. If you listen to the recording, you will notice that at some points the pilots hesitate and include meaningless pauses in between words. As seen on the ICAO Language Proficiency Rating Scale, in Fluency, pauses and hesitation may hinder effective communication. My suggestion is: as much as possible, think first and then speak. Take a few seconds to prepare yourself before starting your exchange, to avoid these unnecessary pauses, as they might make your message less clear to the interlocutor.

2. Work on your communicative strategies. You will also notice that the Brazilian pilots kept using the terms “maintain the runway” to mean that they would probably have to stay on the runway after landing, that they wouldn’t be able to clear it by themselves without assistance. At one point, a controller urges them to confirm this information, and he clearly says “understand you’re gonna stay on the runway, is that correct?”. Even after this intervention, all the other pilots keep using “maintain the runway“. My tip is: adopt words used by your interlocutor, because they are part of their repertoire, thus have a better chance of being understood.

That’s it, basically, although I’ve been giving my students more specific pointers as we listen to the recording together in class. It’s a very rich material, there’s a lot of useful vocabulary, besides being a wonderful listening comprehension piece.

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Now, just to illustrate it, here are more resources on the topic, so you can polish your reading and listening skills:

A news video on the subject

The audio recording

The incident as reported by The Aviation Herald

A video on investigations on Airbus landing gear

The report and video of the 2005 similar incident with JetBlue A320

Did you have any trouble understanding any of the texts/ videos? Book some classes!

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Hide your aces up your sleeve

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Hallelujah!!

Good news, everyone! The Royal British Academy has finally succumbed to the pressure of billions of non-native speakers of English and has changed one of the features of the English language that cause the most trouble to these people: the irregular verbs.

Everyone who has ever studied the Past and Perfect tenses in English knows what a nightmare it can be to memorize all those irregular forms of the verbs, both in their past form and in their past participle form.

Of course it is difficult, because there are absolutely no rules you can apply to help you remember them. For instance, why is it that ‘bring’ goes ‘bring- brought- brought’ and ‘ring’ goes ‘ring- rang- rung’? Don’t they both end in ‘ing’? What about ‘show’? It pretends to be regular, because its past form is ‘showed’, but then it shows its true face, and the past participle goes ‘shown’! No way!

So it was to put an end to this torture that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, along with the Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron, has finally convincend the High Board of the Royal British Academy to abolish irregular verbs from the English language. Quoting the new rule, which was written on the Great Book Of English, “As per request of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, the declination of verbs into the past and past participle forms is henceforth banned from the English language”.

What does this mean to you, English student? No more time wasted memorizing endless lists of crazy verbs! Some examples: the past and past participle of ‘go’ (the second and the third columns, as they are usually referred to) will become simple ‘goed’. Likewise, ‘buy’ will now be ‘buyed’, ‘see’ will be ‘seed’ and ‘fly’ will be ‘flied’ (you still have to follow the spelling rules though).

So throw your books away and enjoy!

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For those of you who haven’t noticed yet, this post is just an April Fool’s prank! I know that this particular piece of news would make a whole lot of students happy, and I thought, ‘why not?’… I hope you haven’t gotten too downhearted to realize you will still have to memorize irregular verbs for many many years to come…

But come on, it’s not that hard!

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The KISS Principle applied to the ANAC Test

Don’t worry, I’m not about to start giving away romantic advice, far from that! In fact, the KISS principle is everything but romantic.

It is an acronym said to have been used for the first time by Kelly Johnson, an engineer at Lockheed in charge of designing spy planes during the Cold War. The acronym K.I.S.S. stands for “Keep It Simple Stupid“, and he meant that even an average mechanic should be able to repair  the aircraft they were designing, they shouldn’t  require an expert with sophisticated tools. This principle is still used nowadays by project managers and software developers, among other professionals.

I usually advise my students to apply this principle when taking the ANAC Test. That doesn’t mean that you should follow your “friends'” advice and answer just “yes”/ “no”/ “never happened to me” to every question the examiner asks. It just means that you should adjust the amount of information you give, for a few reasons:

1) You should use the structures and vocabulary you feel comfortable with. Of course, we’re all trying to achieve level 4 or higher, but everyone has an inner “examiner” that tells them how deep they can dive into their English pool. During the exam itself is not the time to test new vocabulary or structures, that should be done in class.

2) Examiners can give up to four tests a day. Can you imagine what it’s like to hear practically the same things over and over again? I’m sure your life is very interesting and you’ve had hardships and joy in your career as a pilot, but that’s much more information than the examiners need to assess your English proficiency.

