When pilots were first tested by ANAC and rated according to ICAO’s language proficiency requirements, most of them just aimed at reaching level 4, the so-called “Operational” level, which would allow them to start/continue flying abroad (and yes, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile are abroad). Lots of pilots were rated level 3, some level 5, a handful were awarded a 6 and a significant number reached level 4.
Of those pilots who were considered Operational, most of them were slap happy; after all, this meant that they’d be able to start making international flights – or that they’d be be able to maintain their positions as international pilots. But some of them were quite disappointed. “Why”?, you may ask.
They were disappointed because they were sure they’d get at least a level 5 (dubbed “Extended” on the ICAO Rating Scale). Most of them were even awarded 5 in some criteria, but as we all know, the lowest score is considered the final score of the test. “But why aim at 5 when a 4 already certifies you as a safe English speaker?”, you may ask.
Well, a level 5 gives pilots an autonomy of 6 years, as opposed to the 3-year period for recurrent testing when they have reached level 4. This alone represents an advantage, especially now that the tests cost pilots an average of R$500. But a level 5 also represents a personal accomplishment, the result of an investment of time, attention and financial resources in the study of a language that they don’t always love, but that they made a conscious effort to learn and master, because they knew how important it would be in their career.
It represents the official recognition of an ability acknowledged by their peers, who often praise their fluency and resourcefulness when dealing with foreigners, both inside and outside the cockpit. It crowns a long career of international flights twisted by circumstances beyond their control, such as the bankruptcy of an airline company or two tall buildings being destroyed by planes. It may also represent the opportunity to stand out from the crowd when applying for a better job – or even their first job (some companies will not allow applicants below level 5).
But before you set your hopes too high and set yourself up for another disappointment, check those topics from the list below that you feel are true for yourself to find out whether you are eligible to achieve level 5:
- My pronunciation and articulation are clear and my accent is very light;
- When I speak, I am able to clearly differentiate Past, Present and Future Tenses, both simple and continuous;
- I use First and Second Conditional well and at the appropriate moments;
- Present Perfect makes sense to me;
- I try to use Third Conditional, Past Perfect and inversions, but I’m not always successful;
- My vocabulary is varied, and precise;
- I don’t usually have to stop to remember words, because I am able to explain what I want in different ways;
- I use some idioms naturally;
- I feel quite comfortable talking about my work;
- I use words and expressions to help my interlocutor understand my message;
- I have no major problems understanding different people talking about aviation, even when I have never heard that situation before;
- I am always able to follow a conversation, I usually understand what the interlocutor wants from me;
- Discussing a topic in English feels almost as natural as doing it in Portuguese.
Topic 1 is about Pronunciation; topics 2 – 5 have to do with Structure; topics 6 – 8 deal on the criterion of Vocabulary; topics 9 and 10 concern Fluency; topic 11 regards Comprehension, and topics 12 and 13, Interactions.
You must have checked ALL of the topics above in order to be eligible to achieve level 5. If you are not sure about any of them, you should be assessed by a language professional, preferably using the same tools as will be used to assess you in your ANAC test (the Santos Dumont English Assessment).
Another important aspect to consider is test training. As every pilot knows, just reading the aircraft manual and the SOP does not enable you to fly an aircraft. Likewise, speaking English well may not be enough to guarantee you a level 5. Simulator training is essential to give you a better understanding of the flight operations, and of the test format. It is essential to prepare specifically for the test, especially when aiming at a higher level; knowing the test’s pitfalls and being prepared to deal with them will certainly increase your odds of getting that level 5. The best way to do that is by undergoing several mock tests (simulated tests), until taking the test becomes second nature.
Having said that, remember that each test is a unique experience, and it’s like a Polaroid picture of your English proficiency. This means that if you are not well-prepared on the day you take the test, you may well lose your 4 instead of getting a 5. So, make sure you fit the criteria to try for a 5 before you book your test.
And above all, don’t feel upset if all you get is a 4 again. A test is just a test, it shouldn’t define you or your English. After all, we all have the same goal in mind: improving the safety in the skies worldwide.