Tag Archives: typical mistakes

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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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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That’s not what I meant: course and curse

Just another day at the supermarket:

A – “I’ve heard there’s a great curse at the community center.”
B – “Sorry? A curse?”
A – “Yeah! A curse on Ikebana!”
B – “Oh, my God! What have the poor flowers done?!”

Did you get it? No? Ok, let’s analyze the sounds involved in this conversation and find out why speaker B seems so confused.

Speaker A said there is a /cãrs/ at the community center. What she meant was that there was a /córs/ at the community center. The sound /ã/ that she used instead of the sound /ó/ changed the word from course (which was what she intended to say) to curse (which is what she actually said).

Do you know the difference between course ande curse? Which one would you rather have?

Check it out here:

COURSE (check meaning number 9)

CURSE  (check meaning number 1)

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That’s not what I meant: ballproof door

Student: “After September 11th, the cockpit of most airplanes in the United States is equipped with a ballproof door”.

Helpful teacher: “A ball proof door? Are you sure?”

Student (thinking the teacher may be deaf): “Yes, a BALLPROOF DOOR! For security reasons.”

Hopeful teacher: “Ok… a BALLproof door… what exactly do you mean by that?”

Student (thinking ‘gotcha! My teacher doesn’t know this word!’): “It’s a very strong door that you cannot open with a gunshot!”

Extremely patient teacher: “Oh, ok, because when you said BALLproof door, I thought you meant it couldn’t be opened by a BALL…”

Student (wishing the ground would swallow him whole): “Oh, no! That’s not what I meant! I meant BULLETproof door!! Teacher, why didn’t you correct me?”

Amused Teacher: “I’m not always going to be by your side when you make a mistake. You must learn how to deal with it! Plus, I was having fun…”

Student (smiling and shaking his head): “Yeah, that was pretty funny…”

Come back tomorrow for the Expression of the Week!


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That’s not what I meant: ok

Pretty much everyone can agree that “ok” can mean a lot of different things. It depends on how you say it, when you say it, to whom you say it… Well, the other day I saw someone receive a message from someone else saying “sorry” (because they had made a silly mistake when playing an online game). As the reply was about to be sent, I pointed out that it should be changed or it could be misinterpreted. Here’s why:


This probably means that I accept your apology, but it might be interpreted as ” I don’t care”, or even “I don’t believe you”, especially because it’s in writing and the other person can’t hear your tone or see your face.

“that’s ok”.

Now the recipient of your message will understand what you meant in the first place: he shouldn’t be upset, his mistake wasn’t a big deal after all.

Even a very common – and short! – word like “ok” can send the wrong message… watch out!


Acho que todo mundo concorda que “ok” pode significar várias coisas diferentes. Depende de como você diz, quando você diz, para quem você diz… Bom, outro dia vi uma pessoa receber uma mensagem que dizia “sorry” (“desculpe”) (porque a pessoa havia cometido um errinho bobo num jogo online). Quando a resposta estava pronta para ser enviada, sugeri que a mensagem fosse modificada, ou poderia ser mal-interpretada. Eis o motivo:


Isso provavelmente significa que aceito seu pedido de desculpas, porém pode ser interpretado como “não tô nem aí”, ou “sei – não acredito”, principalmente porque é por escrito, e a outra pessoa não pode ouvir seu tom de voz ou ver seu rosto.

“that’s ok”. (tudo bem)

Agora a pessoa vai entender o que você queria dizer desde o começo: não se preocupe, seu erro não foi importante.

Mesmo uma palavra comum – e curtinha! – como “ok” pode causar um mal-entendido… cuidado!

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Typical pilot mistake: “emergency”

If you’re a baker, you should know how to pronounce the word “bread”. It might be useful to know how to pronounce “burnt”, just in case things don’t happen as they should. If you’re a teacher, you’ll know how to pronounce “mistake”, after all you’ll be teaching human beings; a dentist will certainly know how to pronounce “cavity”, for cavities are quite an important part of their job… Can you see where I’m going?

In my 11 years teaching pilots, I’ve always been baffled by the fact that a lot of you don’t know how to pronouce the word “emergency”. Of course, no one wants an emergency to happen to them. But as far as I know, airline pilots have to undergo flight simulator training once a year, and I’m pretty sure you practice a lot of emergency procedures there… And don’t you think this word might come up during your ICAO test interview? And what if you need to use it when flying abroad?