3) Excessively precise information may be detrimental to your fluency. Whenever you stop to remember exactly when you had that engine failure, or what was your destination when that passenger fainted during the flight, you will have to pause for a few seconds (maybe more than a few), and this silence, or even worse – the hesitation sounds you will probably produce while trying to remember that piece of information (erm, hm, or plain “é….”, which by the way is a hesitation sound in Portuguese, not in English) – will come off as lack of fluency.

My point is: think quality, not quantity. If you have the markers for level 4 and you know the test format inside out , you will certainly pass without problem, even if you stay a short time in front of the examiner. On the other hand, a long test doesn’t necessarily mean a good result.

So here go some tips:

a) Tell the truth, nothing but the truth, but NOT THE WHOLE truth.

b) Give prompt and informative answers, using the words and grammar you feel comfortable with.

c) If you forget some vocabulary (you will forget some terms, trust me), don’t try to remember it,  just explain it in other words.

d) If you don’t understand a question, negotiate with the examiner until you are able to answer it appropriately. Don’t answer any questions you haven’t understood.

e) If you realize you’ve made a mistake, correct yourself. Self-correction is a sign that the speaker is confident in their English, not the contrary.

Other than that, what can I say? Keep studying so you can achieve your level 4 – and keep it!

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He said, she said: the importance of Reported Speech vol.2

As promised, here are some other reporting verbs:

Inform – “There will be a meeting later this week“. The director informed us about a meeting later that week.

Repeat – “Turn right immediatyely, I say again, turn right immediately!” The controller repeated the instruction because the pilots hadn’t understood it.

Suggest – “Here’s a great website to practice listening”. My teacher suggested a great website to practice listening.

Explain – “I didn’t greet you because I didn’t recognize you! You look so different!” Mary explained that she hadn’t recognize me, that’s why she didn’t greet me .

Ask/ Answer – “- Do you take Lisa as your wife?” ” I do”. The priest asked me if I accepted Lisa as my wife and I answered that I did.

Check/ Confirm – “Sir, are you sure you are not allergic to penicilin?” The nurse checked/ confirmed that the patient wasn’t allergic to penicilin before giving him the shot.

Read back – “- ABC 123, descend to flight level 310 ” ” – Descend to flight level 210, ABC 123″. The pilot read back the instructions incorrectly. (read in the past, pronounced /réd/)

Realize – “Oh my God! I haven’t brought my laptop! Shoot!” I was already at the client’s office when I realized I hadn’t brought my laptop.

Report – “The car came out of the blue and ran over us, officer“. The victims reported the incident to the police.

Advise – “If I were you, I wouldn’t buy that car“. He had advised me against it, but I bought the car anyway.

Warn – “Watch out! There’s a hole on the sidewalk!!” Everybody warned him about the hole, but he fell right into it.

Correct – “I said room 1313, not 3030“. I corrected the receptionist when she misunderstood my room number”.

Clarify – “So, you mean we won’t have a vacation this year?” He clarified the bad news his boss had given him earlier that day.

Insist – “Please go to the supermarket for me, will you? Don’t forget it, there’s nothing to eat at home!” She insisted that I go to the supermarket because there was no food at home.

Complain – “You never tell me you love me!” She complained to her boyfriend about his lack of romance.

There are many more, these are just examples of verbs that make reported speech more accurate and interesting to the listener…

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Never sacrifice who you are…

I found this online and I just had to post it. Here is the original link.

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Confusing words: due to x because (of)

After “right…”, “why?” is the most frequent word said by an examiner when applying the ANAC test. The examiner always wants to give an opportunity for the candidate to speak a little longer, to develop the topic and provide the examiner with a long enough sample to be able to assess his or her English proficiency.

Pilots just love using the expression “due to” to explain why something happened, or the cause of some problem or failure. But is it always appropriate? Let’s see.

Basically, “due to” must be followed by a noun, nbot a complete sentence, with subject, verb and complement.

“We had to land as soon as possible due to an engine fire”, and NOT
“We had to land as soon as possible due to the engine was on fire”

“Because”, on the other hand, must be followed by a sentence with a subject and a verb, as seen in the example below:

“We shut down engine number one because it was vibrating”, and NOT
“We shut down engine number one because vibration”.

What about “because of”? Well, it follows the same rule as “due to”, so it must be followed by a noun.

“We couldn’t take off because of the rain”, and NOT
“We couldn’t take off because of it was raining”

Why does it work like this? Just because!

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