Assessing English Language Proficiency (ELP) to meet the requirements for flight crew licensing requires an assessment test which can be carried out in three ways (item 2 below currently unavailable but being developed):
- Through CAA-approved ELP testing organisations which assess language proficiency by means of a formal assessment test. (for Level 4 – 6)
- Informal assessment by flight or radio telephony examiners who have completed specialist language assessor training. (for Level 4 – 6)
- Informal assessment by flight or radio telephony examiners who (themselves have been assessed as Level 6,) seek to exercise the privilege of verifying at level 6 only are not required to complete a formal specialist language assessor training course.
Informal assessments may be conducted:
- During existing checking or training activities, including: rating issue or revalidation, line training, operator line checks or proficiency checks, or through the conduct of the radio-telephony test.
- Other informal assessment such as an interview or oral interaction with a flight or radio-telephony examiner.
An ELP endorsement at Level 6 has no periodic re-evaluation requirement. At Level 5 (Extended Level) a re-evaluation is required every six years and at Level 4 (Operational Level) every four years.
Examiners without a professional background in language assessment should consider specialist language assessor training. The Authority may approve language assessor training courses, there are a number of UK established providers of aviation English training that may seek approval for such specialist language assessor courses. Examiners who have completed a specialist assessor course (under development), approved by the UK CAA, will receive authorisation to conduct language assessments for a period of three years, which may be renewed.
All English speakers who are unable to satisfactorily demonstrate Level 6 proficiency to an approved examiner; as being a first-language speaker with native or native-like proficiency as well as second- or foreign-language speaker with a high level of proficiency must be referred to a UK CAA Approved Language Assessment Centre or an examiner who has completed specialist language assessor training.
- The regulations relating to the assessment of ELP are set out in Commission Regulation (EU) 1178/2011, specifically FCL.055, and the associated Acceptable Means of Compliance (AMC).
- Before undertaking language proficiency assessments in accordance with FCL.055 ICAO Doc 9835 ‘Manual on the Implementation of ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements’ should be consulted for further guidance.
Guidance on Level 6 / Expert Level proficiency
Attainment of Level 6 should be considered as being beyond the realistic expectations of most second- or foreign-language learners (ICAO Doc 9835).
Level 6 proficiency is not an essential requirement for successful aeronautical communication. It has a very wide coverage since it is intended to account for most first-language speakers with native or native-like proficiency as well as second- or foreign-language speakers with a high level of proficiency.
If a candidate is potentially considered to be a Level 6 speaker and is to be evaluated through an informal assessment, this must be supported by evidence* of an individual's linguistic history which must be retained by the examiner as set out in FCL.1030 (c). The Examiner must submit the examiner report form, or the SRG 1199 in the case of a stand-alone language assessment, to the CAA.
*Records of supporting evidence to be retained by the examiner must include relevant details of:
- place of birth and early residence;
- the language(s) used during childhood in the family, in the community and in education;
- any long periods of residence (with proven participation) in communities where the language is used socially, professionally or in education;
- extended periods of language study or higher education diplomas.
Informal assessment may proceed only if the examiner's initial evaluation indicates that the supporting evidence is sufficient to support a subsequent application.
Criteria for achieving an Expert / Level 6 rating
The CAA wants to ensure that in all cases where an informal assessment of Level 6 (Expert Level) proficiency is undertaken, the exacting criteria specified in AMC 2 FCL.055 are consistently met before a rating is awarded:
Assumes a dialect or accent intelligible to the aeronautical community
|Pronunciation, stress, rhythm, and intonation, though possibly influenced by the first language or regional variation, almost never interfere with ease of understanding.|
Relevant grammatical structures and sentence patterns are determined by language functions appropriate to the task
|Both basic and complex grammatical structures and sentence patterns are consistently well controlled.|
|Vocabulary||Vocabulary range and accuracy are sufficient to communicate effectively on a wide variety of familiar and unfamiliar topics. Vocabulary is idiomatic, nuanced and sensitive to register.|
|Fluency||Able to speak at length with a natural, effortless flow. Varies speech flow for stylistic effect, for example to emphasise a point. Uses appropriate discourse markers and connectors spontaneously.|
|Comprehension||Comprehension is consistently accurate in nearly all contexts and includes comprehension of linguistic and cultural subtleties.|
|Interactions||Interacts with ease in nearly all situations. Is sensitive to verbal and non-verbal cues, and responds to them appropriately.|
To receive a Level 6 rating, a candidate must demonstrate all aspects of the Level 6 descriptors in the rating scale during the assessment. Examiners must be in no doubt that a candidate is an expert speaker.
