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Language Related Problems In Air Communications  
User currently offlineWing From Turkey, joined Oct 2000, 1601 posts, RR: 23
Posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 14 hours ago) and read 5980 times:

Understanding and being understandable is a very key point in flight safety.There are lots of communication related accidents happened either by not properly listening or listening but not understanding what the other side said.Understanding what is told to you is not the only part of the communications but a pilot flying in busy airspaces should know about the location and instructions given to the other traffics as well.( For example You have to know that you should reduce your speed if the traffic infront of you is instructed to reduce speed or not reduce to 220 kts if the traffic behind is is coming down with 280 kts)Although English is commonly used native languages are also used sometimes between ATC and the native pilots sometimes which I think it should be kept to minimum due to above explained reasons.Over France for example AF pilots and ATC constantly speak in French makes it imposible for non French speaking pilots to understand whats going around.Also ATIS frequencies in most France airports broadcast both in English and French respectively makes you wait until the next english broadcast if you miss one.England is also difficult place to understand sometimes when some controllers speak fastly with their funny English accent.For me German controllers are easiest to understand.Every country has its own way of speaking of English.I think its everyones duty to try to be more understandable and standart to avoid any kind of incidents caused by language difficulties.

follow me on my facebook page" captain wing's journey log"
16 replies: All unread, jump to last
User currently offlineMandala499 From Indonesia, joined Aug 2001, 7561 posts, RR: 76
Reply 1, posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 13 hours ago) and read 5951 times:

I agree!
Indonesian ATC "always" try and make sure non-English AND non-local pilots understand instructions and sometimes make traffic broadcasts when a "bad reply" is heard. Unfortunately, this effort does not extend to helping Australian pilots as they are "assumed" to understand...

Examples: *no, this is not intended to take p1ss out of some people!*
"Dynasty XXX tun to 2-2-0 for intercelt 2-5 light"
"Dynasty XXX, Tower, confirm you hear 25 right?"
"Logel, XXX 25 light"
"Dynasty XXX, confirm it's 2-5 Romeo?"
"Solly, 2-5 Romeo... not Lima, solly, Dynasty XXX"

On another occassion, a China Southern jet was trying to readback his clearance instructions but ATC cannot understand... He then went...
"All stations, Delivery, anyone speaks Mandarin?"
The morning CX flight happens to be in the frequency and volunteered to help...

Sometimes, Indonesian pilots relay informal information to ATC in Indonesian (even though English is the ATC lingo here)... If ATC regards the info as mildly important, he would make an "attention all stations" broadcast... This is only recent, because there is a significant number of expat pilots flying domestic now and also international flights in terminal areas are now spread out throughout the day, where in the past they've been concentrated to certain hours of the day.

Just my 2 cent's worth...


When losing situational awareness, pray Cumulus Granitus isn't nearby !
User currently offlineB747Skipper From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 2, posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 13 hours ago) and read 5947 times:

Dear Wing -
Use of English is recommended by ICAO... unfortunately they do admit also the use of the local national language... In some areas, ATC proficiency in English is marginal (pronunciation mostly) and this is sometines the case of pilots as well...
Flying in South America, I often use Spanish to communicate with ATC, this is for ATC convenience when I realize communications are difficult because of language, but I refrain when there is other traffic on the frequency, airplanes which could benefit of turbulence reports, or my flight level and estimates.
Same happens often in Africa, French can be of help in many areas.
Fact is, a few of my crewmembers are sometimes weak with English, often, as I fly to the USA, I prefer doing ATC communications - as a native USA boy... But ATC controllers do not make it easy for foreign crews in many English speaking countries.
Despite an Argentina call sign, USA controllers make little effort to slow their English and speak more carefully. While MIA and JFK controllers are rather good in issuing clearances and taxi instructions, many of my crewmembers complained about ORD approach control, tower and taxi frequencies...
By the way, in my PanAm days, Turkey controllers spoke generally very good English. Istanbul, Ankara, Incirlik was never a problem, nor in Ercan, where I got briefly based with KTHY flying a leased aircraft.
If you are accustomed to international flying, foreign accents of controllers should not bother you... but is like flying... it takes experience.
Happy contrails  Smile
(s) Skipper

User currently offlineGordonsmall From UK - Scotland, joined Jun 2001, 2236 posts, RR: 20
Reply 3, posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 11 hours ago) and read 5928 times:

The language barrier is something that affects all functions in life, but is something that is obviously of "extreme" importance in aviation since it involves so much "chit-chat" to keep the wheels turning.

