Tag Archives: ANAC test

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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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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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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He said, she said: the importance of reported speech -vol.1

Picture this: you arrive at work on Monday morning and ask your colleagues how their weekend was. Even though you’re just trying to make polite conversation, there’s always someone who will tell you exactly what they did, in detail, and it will go something like this:

“So, I went to the beach with some friends and that guy I like, you know. I told my friend ‘I’m not sure he likes me’ and she said ‘don’t worry about that, just be natural’, so I said ‘I can’t be natural around him he’s so hot’, then he arrived and said ‘what are you girls talking about?’ and we just said ‘nothing!’ It was really awkward…” and so on and so forth.

Quite annoying, right? Well, that’s probably what you do too, especially in English (sorry to be the bearer of bad news). So how can we make the same information sound less repetitive and more  precise, without having to make the voices and faces of all the people involved? That’s what Reported Speech is for.

So why do we usually resort to Direct Speech instead of Reported Speech? Basically because its easier, and let’s admit it: we’re just a tiny bit lazy… I say that because when you use Reported Speech, you naturally change the verb tenses to depict more precisely the actions that took place; when you use direct speech (that one that sounds like a theater play), you can keep the verb tenses unchanged, which is muuuuuch easier…

I’m not going to go into the details of the rules for verb tense, places and pronoun changes, you can find a very good explanation here.

My goal with this post is to remind ourselves that it doesn’t take much to express yourself better in English.

Reported speech is especially important for pilots taking the ANAC English Test. It shows the examiner that you master verb tenses, pronouns, connectors…on my next post I will give you some examples of verbs you can use in Reported Speech in order not to keep repeating ‘he said, she said’, ok?

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Pro-nun-ci-a-tion

I can’t talk enough about the importance of pronunciation when you are speaking English, or any foreign language, for that matter. Would you like to know why?

Because a non-native speaker of any language depends much more upon a clear pronunciation of the individual sounds*  and on the syllable stress** than native speakers. That is because native speakers’ brains are so used to listening to that particular language that they are able to “fill in the blanks” and understand practically everything they hear, as long as the intonation*** and rhythm**** are right.

It’s quite easy to see this feature in action when you are talking to someone in your own mother tongue. Let’s say you’re at a bar, having a beer with your pals; that’s a pretty noisy environment, but you’re still able to maintain a conversation with them, even if you can’t make out every single word they say, right? That’s because your brain is being kind enough to process the clues of intonation and rhythm, and putting together fragments of words so that you can make some sense out of what you hear. You don’t need your friends to articulate every single sound perfectly, even because after a few beers, that isn’t even possible…

Now, you certainly don’t have that much time to be immersed in an English-speaking environment to allow you brain to achieve that same level of proficiency in puzzle solving. So when you are talking to another English speaker, whether native or not, you pay close attention to the articulation of each sound, and to where the stressed syllable is, and if you hear a sound that doesn’t match the version of a word you have heard and learnt before, you feel like you don’t know that particular word, or you might even get completely lost.

Well, let’s say you’re speaking to another non-native speaker of English, maybe face to face, or over the radio, why not? That person is going through the same process you went through, and may not even have the same linguistic level that you have, so what will come out of that mix? Slower communication, for sure, and possibly a miscommunication. We don’t want that to happen, do we?

So you have to be the agent of change here, and make and effort to pronounce words correctly, to articulate each sound clearly and to imitate the rhythm and intonation of the listening materials available on the market. Because if everyone does their job, we can mitigate the risks of communication breakdowns, which are potentially dangerous in any environment, let alone aviation.

Oh, and before I forget, you can keep your Brazilian accent, all right? Some people are more “musical” and are able to mimic accents easily and naturally and we often feel jealous of that ability. But what we’re trying to achieve is intelligible and clear pronunciation, not a perfect American or British accent. Unless you are born again in the US or in the UK, your mother tongue will always be Portuguese and you shouldn’t be ashamed of that!

Here are some links that will help you improve your pronunciation:

How do you pronounce that word?

Pronunciation practice

*phonemes
** some call it word stress, it’s the position of the “strong” syllable in a word
*** the rising and falling sounds in a sentence, e.g. rising intonation at thye end of yes/no questions
**** also called sentence stress, it refers to the “strong” words in a sentence, that usually carry its meaning

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