Are you new to teaching or testing English in aviation, or have a question about language training or assessment?

This page provides:

  1. Introduction – a brief background to the field, including testing and training requirements
  2. FAQs – offer answers to commonly asked questions   → GO
  3. Documents & Useful Links – including key ICAO documents, links to useful sources of information   → GO



The teaching of English in the world of aviation is not new. Since English was determined as the lingua franca of aviation by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in the 1950s, the need to learn and maintain a good level of English proficiency has been required by many professions within the industry. With the advent of the term language for specific purposes in the 1980s, aviation communication has been seen as a language almost in its own right, along with other professional domains such as legal, medical or engineering.

Introduction of ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements

Perhaps the greatest change in the training and assessment of English within aviation came about in the 1990s and early 2000s. Research into accidents and incidents had shown that a lack of language proficiency was a causal factor on many occasions. Following representations to ICAO by the Indian CAA following a mid-air collision over India in 1996 which resulted in the loss of 349 lives, the ICAO Assembly adopted Assembly Resolution A36-11, Proficiency in the English language used for radiotelephony communications in 2007. This resolution directed the Council to support Contracting States in their implementation of language proficiency requirements by supporting globally harmonized language testing criteria.

The system came into operation in 2008, supported by the recommendations for the Implementation of the Language Proficiency Requirements (ICAO Document 9835) as well as ICAO Annexes 1, 6, 10 and 11. The LPRs stipulated that pilots and air traffic control officers (ATCOs) operating in international airspace must achieve an ‘Operational’ Level 4 to be able to use the radiotelephone. As ICAO (being part of the UN) has no judicial powers, implementation of the LPRs was designated to national Civil Aviation Authorities (CAAs) worldwide. Although no one test was ever developed for global use, a rating scale was provided which required six language areas to be assessed at six levels of proficiency. Only a minimum of Level 4 or above in all six language areas was deemed a ‘pass’, which could then be endorsed in a pilot’s or controller’s license.

Appropriate testing of language proficiency

Radiotelephony communications require not only the use of ICAO standardised phraseology, but also the use of appropriate plain language when necessary. Phraseology should be used in all situations whenever possible, but it cannot provide for all pilot-ATC communications, particularly during unexpected situations and non-routine events. Plain language should never replace standard phraseology, but be an additional means to communicate when pilots and ATCOs may need to describe, explain, clarify, suggest, recommend or otherwise help each other understand and resolve a situation, and provide assistance – all as efficiently and as effectively as possible.

The main focus of the LPRs is on plain language in operational radiotelephony, which includes standard phraseology. Testing under the LPRs should establish the ability of test-takers to effectively use appropriate language in operational conditions, and that they are evaluated in their use of language related to both routine and unexpected or complicated situations as evidence of their level of proficiency. Because of the high stakes involved, pilots and air traffic controllers should be tested in a context similar to that in which they work. Whilst English is the lingua franca of aviation, pilots and controllers must be tested in any language they use on the radiotelephone. Normally this would be the language of the station on the ground and/or English.

Teacher knowledge and skills

Training of the language used in this specialised domain is an integral part of the LPRs (see ICAO Document 9835 Chapter 7 and ICAO Circular 323). Aviation radiotelephony language is a complex mixture of phraseologies and plain language, so language teachers should plan their own professional development to understand the actual language used, the technical contexts of communication and the communication concerns of their learners, namely pilots and controllers. It is vital for language trainers to work with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), i.e. technical specialists such as operational personnel, in order for them to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to support learning in a virtual or onsite classroom. It is not sufficient to provide learners with lists of vocabulary to learn, or general English training through aviation topics. The actual language and skills that learners need should be introduced, contextualised and practiced in the authentic real-world contexts in which they are used.

2. FAQs

We hope these FAQs will provide answers to common questions asked by newcomers to aviation English, and help people understand some of the specificities of teaching English in this field.

What is Aviation English? In most specific purpose language domains, Domain Name + English refers to the language used in the whole domain, e.g. Medical English, Maritime English, Legal English etc, and refers to all roles within that domain and the range of occupational communication tasks they have.

For Aviation English this should be no different. However, since the implementation and pre-dominance of the LPRs, the term ‘Aviation English’ has become synonymous with the language used in pilot-ATC radiotelephony communications, when in fact it should/could also include the language used by ground and engineering staff, cabin crew, firefighters etc. If in doubt, clarification should be sought to specify exactly what someone means when they are using the term ‘Aviation English’.