In cases where the examiner has doubts about the level of attainment in any element of the assessment, then no language proficiency level should be recorded, and the candidate referred to a CAA-approved ELP Testing Organisation for formal assessment.
Testing by Flight and Radio-telephony Examiners
With the need to convert to EASA Part-FCL licences, those flying aircraft with an EASA Certificate of Airworthiness and holding a Flight Radiotelephony Operator's Licence (FRTOL) must have a Language Proficiency endorsement to operate such equipment.
FRTOL Examiners and Examiners holding FE, TRE, SFE, CRE, IRE or FIE privileges granted by the UK CAA who hold Level 6 English Language Proficiency can currently conduct assessments for first-language speakers with native or native-like proficiency as well as second- or foreign-language speaker with a high level of proficiency and, where appropriate, award level 6 proficiency. Candidates not considered proficient to be operating at Level 6 should be directed to a CAA approved ELP testing organisation or an examiner who has completed specialist language assessor training for formal assessment.
Persons holding a Level 4 or 5 assessment issued by the UK or any other EASA Member State, must attend a UK CAA Approved Language Assessment centre (see CAA Standards Document No. 31) or an examiner who has completed specialist language assessor training to renew or upgrade their assessment. Only those who were granted an automatic level 4 by the UK CAA in 2008 are exempt from this requirement.
Please note that an invalid language proficiency assessment invalidates an FRTOL and will delay any subsequent licence request.
Guidance for examiners on the assessment of ELP at Level 6 (Expert Level)
Examiners must familiarise themselves with the descriptors at Expert Level 6 of the ICAO Rating Scale. Explanatory notes on these descriptors can be found in the link below (further reading link at the end).
Examiners should familiarise themselves with the ICAO Rated Speech Samples Training Aid (RSSTA):
The RSSTA is designed to:
- Raise awareness of what constitutes an acceptable or unacceptable level of English for communication between pilots and air traffic controllers according to the ICAO scales
- Provide examples of performance at each of the ICAO levels 2-6
- Serve as an accurate and reliable reference for users
- Promote rating standardisation between different raters and test service providers and between different regions of the world
- Act as a training tool for the initial and recurring training of raters and examiners
- Support ICAO's efforts to enhance proficiency test standards
Examiners must familiarise themselves with the speech samples rated at levels 5 and 6 so that they understand the threshold between 'Extended' and 'Expert' users of English.
Assessing native speakers who use English as their first language
Examiners should treat speakers who use English as their first-language as 'probable expert users'. However, examiners should be aware that ' first-language English speaker' does not necessarily mean 'Expert Level 6' user.
Speakers who use English as their first-language may lack the vocabulary to discuss certain themes or may speak with a regional accent that is an impediment to intelligibility for those from outside that region. They may fail to use appropriate language or may not interact effectively; consequently should not be assessed as Expert Level 6.
Speakers who use English as their first-language who fail to demonstrate proficiency in all aspects of the Level 6 descriptors in the ICAO Rating Scale should not be assessed as Expert Level 6.
