Cory6188
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English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 3:33 am

A recent trip BLL-CDG-JFK got me thinking about the role of the English language within global commercial aviation.

Of all of the different trips that I've been on around the world, I can't think of a time where English hasn't been available in an airport or spoken by airline staff/crew in at least some capacity. I realize that English is pretty much the de facto second language these days across the globe, but it still surprises me when I see so much English in aviation, particularly in countries where it is most certainly not widely spoken by the local population.

A recent example was when I flew on EQ within Ecuador from UIO to OCC, and all of the flight attendants, and even the pilots, spoke English. I assumed that all of the announcements on a domestic flight in Ecuador would only be in Spanish, and I was pretty surprised when the gate agents boarded the flight in Spanish and English, and both the pilots and F/A's did all of their announcements in both languages. I could see UIO to JFK having both, obviously, but I was quite surprised for a flight within Ecuador.

Are there any airlines that don't have English as part of their standard procedure for their airport and on board communication? Any airports where there isn't dual-language signage? I'd be curious as to any examples.

I also wonder, then, how much of a difficulty this can be when hiring airline/airport staff in countries where English isn't widely spoken for what can be lower paying jobs as an airport agent, versus a potentially more lucrative job that someone who speaks English would be able to get? Anecdotally, I'm thinking of Japan, where NRT has a good number of English speakers among the airline staff, but Japan as a whole is on the low end in terms of English ability. Another example was when I was at UIO, where the Ecuadorian population doesn't have particularly strong English ability, but all of the (contracted) DL agents spoke English at a fairly advanced level, given the conversations I overheard them having with pax at the ticket counter and gate podium.

Furthermore, for those a.net members from countries where English isn't the first language, what is your perspective when marketing terms such as SkyTeam's "Sky Priority" or the names of airline frequent flyer programs (e.g. Copa's "ConnectMiles", TG''s "Royal Orchid Plus", TK's "Miles & Smiles") are in English, even when the airline isn't based in an English-speaking country? As an English speaker, it certainly would feel odd to me to look at DL's website and see SkyMiles written in the Cyrillic alphabet, for instance (not to pick on Russia...just using an example).
 
Viscount724
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 3:49 am

Quoting Cory6188 (Thread starter):
Any airports where there isn't dual-language signage?

With only a few exceptions, virtually all signage at AMS is in English only. Schiphol airport has won awards for the clarity of its signage.
 
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Aaron747
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 3:56 am

Quoting Cory6188 (Thread starter):
I also wonder, then, how much of a difficulty this can be when hiring airline/airport staff in countries where English isn't widely spoken for what can be lower paying jobs as an airport agent, versus a potentially more lucrative job that someone who speaks English would be able to get? Anecdotally, I'm thinking of Japan, where NRT has a good number of English speakers among the airline staff, but Japan as a whole is on the low end in terms of English ability.

A lot of Japanese who would want to work at an airport are looking for a work life different than the usual robotic corporate gig, irrespective of their particular skills - language or otherwise.

Although a lot of Japanese have experience overseas and can actually use or understand English at an intermediate level, they tend to be women and this country still has a long way to go toward expanding employment opportunities for women beyond clerical tasks.

Don't just assume knowing English is automatically more lucrative as well - for example, companies generally prefer not to hire people who have been educated in overseas universities because it is assumed they will think for themselves and not toe the line.
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mandala499
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 4:09 am

Quoting Cory6188 (Thread starter):
I also wonder, then, how much of a difficulty this can be when hiring airline/airport staff in countries where English isn't widely spoken for what can be lower paying jobs as an airport agent, versus a potentially more lucrative job that someone who speaks English would be able to get?

No difficulty, just give them what I call "shotgun English"...    And hire someone who can speak slightly better English to supervise them...  
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lightsaber
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 4:27 am

Quoting Cory6188 (Thread starter):
I can't think of a time where English hasn't been available in an airport or spoken by airline staff/crew in at least some capacity. I realize that English is pretty much the de facto second language these days across the globe, but it still surprises me when I see so much English in aviation, particularly in countries where it is most certainly not widely spoken by the local population.

This is an artifact of WW2.

It started in 1942 when only a few languages were approved by ICAO. If you couldn't fly to the meeting in Los Angeles, you weren't given a vote and ICAO only recognized countries that built aircraft back then. IIRC, votes were by quantity of aircraft built in the prior year (e.g., IIRC, one country made the meeting as they had built two kits the prior year).

During the war, the allies built a network of ATC stations to route aircraft. This included flying directly to Africa. Before WW2, german and Italian flying boats flew main from South America across the Atlantic. After the war, it was English speaking ATC in much of the world (including, for example, Japan).

The presence of English speakers during and after the war being heavily involved with air travel stuck.

Quoting Aaron747 (Reply 2):
Don't just assume knowing English is automatically more lucrative as well - for example, companies generally prefer not to hire people who have been educated in overseas universities because it is assumed they will think for themselves and not toe the line.

Depends on the country and company. Some companies have added English literacy just to slow the flood of applicants. Most multinational companies have chosen English as the language to speak at cross-boarder meetings. I'm sure what you wrote is accurate from what you're seeing.