What is phraseology? Standard phraseology is a specialised code of restricted sub-language for use in radiotelephony communications between pilots and ATC. It is used during regular operations and in routine situations, and together with plain language in unexpected and non-routine situations. It provides a common, standardised set of words, phrases, communication protocols etc that supports precise, efficient and safe communication between pilots and ATC.
How can I find out about ICAO phraseology? Refer to:

  • ICAO Document 4444 – Air Traffic Management, Chapter 12: Phraseologies
  • ICAO Document 9432 – Manual of Radiotelephony

Also, speak with a professional pilot, your local ATC unit, a flight school and/or qualified instructor to understand how this language is used.

Who can teach phraseology? Should it be a part of an Aviation English syllabus? Normally phraseology is taught by a qualified ATC or flight instructor. It is highly recommended for any teacher of English in aviation to follow a basic phraseology course with a qualified instructor to become aware of how plain language fits into the communication of their learners. Using phraseology in an aviation English syllabus is highly recommended as it is an integral part of pilot-ATC communication. This should be done however with the guidance from qualified operational personnel – instructors, pilots and/or controllers.
What is ‘plain language’? ‘Plain language’ is defined as the spontaneous, creative and non-coded use of a given natural language […] required by aeronautical radiotelephony communication (ICAO Document 9835, 2010). This normally means it is the language used during an unexpected situation or non-routine event, when standard phraseology is not sufficient to cover all the communication needs of that situation.
What is ICAO’s role? ICAO is an agency of the United Nations. It is responsible for the governance of all matters related to civil aviation worldwide, including the Language Proficiency Requirements, but has no judicial powers. National Civil Aviation Authorities are responsible for aviation policy and regulations within each national territory.
Does ICAO accredit Aviation English tests? AELTS was established to evaluate and endorse tests for English in aviation, called. It is not certain at this time whether the system is still operational.
Does ICAO accredit Aviation English training companies and courses? No. ICAO’s subsidiary Global Aviation Training and TRAINAIR network of approved centres provides courses in many areas of aviation, but as far as we are aware, a course for training of English in aviation is not provided. Training is provided by private companies and individuals, and some industry associations. Any prospective service provider should be thoroughly checked for their qualifications and experience. It is not within ICAEA’s remit to recommend or endorse any providers of training.


Caution should be taken of service providers claiming to be ‘ICAO approved’, offering ‘ICAO English training courses’ or suggesting that a course is accredited by a national CAA. Only those courses delivered by GAT have the right to use the ICAO name. Furthermore, national CAAs do not normally endorse or accredit private companies or individuals to provide aviation English training. If in doubt, seek clarification from your national CAA.

Is there an ICAO-approved Aviation English teacher training course? No. The same as for language training, Global Aviation Training does not currently provide such a course. However, training is provided by private companies. Any prospective service provider should be thoroughly checked for their qualifications and experience. It is not within ICAEA’s remit to recommend or endorse any providers of teacher training.
Are there plans to update the ICAO LPRs? Revisions to ICAO documentation follow a process that normally requires extensive consultation before submission for approval by its Assembly. There are several working groups under the ICAO structure currently focusing on various matters related to the LPRs. These groups include stakeholders from national CAAs, operational personnel, and industry and professional associations such as ICAEA, with the aim of making proposals to develop and improve the LPRs. Such projects include ICAEA’s Test Design Guidelines.
Do the ICAO LPRs only relate to English? No. All users must be tested for their proficiency in the language they use to communicate over the radiotelephone.
What are the ICAO languages? Are these the official languages to be used for radio communication? The official ICAO languages are French, English, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Chinese. These are designated for administration and documentation only and so are not directly related to radio communication. Languages used on the radio are normally that of the ground station/ATC unit and English.
Is there an ICAO Aviation English test? No. ICAO does not provide a test. ICAO established a system called AELTS to evaluate and endorse tests for English in aviation. It is not certain at this time whether the system is still operational. National CAAs determine the results of which tests they will accept for personnel licensing purposes. If in doubt, seek clarification from your national CAA.
Is there a list of tests endorsed ICAO? The AELTS website lists the tests of aviation English […] in conformance with the ICAO SARPS for LPRs It is not within ICAEA’s remit to recommend or endorse any test.
What is the Rated Speech Samples Training Aid (RSSTA)? The RSSTA was created soon after the implementation of the LPRs. It contains samples of pilots and controllers speaking at Levels 3 to 6. However, it is important to note that many of the samples now reflect their age. As awareness and knowledge of good testing practices have evolved, some samples in the RSSTA may not now represent good testing practices, for various reasons. Discussions are in progress how to update the RSSTA to better reflect current test practices, the types of test tasks required etc.
Can I be accredited as an ICAO Aviation English Rater? Yes and no. ICAO’s Global Aviation Training does provide a rater training course. However, under good testing practice, rater-training should be linked to one specific test. Therefore, somebody who successfully completes a rater-training course can only be accredited for the specific test that course is designed for. Rater training, by its nature, cannot be generic.
If I complete a rater-training course, does that mean I can rate any type of LPR test? No. Generic rater training cannot cover all types of tasks and the operation of all tests. Rater-training is specific to the test for which it was designed.
What does an LPR test need to assess? Refer to ICAEA’s Test Design Guidelines for further information. These guidelines will be published as an ICAO Handbook soon.
Where does a pilot or ATCO show that they have the required language proficiency? The language proficiency level is endorsed in the pilot’s or ATCO’s licence. Further information is available from your national ANSP (for controllers) or CAA (pilots).
Are recognised Aviation English teacher training courses available? An internet search will provide details of courses available. You should thoroughly check the qualifications of the organisation, its trainers, course details, including how the program meets the recommendations included in ICAO Circular 323. It is not within ICAEA’s remit to recommend or endorse any providers of training.
What do I need to do to become an Aviation English teacher? It may depend on your background.

