ICAO Language Proficiency Explained

Why Language Proficiency Is Checked

Standard radio telephony phrases such as "ready for departure" or "climb flight level" are perfect for routine communication. They make sure that there is no misunderstanding and communication is kept short and efficient. However, sometimes things get more complicated and "normal" language is required to talk to ATC. This is what makes language proficiency so important: making sure that pilots can use plain English whenever phraseology is just not enough. 

The International Civil Aviation Organisation ICAO has introduced the language proficiency test in order to keep standards high and pilots proficient in everyday use of English. All in the interest of safety! Pilots who fly internationally should show an operational level of English and feel comfortable speaking the language. This minimum operational level is called Level 4.

ICAO Language Proficiency Standards

The Rating Objective

The objective of the language test itself is not to test technical knowledge. It's all about speaking the language. In formal terms: it is to ensure that air personnel have all the language capabilities they need to interact safely in their working environment. In simple terms, you don't need to be a technical expert, but you should have the skills to negotiate yourself out of tricky situations.

The language test concentrates on the following aspects:

  1. Gathering samples of speech of pilots and air traffic controllers that can be rated
  2. Rate and assign a level according to the ICAO Rating Scale and Holistic Descriptors

Read in the next section, what these are all about.

ICAO Language Proficiency Rating Scale