Tag Archives: test strategy

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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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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A prova da ANAC mudou?

“Anda rolando uma AFA”…

É assim que meus alunos começam a frase quando querem que eu confirme alguma informação a respeito das exigências da ANAC -na verdade, da OACI (estou escrevendo em português, e é assim que chamamos a ICAO nas línguas latinas).

Pois bem, “anda rolando uma AFA” de que a prova da ANAC mudou, que tem novas exigências, e tem até curso de inglês capitalizando em cima disso…

Vamos direto ao ponto: A PROVA DA ANAC NÃO MUDOU. Continua igualzinha. O mesmo formato, a mesma duração, os mesmos critérios de avaliação, o mesmo nível de exigência.

Esta é a página da ANAC que trata da Proficiência Lingüística. Nela, encontra-se este outro link, que leva a uma explicação detalhada do Santos Dumont English Assessment, ou “prova da ANAC”, para os íntimos.

Para quem tem curiosidade de saber como é a prova, há um MOCK disponível , ou seja, uma versão simulada, que não está sendo utilizada pelos examinadores no momento, mas é exatamente o “script” que eles têm à sua frente enquanto estão aplicando a prova nos pilotos. E continua idêntico ao que sempre foi, portanto essa “informação”, ou desinformação, não tem nenhum embasamento na realidade.

Então, não dê ouvidos a blá blá blá e concentre-se nos seus estudos, que você ganha mais!

Então, por que tem pilotos indo fazer a prova em Madri? Oras, eu já estive em Madri, tenho até parentes lá, e é uma cidade linda. Quem sabe eles estão indo visitar A Plaza Mayor, La Puerta del Sol, ou o Museo del Prado, né? Aliás, eu recomendo a visita, são todos lugares fantásticos!

Agora, se você estiver precisando de ajuda para praticar para a prova da ANAC, entre em contato para fazermos algumas aulas! Eu também continuo a mesma, igualzinha…

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ICAO Level 5: an achievable goal(?)

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:

  1. My pronunciation and articulation are clear and my accent is very light;
  2. When I speak,  I am able to clearly differentiate Past, Present and Future Tenses, both simple and continuous;
  3. I use First and Second Conditional well and at the appropriate moments;
  4. Present Perfect makes sense to me;
  5. I try to use Third Conditional, Past Perfect and inversions, but I’m not always successful;
  6. My vocabulary is varied, and precise;
  7. I don’t usually have to stop to remember words, because I am able to explain what I want in different ways;
  8. I use some idioms naturally;
  9. I feel quite  comfortable talking about my work;
  10. I use words and expressions to help my interlocutor understand my message;
  11. I have no major problems understanding different people talking about aviation, even when I have never heard that situation before;
  12. I am always able to follow a conversation, I usually understand what the interlocutor wants from me;
  13. 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.

Good luck!

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What do they want from me anyway?

Pilots have been under a lot of pressure since 2007, when ICAO‘s Language Proficiency Requirements started being applied in Brazil by ANAC, through their Santos Dumont English Assessment. And even now, 39 months later, a lot of pilots, including those who achieved level 4 and are about to take the test for the second time still ask me: “what do they want from me anyway?”

When pilots say “they”, they mean ANAC. But “they” is actually ICAO, because all ANAC is doing, as well as the Civil Aviation Authorities of several other countries who are members of ICAO, is implement ICAO’s guidelines as laid down in their DOC 9835.

You can find this information here.

Aviation Language – page 89
Events and domains – page 93
Priority lexical domains – page 98

I hope it helps!

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Os pilotos estão sob forte pressão desde 2007, quando os Requisitos de Proficiência Lingüística da OACI começaram a ser aplicados no Brasil pela ANAC, através de seu Santos Dumont English Assessment. E agora, 39 meses depois, vários pilotos, inclusive aqueles que atingiram o nível 4 e devem fazer o teste pela segunda vez ainda me perguntam: “Mas afinal, o que eles querem de mim?” 

Quando os pilotos dizem “eles”, referem-se à ANAC, mas “eles” na verdade é a OACI, porque a ANAC, assim como as Autoridades de Aviação Civil de diversos países membros da OACI, está apenas implementando as orientações divulgadas pela OACI em seu DOC 9835.

Essa informação pode ser encontrada aqui.

Linguagem da Aviação – página 89
Eventos e áreas do vocabulário – página 93
Principais áreas do vocabulário – página 98

Espero que isso ajude!

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English training x just training


When learning a new language, right in the beginning of the process we have to learn vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation. It’s also important to learn something about the culture of the native speakers of the language, so we can better understand the way they express their ideas, and therefore be able to speak this new language well. But there’s more to learning a language than just learning and practicing its structure and vocabulary.