I live in South West Scotland, and as a consequence have a very broad Scottish accent (think Billy Connelly, the Scottish comedian) - I've only had a few hours aloft in a PA-28, all at my local airfield so the controllers have no problem understanding my accent (although the instructor does most of the radio transmissions) but I plan on moving to Florida in a year or so to train to JAA ATPL level and the "accent" barrier is something that concerns me a lot.

I live under the flight path of a lot of transatlantic traffic and with my scanner I often hear foreign pilots and Scottish controllers communicating as the aircraft enter/leave the NAT tracks, and whilst the Scottish controllers have no problem understanding the Americans and most of the other pilots, flight crews often query instructions given to them by my fellow countrymen and appear to have a lot of trouble understanding the Scottish accent of the controllers.

Any pilots (especially Americans, but any opinion would be appreciated) who've flown into/over Scotland care to comment on how easy to understand the accent was? Anyone who's travelled to Scotland for a holiday (opinions of people from other parts of the UK included) perhaps care to comment on how well they understood the "natives"?

I am quite concerned that my accent will hold back my flight training when I move to the US, is this unfounded or could it actually be a problem?

As always any advice appreciated.


Statistically, people who have had the most birthdays tend to live the longest.
User currently offlineB747Skipper From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 4, posted (12 years 6 months 1 week 10 hours ago) and read 5927 times:

Dear Gordon -
My only experience with ATC in Scotland is EGPK... Spent a few layovers in little hotels in Ayr, and enjoyed the Scottish accents...
Accents do not bother me really, actually what is different is change of words to express the same ideas... we have a different vocabulary in North America, than you have in UK, Scotland and Ireland... We communicate, no problems, but must keep our ears in tune...
I have been all over the world with my "California English"... I sometimes do not even understand people from Tennessee or Alabama... I do fine with the Australians, NZ Kiwis and South Africans... so you too will be suffering with Florida...
Florida has a mixed bag of various accents... especially that they get the "snowbirds" (people from the cold Northern USA and Canada) spending winter in tropical weather. So many different accents are common. What you will need to do is to learn the USA-English vocabulary...
When you go to flight school there, and wish to erase some pencil writings, do not ask for a "rubber"... they will give you a condom... ask for an "eraser"...
Happy contrails  Smile
(s) Skipper

User currently offlineWing From Turkey, joined Oct 2000, 1601 posts, RR: 23
Reply 5, posted (12 years 6 months 6 days 23 hours ago) and read 5872 times:

Dear 747skipper,

I am actually accostumed to international flying since my company Pegasus,makes wet lease contracts with operators all around the world during low tourism season in winter.During the last 4 years,apart from flying in continental Europe, I flew for Khalifa Air,AirAlgerie,OmanAir,AirOne,Air Dolamity,Air Sofia,And some troop transports to Afganistan. Nuts .I 've seen lots of different kinds of accents and I have to admit that at first I found it difficult to adjust other accents after returning back from USA where I leant to fly.

Talking to ATC with own native language is what I actually wanted to criticize while others around.We also help ATC guys by speaking in Turkish,since they make extra effort to speak with a foreign language while trying to handle a very hard job at the same time.Think about the times when you were newly learning Spanish in Argentina.So its OK to help them reduce their work load.When we were flying around Africa,where radar cover is not available at most places,Algerien pilots were reporting thier position in French.All we understand that we were heading the same waypoint while descenting to some altitude without knowing where the other plane is,makes you really uncomfortable,that happens over France a lot too.I think non English conversations in the international airspaces must kept to minimum.

By the way I applied to KTHY to transfer them in January.They are purchasing 3 more 737-800 aircraft,my father flew there for 5 years as a 727 pilot.Which years did you fly in KTHY and how was your impressions,Its enough of charter flying for me I'd like to fly a scheduled carrier.

follow me on my facebook page" captain wing's journey log"
User currently offlineB747Skipper From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 6, posted (12 years 6 months 5 days 17 hours ago) and read 5796 times:

Hola Wing -
Glad you are joining KTHY... had a 3 months assignment through PanAm, in 1979 there, based Ercan, two cockpit crew, we live in hotel in Girne (Kyrenia) flying a 720 leased to KTHY... our flight attendants were KTHY ladies...
Enjoyed the place very much... there were no tourists whatsoever, although the little harbour was great place, in Girne... we were feeling home there, people were treating us extremely well. Our flights were strictly to Istanbul and Ankara, nothing else...
As I said before, the problem with international ATC communications, is a matter of experience for many, like learning to fly airplanes, you learn to fly, then you learn to talk... French language is REQUIRED in French airspace, this by law. They require French airplanes to communicate in French language. While ICAO recommends English, it is by no way a rule, merely recommendation.
I am fortunate to speak fluent French and Spanish... this has helped me a lot flying in Central and South America, Africa and France... at least I know where the "other guys" are when they make position reports, or talk about turbulence...
Sorry to hear about the bombings in Istanbul... and so many victims...
I love that city a lot, so cosmopolitan...
Happy contrails -
(s) Skipper

User currently offlineMightyFalcon From Oman, joined Jun 2001, 384 posts, RR: 8
Reply 7, posted (12 years 6 months 5 days 3 hours ago) and read 5727 times:

Hello guys,

I agree with you all, English should be made mandatory as the ATC only language, at least in busy airspaces or where procedural separation is applied (non-radar covered airspace). We talked about it many times here.
That said, I'd like to add something nobody mentioned: phraseology.

Specific phraseology has been created for air-to-ground radio communications for a reason: avoid confusion. Unfortunately, I have to say that quite often both pilots and controllers are not using it properly or at all. Most of the time, general "English" is mixed into it so it makes it barely understandable. I'm not even talking about regional/national idioms used by some; these are nightmares because they don't refer to any international knowledge.

Accents for sure are an issue but if professionals from both sides were using the standard phraseology, most confusions would be avoided.

Just my 2 cents...


The sky has no limit...
User currently offline707cmf From France, joined Mar 2002, 4885 posts, RR: 27
Reply 8, posted (12 years 6 months 4 days 23 hours ago) and read 5704 times:

As I said before, the problem with international ATC communications, is a matter of experience for many, like learning to fly airplanes, you learn to fly, then you learn to talk... French language is REQUIRED in French airspace, this by law. They require French airplanes to communicate in French language. While ICAO recommends English, it is by no way a rule, merely recommendation.

I have to disagree here.
I fly a lot in France, and although most of the ATC is done in French, you can fly in any French controlled airspace without speaking French. And you can speak English even if you're French, if you fancy it.
Once I was doing circits with my FI. We were turning base when I noticed a British Piper in the circuit. I decided to call back short final not in French but in English, allowing the Brit to have the traffic information without having the Tower repeating it. The ATC did not disciplined me, actually, they were quite happy not to have to translate me to the brit, so they gave me clearace in English, and so it went. (just my FI was a bit surprised having never heard me speak English  Wink/being sarcastic )


User currently offlineCaptjetblast From Argentina, joined Aug 2001, 289 posts, RR: 0
Reply 9, posted (12 years 6 months 4 days 22 hours ago) and read 5699 times:

B747Skipper: "...USA controllers make little effort to slow their English and speak more carefully..."

They should! Non native English must make a great effort in order to communicate fluidly and right, preventing accidents, no less! And if USA controllers can be prevent an accident by making only a little effort to slow their English no doubt they should!

User currently offlineFredT From United Kingdom, joined Feb 2002, 2185 posts, RR: 26
Reply 10, posted (12 years 6 months 4 days 21 hours ago) and read 5688 times:

Here in Sweden, we have a number of quite pronounced local accents. I happen to speak one of them, stemming from way up above the arctic circle. The very nice ATC girl who trained me for my radio certificate happened to speak another, being from the very southern tip of the country. T’was interesting and made for a fair bit of friendly ribbing. “I’ll NEVER be able to pronounce it like that!”  Smile

Anyway, we switch to “standard swedish” on the radio. It has always puzzled me a bit that often, no such efforts seem to be made by native english speakers.

It is also, although not explicitly required per se, considered the norm and if nothing else the polite thing to do for all aircraft to switch to english when there is one english-speaking station on the frequency. Most crews and all ATC have to be able to use english and the benefits of increased situational awareness are well worth the reduced comfort level IMO. In case of an emergency, the recommendation is of course to switch back to whatever language works the best.