  • Do you already have an internationally-recognised EFL teacher training qualification (e.g. CELTA, Trinity TESOL etc) and some practical English for Specific Purpose (ESP) teaching experience? Do you need to learn and develop your language teaching skills?
  • Do you have an operational background and so already know the specific language and skills you will teach? Do you need learn and understand the use of phraseology and plain language, and the contexts in which radio communications occur?

Teacher training by a recognised organisation with experienced and qualified trainers, actual teaching practice, ongoing collaboration with operational personnel and continuous professional development are all vital.

Further information and recommendations can be found in:

  • ICAO Document 9835, Appendix D: Aviation Qualifications
  • ICAO Circular 323, Chapter 3: Aviation English Trainer Profile and Background
Are the training needs of pilots and ATCs different? What about ab-initio students? Yes. Their concerns, areas of specialised knowledge, level of assumed knowledge, and the variety of operational and training situations in which they need to communicate are different. As a result, training needs are different, and different training curricula and materials should be provided.
Where can I find source materials to develop lessons? See the list of suggestions in Section 3 below.


All source or ‘raw’ materials should be used with caution to ensure accuracy and adherence to operational procedures.

Individual and groups of learners will have specific needs. Materials may need to be carefully selected or adapted to align with defined language learning objectives and lesson aims.

Teachers without an operational background or limited aviation knowledge should work closely with technical or Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to ensure the accuracy and authenticity of materials. This will not only ensure that learners are getting the training they are paying for, but this is also an excellent way for teachers to develop their technical knowledge.

Site visits to operational areas and discussions with operational staff are highly recommended as they provide an extremely valuable means of professional development in any specific purpose language domain.

What do ELE and SME mean? Specific purpose language learning and testing is a domain which requires inputs from two groups of people – English Language Experts (ELEs) and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs).

An ELE is someone whose primary qualifications, background and working experience are in specific purpose English language testing or teaching.

An SME (sometimes called an Operational Expert (OPE)) is someone whose primary qualifications, background and working experience are in an operational profession, such as a pilot or air traffic controller.

These groups should work together to ensure that learning and testing correspond to the real-world needs of those being taught or tested. Quality in training and assessment is the result of the fusion of language and operational skills and knowledge.


Document 9835 – Manual on the Implementation of ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements (ICAO, 2010, 2nd Edition)

Circular 323 – Guidelines for Aviation English Training Programmes (ICAO, 2009)

Document 4444 – Air Traffic Management (ICAO, 2016)
See Chapter 12: Phraseologies which contains recommended phraseology, further exemplified in Document 9432.

Document 9432 – Manual of Radiotelephony (ICAO, 2007)
This document is the main manual for ICAO standard phraseology. In case of incongruities, Document 4444 should be followed as it is hierarchically more important.

Document 8400 – Abbreviations and Codes
Useful reference material

These resources may be useful both for the development of teacher knowledge, and provide useful source material for language training activities.

Say Again – Phraseology database
A handy online tool developed by Eurocontrol tool to check the use of standard phraseology words and phrases. Includes a Keyword Search, Categories and Context.

Eurocontrol’s well-organised information portal that has detailed articles on many aspects of aviation operations and non-routine situations. An excellent self-education resource for teachers looking to understand the context or routine and non-normal events. Information should be cross-checked with technical experts and/or instructors if in doubt as to relevance/use for language training purposes.

ICAO Journal
A regular journal published by ICAO containing useful articles relating to aviation.

Reports on accidents and incidents from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch of the UK CAA. Some reports contain RT transcripts and graphics to explain incidents.

