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.
Now, just to illustrate it, here are more resources on the topic, so you can polish your reading and listening skills:
Did you have any trouble understanding any of the texts/ videos? Book some classes!