Well, to end this problem once and for all, let us all say it together: /i.mãr.djãn.ci/. Again! /i.mãr.djãn.ci/. One more time for good measure: /i.mãr.djãn.ci/.

Very good! Now, let’s hope you never have one in real life!


Se você é padeiro, deve saber como se pronuncia a palavra “bread” (pão). Também pode ser útil saber a pronúncia da palavra “burnt” (queimado), apenas para o caso de as coisas não saírem como planejado. Se for professor, você sabe como pronunciar “mistake” (erro), afinal dá aulas para humanos; um dentista certamente sabe como falar  “cavity” (cárie), pois cáries são uma parte muito importante de seu trabalho… Vocês estão vendo onde quero chegar?

Em meus 11 anos treinando pilotos, sempre fiquei impressionada com o fato de tantos de vocês não saberem como se pronuncia a palavra “emergency”. É claro, ninguém quer ter uma emergência. Mas até onde eu sei, pilotos de companhias aéreas tem que passar por um treinamento anual no simulador de voo, e tenho quase certeza de que vocês praticam muitos procedimentos de emergência lá… E você não acha que esta palavra pode aparecer na sua entrevista da prova da ICAO? E se você precisar usá-la quando estiver voando fora do país?

Bom, então para acabar com o problema de uma vez por todas, vamos dizer todos juntos: /i.mãr.djãn.ci/. De novo! /i.mãr.djãn.ci/. Mais uma vez para arrematar: /i.mãr.djãn.ci/.

Muito bom! Agora, vamos torcer para você nunca ter uma na vida real!

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That’s not what I meant: used to

Who doesn’t have problems with false cognates or words what seem to mean one thing and actually mean another? I thought I could bring you examples of this kind of problem in this new section of the blog called “That’s not what I meant”, because that’s usually what happens: you say something and people just go “what?”. And then you realize that they understood something very different from what you thought you said; actually they understood exactly what you said, only it was not what you meant…

Our first example is a classic: used to. I can’t say whether this happens to speakers of other languages (please holler!), but Brazilians tend to use “used to” when they actually mean “usually”. This became very clear today, as I was working a booth in a very interesting event where I’m working as an interpreter.

The speaker decided to speak English, and her English was quite good, except she said “company A used to do things very well”. One of the members of the audience asked her “used to”? And she said, “yes, used to”. As a Brazilian listener I could easily tell she meant “company A usually does things very well”, but as I was not interpreting at the time, there was nothing I could do to avoid this miscommunication.

And that’s why, folks, it’s very important to learn and practice vocabulary, so you usually (at least) say what you mean to say!


Quem não tem dificuldades com falsos cognatos ou palavras que parecem ser uma coisa quando na verdade querem dizer outra? Pensei em trazer exemplos desses problemas nesta nova seção do blog, chamada “That’s not what I meant” (“Não foi isso que eu quis dizer”), porque é isto que normalmente acontece: você diz algo e as pessoas ficam com cara de interrogação. Aí você percebe que elas entenderam algo muito diferente do que você pensou ter dito, só que você não queria ter dito aquilo…

Nosso primeiro exemplo é um clássico: used to. Não sei se isso acontece com falantes de outros idiomas (por favor, manifestem-se!), mas os brasileiros tendem a utilizar “used to” quando na verdade estão tentando dizer “usually”. Isso ficou muito claro hoje, quando eu estava na cabine de um evento muito interessante no qual estou trabalhando como intérprete.

A palestrante decidiu falar inglês, e o inglês dela era bastante bom, só que ela disse “company A used to do things very well” (a empresa A costumava fazer as coisas direito). Um dos ouvintes “used to”? (costumava?) e ela disse, “yes, used to” (sim, costumava). Como uma ouvinte brasileira, percebi claramente que ela queria dizer  “company A usually does things very well” (a empresa a costuma fazer as coisas direito), mas como eu não estava interpretando nesse momento, não pude fazer nada para esclarecer o mal-entendido.

E é por isso, pessoal, que é muito importante aprender e praticar vocabulário, para que você normalmente (pelo menos) diga o que quer dizer!


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