ICAO has even set a minimum standard of English for pilots and ATC:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/76...-become-compulsory-for-pilots.html

Now I realize you are discussing in the airport. But the reality is most airports help serve international customers. It just isn't possible to learn enough in all local languages to get by. For example, I do not know enough Italian or French to communicate, but I can in German and to a lesser degree Spanish. But forget any other language. I'd be there with the guide book or be the 'dumb American' trying to use English and Spanish to try and get across an idea. (At least my brain process German won't likely work in most areas.)

I'm fascinated by the 'economy of scales' of languages. The world is standardizing on 5 languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, and Arabic.

Although, to be fair, French is still a very influential language.
http://list25.com/the-25-most-influential-languages-in-the-world/5/

But there are about 6,000 languages out there. There is no way to learn every one of them. English has a head start...

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Aaron747
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 7:54 am

Quoting lightsaber (Reply 4):
Depends on the country and company. Some companies have added English literacy just to slow the flood of applicants. Most multinational companies have chosen English as the language to speak at cross-boarder meetings. I'm sure what you wrote is accurate from what you're seeing.

Purely from the Japanese context, yes. It is by far the most frustrating part of doing business here - meeting clients who have been passed over by employers because they are too 'independent' or spent 'too much time' abroad.
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qf2220
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 10:45 am

Ill have to go do some digging but I think there was a crash somewhere in the 50s, one of the causes of which was language related, i.e. the lack of the aircraft to communicate with the relevant ATC/airport/ground or somethng. After this, ICAO/IATA mandated certain levels of English were required.
 
AVFCdownunder
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 1:02 pm

Quoting QF2220 (Reply 6):

Ill have to go do some digging but I think there was a crash somewhere in the 50s, one of the causes of which was language related, i.e. the lack of the aircraft to communicate with the relevant ATC/airport/ground or somethng. After this, ICAO/IATA mandated certain levels of English were required.

I am not sure if we are thinking of the same event, as I recall something more recent, perhaps in the 80's. The basic details was that an English aircraft was taxiing at a French Airport, think it was CDG or Orly, The crew did not understand the French ATC so travelled across an active runway and there was a collision, with fatalities. I am sure someone can provide further detail...
 
Gr8Circle
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 6:47 pm

Back in the 70s all AI flights to Moscow used to carry a Russian interpreter in the cockpit because the ATC folks in that country only spoke in Russian........

[Edited 2016-01-17 10:47:53]
 
IAHWorldflyer
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 6:55 pm

Last year I took a UA flight from IAH to AMS. What surprised me about this flight was that other than the pre-recorded safety announcement in English and Dutch , all other pilot and FA announcements were in English only. That was the only flight I've been on where the destination or origin nation's language was not used. I figured it's probably because a huge majority of Dutch people speak English at a high level.
 
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lightsaber
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 6:56 pm

Quoting Gr8Circle (Reply 8):
Back in the 70s all AI flights to Moscow used to carry a Russian interpreter in the cockpit because the ATC folks in that country only spoke in Russian........

One of the approved ICAO languages. So allowed. But that adds a delay/mis-translation risk which will be reflected in insurance costs.

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777klm
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 7:55 pm

Quoting IAHWorldFlyer (Reply 9):
Last year I took a UA flight from IAH to AMS. What surprised me about this flight was that other than the pre-recorded safety announcement in English and Dutch , all other pilot and FA announcements were in English only. That was the only flight I've been on where the destination or origin nation's language was not used. I figured it's probably because a huge majority of Dutch people speak English at a high level.

Even on my recent KL LHR-AMS flight the crew did all the announcements in English only, despite being on a Dutch airline with a Dutch crew. Virtually everyone in the Netherlands understands and speaks English.
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foxxray
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 8:15 pm

Quoting AVFCdownunder (Reply 7):
I am not sure if we are thinking of the same event, as I recall something more recent, perhaps in the 80's. The basic details was that an English aircraft was taxiing at a French Airport, think it was CDG or Orly, The crew did not understand the French ATC so travelled across an active runway and there was a collision, with fatalities. I am sure someone can provide further detail...

I'm pretty sure you are referring to the Air Liberté MD83 collision with Streamline Short 330 at CDG ? It happenned on may 25th 2000.

The lack of situationnal awarness of the Short crew was due to the dual language used by the ATC (french to the MD83, and english to the Short).
The main cause of the accident was that the ATC cleared the Short for line up from an intersection (16) while they cleared the MD for take off about 5 seconds earlier from the runway threshold.
ATC thought that the Short was previously holding behind the MD...
 
DSS787
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 8:48 pm

You must not get out of the US that much?...English is basically the second language of the world, so why not for aviation? Plus I would hope the pilots and atc personnel could communicate properly in some universal language, whatever it would be. It would be hard for say Garuda Indonesia to fly to say Spain without them having a common language or basic understanding of a common language for aviation.

But to answer your question, yes almost everywhere has at least some English. On domestic Mexican flights I find English to be only offered in the safety announcement and by the captain. But not widely used or good quality. There are exceptions of course. I've flown ANA a few times and each time, the level of English by flight attendants have been basic AT BEST. But I don't mind, their service is excellent.