Confidential Human Factors Incident Reporting from the UK CAA. Interesting texts and reflections from those directly involved in incidents.

Flight Safety Foundation
Publishes a regular magazine Aero Safety World on various aspects of aviation safety. Interesting and technically rich in language.

ICAEA Test Design Guidelines
Developed by ICAEA to assist national Civil Aviation Authorities and Test Developers understand key issues related to the validity, effectiveness and fairness of test instrument design, and the effects they have on test takers and aviation safety. Will be published soon as an ICAO Handbook.

Rated Speech Samples Training Aid (RSSTA)
Developed for ICAO by ICAEA. A selection of LPR test recordings with agreed ratings according to ICAO LPR descriptors.


Aspects of the RSSTA are now outdated. Many of the test tasks exemplified do not reflect current practices and recommendations for LPR testing. ICAEA is exploring how to update this project in the near future. It has been retained only because it provides a useful selection of language samples that exemplify language proficiency at Levels 3 to 6. Caution advised.


VAS Aviation
Real pilot-ATC communications often of non-routine situations, including transcripts and visual aids.

Listen to real pilot-ATC communications from around the world. The Interesting Recordings sections focuses on non-routine events.

Aviation Herald
A well-established English-language website that publishes reports of incidents and accidents in commercial aviation.


Teachers should be cautious when using any of the above sites.

  • Some of the material may not be supported by official channels and/or organisations.
  • The accuracy and relevance of the content, and the context of the event should be checked with technical specialists and/or instructors.
  • When reading open ‘Comments’ sections, be careful to distinguish facts from personal views.
  • Many recordings of live traffic available on youtube and other websites are from US radio frequencies. They may therefore contain phraseology different to that in ICAO documentation. Although – or because – these sources of materials provide authentic radio communications, teachers should exercise caution when creating activities from them.
  • Be aware of possible inaccuracies in ready-made transcripts and visual representations of live traffic.


Various books have been published since the implementation of the ICAO LPRs. These are still available although most seem not to have been updated since their original publication and so would appear to be somewhat out of date. Teachers should note that some of the material may not suitable for all learners (e.g. for needs of pilots vs ATCs, or operational vs ab-initio personnel), and that some technical inaccuracies are apparent. Teachers are advised to use published materials with caution and consult operational experts or instructors before use.

For a wider view of teaching and testing, and to help with continued professional development, we encourage you to attend ICAEA’s webinars, workshops and conferences, and those of other international associations such as:





Certain associations also have national or regional sub-groups and Special Interest Groups (SIGs) that focus on specific purpose language. An internet search will usually provide contact details for each country or region.

Many academic papers have been published over the years related to aeronautical communication.

A search on Google Scholar, ResearchGate, or Aviation English Reference Hub will provide some of those available. Those with institutional access to academic publications and databases may find a wider selection of papers. Various ICAEA members who are actively engaged in research may also be able to help with specific papers. Consult the ICAEA Research Group page for more information.


Caution is advised regarding academic papers. Opinions, sources and accuracy do vary, meaning that certain papers may be open to further discussion and interpretation. Out of fairness to all authors, ICAEA does not recommend or comment on specific papers or books related to aviation English.

Some commonly used reference books in teaching and testing.

  • ALTE (2018). Guidelines for the development of languages for specific purposes tests – A supplement to the manual for language test development and examining
  • Bachman, L. F. (1990). Fundamental considerations in language testing. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Bachman, L. F., & Palmer, S. (1996). Language Testing in Practice. Oxford: OUP.
  • Brown, H. D. (2007). Principles of language learning and teaching. White Plains, MY: Prentice Hall.
  • Crystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Douglas, D. (2000). Assessing language for specific purposes, Cambridge: CUP.
  • Dudley-Evans, T.; St John, M. (1998) Developments in ESP. Cambridge, New York, Melbourne: CUP
  • Fulcher, G. & Davidson, F. (2007). Language testing and assessment: An advanced resource book. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Green, A. (2014) Exploring Language Testing and Assessment, London: Routledge.
  • Harmer, J. (2007). The practice of English language teaching. Harlow: Pearson Longman.
  • Hedge, T. (2000). Teaching and learning in the language classroom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Hughes, A. (2003). Testing for language teachers (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Paltridge, B. & Starfield, S. (2013). The Handbook of English for Specific Purposes, Wiley-Blackewell.
  • Thornbury, S. (2008). How to Teach Speaking. Harlow: Pearson Longman.
  • Weir, C.J. (2005) Language Testing and Validation – An Evidence Based Approach. London: Palgrave Macmillan.