Tag Archives: pronunciation

Nose gear pizzazz


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:

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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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

** 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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If she can do it, so can you!

Here’s some encouragement to you, pilots, who are aprehensive towards your ANAC English test. If this girl has been able to fly a plane, with a little effort, you too will be able to pass the test.

Just think outside the shoe!


Se ela consegue, você também consegue!

Eis um incentivo para vocês, pilotos, que estão apreensivos em relação à prova da ANAC. Se essa garota consegue pilotar um avião, com um pouquinho de esforço, você com certeza conseguirá passar na prova!


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World Read Aloud Day

LitWorld, an American non-profit organization founded in 2007, is celebrating World Read Aloud Day today. It is an attempt to show people around the world the importance of literacy and words to guarantee better life conditions to everyone, but especially to children.

To celebrate this day, there will be a 24-hour Read Aloud Marathon in Times Square, among other activities throughout the United States, and The New York Times has posted several texts taken from their pages that would be good if read out loud.

What about you? How will you celebrate World Read Aloud day? How about giving it a try? Get any text you have lying around, in whatever language, and read it out loud to someone, or even to yourself. And while you’re at it, think of what you would miss most if you could not read or write.

Literacy is a right, and as every right, it should be universal.

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It’s not always your fault

Do you feel frustrated when you can’t understand a few lines in a really interesting movie you’re watching? Or when you miss some words of that cool song everyone’s been listening to lately? How about when you travel abroad and feel like you’re under water because everyone’s accent seems so different from what you expected? Let alone when you try to ask the guide something and he just looks at you like you’re from outer space! Ok. Count to ten, take a deep breath, let it out, and get ready to read something that will make you feel better:

it’s not always your fault.

Yes, my friend, it’s that simple. All those times you felt like the tiniest living being on the face of the Earth, you were just fretting over nothing. Because, the movie? Didn’t you realize that the characters were all speaking at the same time?  Maybe you weren’t even supposed to understand that line clearly. And the song? Do you know how many times the singer had to record that part so it came out correctly? It’s not easy to say that many words in such a short time. And the trip abroad? Are you sure all those people were locals? I’ll tell you, the hardest thing to find in New York is a New Yorker! You may think everybody was born in that area, but you might be talking to people from all over the world, with a wide variety of accents. And the tour guide? Do you have any idea how many questions these guys answer everyday? Maybe he was thinking about the pizza he was going to have with his girlfriend later on and didn’t even hear you, but was embarrassed to ask you to repeat.

Hey, I’m not letting you off the hook here! I’m not saying that you always speak perfect English, with a perfectly clear pronunciation and that you should always be able to understand what everyone’s saying. All I’m saying is: it’s not always your fault. You shouldn’t beat yourself up just because you didn’t get what someone said or someone didn’t get what you said. Just remember all the times this has happened when you were speaking your mother tongue.

How many times have you had to ask someone to repeat what they’ve just said – in Portuguese?! Until fairly recently I thought the lyrics to Rita Lee’s “Lança Perfume” went: Lança menina/ Lança todo esse perfume/De baratinha/ Não dá prá ficar imune. That song came out when I was 8 years old, how could I know what ‘desbaratina’ meant? What does it mean anyway? And don’t get me started on Legião Urbana…

And I always tell my students what happened to me when I was in England for the first time. I was staying at a youth hostel (good old times when I was a youth!) and I wanted to try the typical British breakfast. Call me crazy, but I was excited to eat that heavy food first thing in the morning. The problem was: there was a breakfast buffet, and I wasn’t quite sure what was typical and what wasn’t. We had to order the food from a lady who commanded the buffet, so I asked her in my most perfect International English: “please, I’ll have a typical English breakfast”! For the life of her the girl could not understand what I was saying! After repeating and rephrasing it a few times, I asked the guy beside me to just say the same thing. He did. And she got him perfectly. You know what she told me? “Sorry, love, I don’t speak your language!” (I’m pretty sure she wasn’t a native speaker of English herself, and wasn’t used to accents other than the ones she heard everyday).

So, my point is: if you’re having trouble understanding or being understood, keep trying until you succeed, but even if you don’t, don’t blame yourself. It’s not always your fault!

Please don’t take this as encouragement to stop studying…


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The importance of good pronunciation

Pronunciation is one of the most relevant contributing factors to misunderstanding among non-native speakers of English. That is because our brains are hard-wired to understand our mother tongue, meaning that when someone mispronounces a word in our mother tongue, we are usually able to understand it anyway. That doesn’t happen in another language.

Non-native speakers rely heavily on the correct pronunciation of words in order to understand them correctly. They are not so well-equipped in the foreign language to grasp the meaning of a mispronounced word just from the context (ICAO itself acknowledges this in their Doc 9835). That explains why we find regional or foreign accents hard to understand, or why sometimes we only understand a word after we’ve seen it written down.

Why does that matter? If you are aware of the important role of pronunciation when communicating, you will certainly do the following:

1)      When you can’t understand someone immediately, don’t be embarrassed to ask them to repeat or rephrase their sentence; maybe the second time around they will articulate the words more carefully and you will be able to get the idea.

2)      You should improve your own pronunciation to help other non-native speakers of English understand you more quickly.

Remember, Aviation English is all about safety: we must all be committed to making our skies safer every day.


A importância da boa pronúncia

A pronúncia é um dos mais relevantes fatores contribuintes para mal-entendidos entre falantes de inglês como língua estrangeira. Isso porque nosso cérebro está programado para entender nossa língua materna, o que significa que quando alguém pronuncia mal uma palavra em nossa língua-mãe, normalmente conseguimos entendê-la de qualquer maneira. Isso não acontece em outra língua.

Ao falar uma língua estrangeira, nós dependemos muito da pronúncia correta das palavras para entendê-las corretamente. Não temos tanta bagagem na língua estrangeira para compreender uma palavra mal pronunciada apenas pelo contexto (a própria OACI reconhece isso em seu Doc 9835). Isso explica por que sentimos dificuldades para compreender sotaques regionais ou estrangeiros, ou por que às vezes só entendemos uma palavra ao vê-la por escrito.

Qual a relevância disso? Se tiver consciência do importante papel da pronúncia para uma boa comunicação, você certamente fará o seguinte:

1)      Quando não entender alguém de primeira, não tenha vergonha de pedir para a pessoa repetir ou reformular a frase; talvez da segunda vez ela articule melhor a palavra e você consiga captar a ideia.

2)      Você deve melhorar sua própria pronúncia, para ajudar outros falantes de inglês não-nativos a entendê-lo mais rapidamente.

Lembre-se que o Inglês de Aviação tem como objetivo a segurança: temos o dever de tornar nossos céus mais seguros a cada dia.

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Typical pilot mistake: cabin

First of all, the word ‘cabin‘ refers to the passenger cabin, not to the cockpit.

Second and most important, it’s pronounced /.bin/ Oo

Let’s practice!

What other words do you find difficult to pronounce?

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