Tag Archives: comprehension

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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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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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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How do you say “ano bissexto” in English?

FEBRUARY 29, 2012

I wish I’d had time to post this earlier, but my day has been hectic (nothing new there) and the sizzling heatwave that has stricken us paulistanos just makes any task painstakingly hard to accomplish…

ANYWAY, enough with the excuses and let’s skip straight to the point. Actually, let’s LEAP to the point, as today is LEAP DAY!

That’s right, every four years or so we have an extra day added to our calendar, in order to adjust our man-made timekeeping system to the natural movement of our planet, which takes a little longer then 365 days to go around the sun: 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds to be more precise.

So if you’ve ever wondered how to say it in English, here it goes: 2012 is a leap year. And today is leap day! Leap is a kind of jump, so it makes sense to call this special year “leap year”, as you leap over 4 years to have one.

Apparently there’s a tradition in Ireland that on this day women are allowed to propose to men, instead of waiting for them to get down on one knee. I’m not sure it’s still observed, but it’s a neat tradition, don’t you think?

What about you? How have you spent your extra day?

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Confusing words: listen x hear

Listen! Did you hear that noise?

I guess this sentence illustrates quite well the different meanings of these two verbs, so frequently mixed up by English learners.

To listen is to make an effort to hear something, like when we keep quiet for a moment to pay attention to a noise and figure out exactly what it is, or when we select our favorite song on our iPod and enjoy its harmony and lyrics.

That’s why we say we listen to music or listen to the radio, because we’re actively trying to catch the sounds that are being generated by the device. That’s also why you teacher tells you “Now we’re going to to a listening exercise…” – that’s because she wants you to pay attention to what she is going to play…

Moreover, it’s always polite to listen to other people’s opinions and points of view when you are atteding a business meeting, for example.

To hear, on the other hand, is often an involuntary action that happens when sound waves reach our inner ear and do their magic in our eardrums (did you know this word, by the way?). Ex: “Can you hear me? The connection is a little shaky!”

It can also have a similar meaning to the verb to listen, but it’s not used so frequently. Ex: “Hear you mother and take a sweater! It’s cold outside!”

Another meaning of hear is to express that somebody else has told you something, like some juicy gossip, or even some good news. Ex: “I hearshe’s having triplets! I don’t envy her a bit…”

And when your mother/wife/husband/teacher asks you to do something umpleasant, like taking out the garbage or doing your homework, you can always say:

Sorry! I can’t hear you!

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Enough with the guidance

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A Rescue Mission Gone Wrong

This video was sent to me by a former student, M.V. (thanks, by the way!).

It is a great material to practice listening comprehension because it’s a piece of news, beautifully told by CBS news correspondent Bruce Dunning. Of course, it’s also a historical document of the horrors of war.

The aircraft had been sent to Da Nang short before the end of the Vietnam War in order to evacuate women and children. Instead, it landed in Saigon full of soldiers who defected the South Vietnamese regime, and had crammed inside the plane, leaving behind the people to whom the rescue mission was intended.

As you watch the video on a new window, try to answer these questions:

1) When did this happen? (day + month)
2) How did the people run after the plane as it landed in Da Nang?
3) What did the pilots report via radio when the people started boarding the plane?
5) What did the angry men left behind do?
6) What part of the aircraft was damaged by a grenade?
7) How high was the plane when seven men fell off?
8) How many passangers were there on board? Of these, how many were women and children?
9) Why did the plane have to fly at low altitude?
10) Summarize the total damage the aircraft suffered.
11) How long does this trip usually take? How long did it take on that day?
12) Where did the soldiers come out of when the plane finally landed?

Here’s the video.

Did you have trouble understanding the video or answering the questions? Why not take some classes?

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