Sometimes what we need is just training, not language training. We need to train those skills we naturally have when using our mother tongue, but that need to be developed when applied to a second or third language. And this is necessary especially in those moments when we feel like we should be able to communicate better than we actually do. For example, when you know –  and your teacher tells you – you have a good range of vocabulary, but the words seem to disappear whenever you need them. Or when you can understand most of a movie you watch at home, but find it hard to grasp a listening exercise in class. In these moments, what seems to be missing is just training, more than English training, to boost your confidence and prove to yourself that you are able to use all the language you’ve already learnt to your own advantage.

Let me suggest some training activities to help you enhance your communication skills:

1) Background listening
This activitity aims at improving your listening skills in general, without aiming at any particular vocabulary or topic. Leave the TV on on an English speaking channel, such as CNN or BBC, or even the Discovery Channel or a movie, and go do something else. Stay close enough to the TV set that you can hear it as background ‘noise’. If something you hear happens to catch your attention, by all means, move closer and listen more intently. Don’t try to learn anything, just try to make it part of your routine to listen to English being spoken. This way you’re telling your brain that it’s just as natural for you to hear someone speak English as your own language, and maybe those listening exercises won’t seem so daunting after a while.

2) Paraphrasing
This activity may seem too hard in the beginning, but stick to it, the results are worth it. Its goal is to show your brain there’s always a way out, that means, there’s always another way to say the same thing, or to express the same idea. Get a short, simple text and tell someone (or the mirror!) the exact same information that is in it, but try to make an effort not to use the same words. For example, the sentence “Airlines normally ask you to be at the airport no less than two hours before departure time”  may become “Air transport companies usually require that you arrive at the airport at least two hours before take-off “. It’s not so important to find the ‘perfect’ words, or to learn a lot of new vocabulary, for that matter. Just keep doing it, and hopefully you won’t blank so often when faced with a real challenge, like a test or an interview, because your brain will feel more comfortable looking for alternative words or alternative ways to express the same idea.

3) Self-recording
Sometimes we feel funny when we hear our own voice speaking a foreign language. We may feel silly or shy, and end up not communicating as well as we need professionally or even when we travel. This activity’s objective is to desensitize you and make you feel more at ease with the idea of speaking English, and therefore improve your fluency and assertiveness. Record yourself reading a short text in English. Don’t worry about pronouncing the words correctly, focus more on using your intonation and your voice to convey the general idea of the text. You could also just record your feelings, or your plans for the day. Don’t listen to the recording immediately, save it for a few days later. It will definitely sound strange in the beginning, but after some time you will get used to hearing yourself in English – you may even find that you don’t sound bad at all!

Well, I hope these tips will help you feel more confident in your ability to communicate in English.

If you have any other suggestions, let me know!

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Santos Dumont English Assessment: FAQ

Here’s an attempt at answering some frequently asked questions about the Santos Dumont English Assessment. If you have any other questions, please write a comment so I can write another post answering it, ok?

“I’ve taken the test and failed. How long do I have to wait before taking it again?”

The minimum interval between tests is 30 days. If you take a test in another accredited center less than 30 days after the first one, it will not be considered valid.

“I got level 4 three years ago and I’m about to take the test again. Is it possible that I will get a 3 this time?”

Getting a level 4 means only that on the day you took the test your English met the criteria for a level 4 on the ICAO rating scale, and you will be certified for 3 years. If you haven’t studied at all after your first test, there’s no guarantee that you will be able to reach the same level again.

“I got level 4 last time. If I get level 3 now will I have to stop doing international flights?”

Yes, you will. It doesn’t matter that you achieved level 4 last time. As soon as the result for your new test comes out, this will be your valid score. If you get a 3, that means you no longer comply with the minimum level established by ICAO and ANAC to do international flights and you will have to be taken off those routes immediately, at least until you’ve taken the test again and achieved a level 4.

“I got level 4, but I really think I could do better. Can I try again in less than 3 year’s time?”

Yes, you can. But remember, the result obtained in the last test will be the valid one for you. That means that, if instead of improving your grade to a 5 you end up getting a 3, your level will be 3. So it’s better to take your test results to a qualified English teacher and work on improving your weak points before trying the test again.

“I’ve heard there are some accredited centers where the test is easier, is that true?”

That’s not true. The Santos Dumont English Assessment was developed by ANAC, and it is applied at accredited testing centers by certified examiners, trained by ANAC. These examiners merely apply the test versions given to them by ANAC, they don’t make them up. And their assessment is based on the ICAO Language Proficiency Rating Scale. All the candidates are assessed using the same criteria.

“I would like to know more details about my level, not just my final result. Where can I get that information?”

You should call ANAC in Rio de Janeiro ((21) 3501-5605 e (21) 3501-5607). The Language Proficiency team there will read you the contents of your Assessment report, inclduing examples of mistakes for each of the six criteria on the rating scale. Actually, this is a very important tool to improve your English and to know exactly where the problems are so you can solve it and try the test again, or improve your grade next time.

The source of all information in this post is ANAC.

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