Guidance on the ICAO rating scale
|Criteria||Notes on criteria||Level 6 Descriptors||Explanatory notes|
|Pronunciation||The six levels of pronunciation descriptors are applicable at all levels to native and non-native speakers. This implies that native English speakers may demonstrate Elementary Level 2 proficiency if their regional dialect is so localised that it is not readily understood by those outside of that particular region. On the other hand, speakers whose speech patterns clearly identify them as non-native speakers (having a so-called “accent”) may demonstrate Expert Level 6 proficiency, as long as this meets the criterion of “almost never” interfering with ease of understanding.||Pronunciation, stress, rhythm and intonation, though possibly influenced by the first language or regional variation, almost never interfere with ease of understanding.||An Expert Level 6 speaker may be a speaker of English as a first language with a widely understood dialect or may be a very proficient second-language speaker, again with a widely used or understood accent and/or dialect. The speaker's accent or dialect may or may not identify them as second language users, but the pronunciation patterns or any difficulties or “mistakes” almost never interfere with the ease with which they are understood. Expert speakers are always clear and understandable.|
|Structure||Relevant grammatical structures and sentence patterns are determined by language functions appropriate to the task. Language teaching specialists generally categorise grammatical errors into two classes: “global” and “local”. Global errors are those which interfere with meaning; local errors are those which do not interfere with meaning.||Both basic and complex grammatical structures and sentence patterns are consistently well controlled.||Expert Level 6 speakers do not demonstrate consistent global structural or grammatical errors but may exhibit some local errors.|
|Vocabulary||Vocabulary includes individual words and fixed expressions. While memorising phraseologies is neither an acceptable means of demonstrating language proficiency nor an effective or recommended language learning strategy, it is undeniable that context is a relevant factor in language proficiency. Therefore, learning or testing that focuses on, or is designed to elicit vocabulary related to, aeronautical radiotelephony communications is preferable.||Vocabulary range and accuracy are sufficient to communicate effectively on a wide variety of familiar and unfamiliar topics. Vocabulary is idiomatic, nuanced and sensitive to register.||Level 6 speakers demonstrate a strong sensitivity to register. Another marker of strong proficiency seems to be the acquisition of, and facility with, idiomatic expressions and the ability to communicate nuanced ideas. As such, use of idioms may be taken into account in assessment procedures designed to identify Level 6 users in a non-radiotelephony context. This is not, however, intended to imply that idiomatic usages are a desirable feature of aeronautical radiotelephony communications. On the contrary, the use of idioms is an obstacle to intelligibility and mutual understanding between non-expert users and should therefore be avoided by all users in this environment.|
|Fluency||Fluency is intended to refer to the naturalness of the flow of speech production, the degree to which comprehension is hindered by any unnatural or unusual hesitancy, distracting starts and stops, distracting fillers (em … huh … er …) or inappropriate silence. Levels of fluency will be most apparent during longer utterances in an interaction. They will also be affected by the degree of expectedness of the preceding input.||Able to speak at length with a natural, effortless flow. Varies speech flow for stylistic effect, e.g. to emphasise a point. Uses appropriate discourse markers and connectors spontaneously.||Fluency at this level is native like or near native-like. It is notably characterised by a high degree of flexibility in producing language and in adapting the speech rate to the context of communication and the purposes of the speaker.|
|Comprehension||This skill refers to the ability to listen and understand. In air traffic control communications, pilots rely on the clear and accurate information provided to them by controllers for safety. It is not sufficient for air traffic controllers to be able to handle most pilot communications; they must be ready for the unexpected. Similarly, pilots must be able to understand air traffic controller instructions, especially when these differ from what a pilot expects to hear. It is during complications in aviation that communications become most crucial, with a greater reliance upon plain language. While comprehension is only one out of six skills in the Rating Scale, it represents half of the linguistic workload in spoken communications.||Comprehension is consistently accurate in nearly all contexts and includes comprehension of linguistic and cultural subtleties.||Level 6 users achieve a high degree of detailed accuracy and flexibility in their understanding of aeronautical radiotelephony communications regardless of the situation or dialect used. They further have the ability to discern a meaning which is not made obvious or explicit (“read between the lines”), using tones of voice, choice of register, etc., as clues to unexpressed meanings. Because radiotelephony communications take place in a busy environment, the communications of air traffic controllers and pilots must not only be clear, concise and unambiguous, but appropriate responses must be delivered efficiently and a rapid response time is expected.|
|Interactions||The interactions skill refers to this ability, as well as to the ability to initiate exchanges and to identify and clear up misunderstandings. Because radiotelephony communications take place in a busy environment, the communications of air traffic controllers and pilots must not only be clear, concise and unambiguous, but appropriate responses must be delivered efficiently and a rapid response time is expected.||Interacts with ease in nearly all situations. Is sensitive to verbal and nonverbal cues and responds to them appropriately.||Expert speakers display no difficulties in reacting or initiating interaction. They are additionally able to recognise and to use non-verbal signs of mental and emotional states (for example, intonations or unusual stress patterns). They display authority in the conduct of the conversation.|