I thought I was doing good trying to avoid those airport hotels... and look at me now.
User currently offlineLMP737 From United States of America, joined May 2002, 5065 posts, RR: 16
Reply 11, posted (12 years 6 months 4 days 20 hours ago) and read 5678 times:

Last night I was taxing a 737 back to the hanger when a 747-400F from Asia landed. The 747 pilot taxied the cargo ramp and tried to get clearance to the freight terminal from the tower. The only problem was that once you are clear of the movement area the tower can neither approve nor disapprove what you do. The 747 pilot did not quite understand this and tried several more times to get clearance from the tower. Fortunately both the tower and crew were able to work through some language difficulties and get everything straightend out.

747 Skipper:

Agree with you 100% that controllers sometimes need to slow it down a bit when giving clearances. There have been times taxing aircraft to and from the hanger where I have had to ask ATC to repeat their instruction. They just talk to fast, especially when it's busy. I can only imagine what it's like for someone who's first language is not English.

One last point, IMHO it seems to me that having French controllers speaking French and English is an accident waiting to happen.

Never take financial advice from co-workers.
User currently offlineB747Skipper From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 12, posted (12 years 6 months 4 days 19 hours ago) and read 5669 times:

I avoided an incident in France, many years ago...
I was F/O in a 707... holding at 3,000 feet on the outer marker...
Heard a "Air Inter" (domestic airline in France) being cleared in French to descent to 3,000 feet same location as we were... I immediately snapped back at them...
"ATC - Air Inter 789, procedez direct sur la balise exterieure, 3,000 pieds...
"Air Inter" - Roger, nous descendons 3,000 pieds...
"Me - Eh, les gars, Clipper 123 est a 3,000 pieds, balise exterieure...
Translation -
"ATC - Air Inter 789, proceed direct to the outer marker, at 3,000 feet...
"Air Inter - Roger, we descent to 3,000 feet...
"Me - Hey guys, Clipper 123 is at 3,000 feet at the outer marker...
ATC immediately instructed the Air Inter to maintain whatever FL they had...
There had been no danger, but what if I did not understand French...?
That is the grave problem of communications in other languages...
Happy contrails  Smile
(s) Skipper

User currently offlineJetguy From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 13, posted (12 years 6 months 4 days 18 hours ago) and read 5639 times:

You don't have to be flying internationally to have language problems and difficulties understanding ATC. I remember one of my first trips to the east coast - I was cleared to "Baans". Let's see, was that Bonds, Barnes, Baans, or what? It turns out I had been cleared to the Barnes VOR. The point is, if you aren't understanding or being understood, don't be afraid to ask them to slow down, repeat, or even spell it out. The primary thing is for you to do what ever it takes to ensure clear and correct communications.

User currently offlineBen From Switzerland, joined Aug 1999, 1391 posts, RR: 47
Reply 14, posted (12 years 6 months 4 days 18 hours ago) and read 5639 times:

One last point, IMHO it seems to me that having French controllers speaking French and English is an accident waiting to happen.

I think the accient has already happened. Wasn't the fact that 2 languages were being used on the same frequency implicated in the deaths of the crew of a British cargo aircraft (Shorts 360?) when another aircraft's wing sliced through the cockpit on takeoff at CDG? It was only a few years ago as I remember... anyone have more details?

User currently offlineBen From Switzerland, joined Aug 1999, 1391 posts, RR: 47
Reply 15, posted (12 years 6 months 4 days 17 hours ago) and read 5631 times:

Oops.. sorry. The language was only a contributing factor, but still a factor...

If you want to read about it:


User currently offlineFly727 From Mexico, joined Jul 2003, 1803 posts, RR: 16
Reply 16, posted (12 years 6 months 1 day 11 hours ago) and read 5521 times:

Some people will not agree with me... IMHO when it comes to the aspiring pilot English skills, the ICAO member should be more strict and evaluate them with proper examinations (such as TOEFL). I had the fortune (well, not really the fortune -I STUDIED HARD-) to achieve a nice level of confidence with my English skills and to be honest I want the same from other pilots flying around me. Most of the times I fly domestic within Mexico, but with heavy presence of foreign traffic at crowded -peak times- airspace. When the controller talks to me in Spanish and there are some other guys up there, I just feel sorry if not anxious for them, thinking that those guys are solely relying in their TCAS and ATC clearances adherence to have what we call the "big picture" (situational awareness). The information you get from what it is told to other traffic is essential to develop situational awareness and is something we must fight for.

My two cents...
RM  Smile

There are no stupid questions... just stupid people!
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