Is it important to have an average understanding of the English language when you are piloting an aircraft? How well do you need to understand the language? We’ll discuss why the English language is so important for pilots and talk about Aviation English and the LPE (Language Proficiency Endorsement) levels. Let’s dive right in!
English For Pilots
Yes, It is crucial that pilots are able to speak and understand the English language.
English is one of the most commonly used ICAO languages (Official ICAO languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, Spanish & English) and from the moment you start your flight training you will notice why it’s important to understand the language.
Whether you live in Europe or in another part of the world, most ATPL theory books are written in English, all tests are in English and teachers speak English as well. There might be some exceptions, but in general, this is the case.
Pilots use a common language while communicating with each other and air traffic control. This common language is necessary because confusion should be kept to a minimum in the entire aviation sector. Some call this Aviation English for pilots and it’s basically a combination of frequently used phrases and a concise way of talking.
Wilco, Roger or proceeding direct to… are some examples.
So, how well do you need to understand the language? You don’t need to be a native English speaker in order to become a pilot. With or without an accent, you just need to understand the English language and be understandable for your colleagues. That is what it is all about.
Note: If you are still in high school and dream about becoming a pilot you should consider adding a couple of subjects to your curriculum like mathematics, physics and of course English. It will make your life a lot easier if you do!
Language Proficiency Endorsement – LPE exam
The LPE exam (Language Proficiency Endorsement) is designed to identify the English proficiency level of the candidate. It’s based on reading, writing, speaking and understanding the English language in an aviation environment. It is quite straightforward and there are different sorts of exams.
In general it comes down to this: You need to listen to an audio tape, usually a recording of an ATC conversation, and answer questions about it. Sometimes you can listen to the audio tape more than once which makes it easier. You also need to describe some pictures and/or answer questions about them.
Afterwards the examiner will have a conversation with you about everyday subjects. Your grade will depend on your pronunciation, vocabulary and the number of correct answers. Level 1 to 3 means you have failed the exam. You pass with a level 4 or higher and level 6 is the maximum achievable level.
Note: We recommend that you study before taking the exam since some airlines are known to only hire candidates with LPE level 5 or 6.
Note: Native English speakers automatically obtain level 6 without the need to pass an exam.
LPE Levels and validity
- Level 4 – Validity: 3 years
- Level 5 – Validity: 6 years
- Level 6 – Validity: permanently
What if you’re not proficient enough?
You can improve just about anything as long as you work for it.
To become familiar with the language try to include it in your daily activities:
- Speak English on a regular basis with the people around you
- Read English books
- Watch English movies with English subtitles
If the above tips don’t work for you, consider signing up for our English For Pilots course (currently in development). It contains everything you need to improve your proficiency. We also cover the LPE exams in depth and offer all sorts of English tests that enable you to train your weak spots. Similar tests are also used by airlines and flight schools to assess candidates during their airline and flight school selection process.
We hope we were able to shed some light on why aviation English for pilots is so important.
If you still have questions or doubts please drop a comment below so we can help you further.