I was on a flight several years ago, I forgot where, but I know it was SE asia, where I don't think English was announced on the flight. Also I as on a domestic Bolivian flight with little to no English if I remember. Heck, come to think of it, at Santa Cruz airport (not VVI), I don't think I even went through security! I walked into the terminal, waited, then got on the plane!
 
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 9:40 pm

Off the top of my head I'm pretty sure WLG only has English and pictograms on the signage.

Another important thing to note is the relatively standardised set of pictograms. This helps direct people even when they no none of the languages on the sign. Just like how there are common standards for road signs.

Also as noted English is the lingua franca for not only business but more and more for diplomacy. Largely due to the British Empire and the mass globalization of business, communication, and travel following WWII. I've seen it argued more than once that the only reason India remains as a single country is that all the states can communicate in English. And as a software developer English is pretty much a requirement to do any communication with anyone outside your country.

One also does not need to become fluent in the entire breadth of English. Many specialised fields like aviation have a subset of words and grammar that makes it much easier to learn and become comfortable. Enough to communicate and understand but without needing to understand the meanings of literary works or funny little puns.

Quoting AVFCdownunder (Reply 7):
I am not sure if we are thinking of the same event, as I recall something more recent, perhaps in the 80's. The basic details was that an English aircraft was taxiing at a French Airport, think it was CDG or Orly, The crew did not understand the French ATC so travelled across an active runway and there was a collision, with fatalities. I am sure someone can provide further detail...

If this is the one I'm thinking of French was used for a domestic flight which was ok by the agreements at the time as English was only required for international flights. Following this I believe the recommendation became to use English at any international airports while local languages can be used at domestic airports.
 
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 10:19 pm

What *really* has amazed me is how sales people in Duty Free at both Heathrow and Gatwick can lose their London accents and pick up American ones when discussing the sale of really expensive merchandise.
 
 
Cory6188
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Sun Jan 17, 2016 11:33 pm

Quoting Viscount724 (Reply 1):
With only a few exceptions, virtually all signage at AMS is in English only. Schiphol airport has won awards for the clarity of its signage.

Yeah, this has been somewhat amusing to me in the past...I certainly understand having things in the local language as well as English, but the lack of Dutch signage at AMS has definitely surprised me.

Quoting Aaron747 (Reply 2):
Although a lot of Japanese have experience overseas and can actually use or understand English at an intermediate level, they tend to be women and this country still has a long way to go toward expanding employment opportunities for women beyond clerical tasks.

That's a really interesting point. I hadn't thought about it, but now that you mention it, all of the DL staff I came across at NRT were women (not to say there aren't male agents, obviously, but it is clearly more female-dominated).

Quoting DSS787 (Reply 13):
You must not get out of the US that much?...English is basically the second language of the world, so why not for aviation?

I certainly realize that, and I've done my fair share of international travel...hence my question as to any examples where English isn't readily available, and what challenges, if any, airlines face in ensuring that they are able to accommodate English speakers as part of their operation.
 
rbavfan
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Mon Jan 18, 2016 12:06 am

Part of the cause of KLM 747 hitting the Pan AM 747 had to do with the dutch pilot not understanding english well. After the 583 passengers died the governments across the lobe intensified English as the language for the pilots. I would assume that started carrying over to other crew by pilot usage.
 
AVFCdownunder
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Mon Jan 18, 2016 12:40 am

Quoting foxxray (Reply 12):
I'm pretty sure you are referring to the Air Liberté MD83 collision with Streamline Short 330 at CDG ? It happenned on may 25th 2000.

The lack of situationnal awarness of the Short crew was due to the dual language used by the ATC (french to the MD83, and english to the Short).
The main cause of the accident was that the ATC cleared the Short for line up from an intersection (16) while they cleared the MD for take off about 5 seconds earlier from the runway threshold.
ATC thought that the Short was previously holding behind the MD...

Yes, that's the one I had in mind, thanks for the update.
 
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Mon Jan 18, 2016 12:48 am

Quoting lightsaber (Reply 4):
This is an artifact of WW2.

I would even dare to say that the efforts in WW2 were enabled due to vastness of the British Empire. From Africa to the Middle East, India/Pakistan, China(Hong Kong/Shanghai), and the South Pacic, the proficiency or familiarity with English was spread to nearly every region on the planet. Thus any aviation standards would most likely be influence heavily by English speakers.

Quoting Cory6188 (Thread starter):
for what can be lower paying jobs as an airport agent,

I would imagine that in some poorer countries, an airport job would be considered highly prized.
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ORDTLV2414
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Mon Jan 18, 2016 2:02 am

I believe you must speak English to work ATC anywhere in the world. It is the global lanaguge of aviation.
 
Pihero
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Mon Jan 18, 2016 12:24 pm

Quoting lightsaber (Reply 4):
Before WW2, german and Italian flying boats flew main from South America across the Atlantic.

Bloody Hell ! I thought it was known that France had had a far greater influence on air international travel than Germany...the UK, the US beforte WW2, let alone the puny contributions of Italy.
Especially in South America, to forget the French realisations - i.e the Aéropostale... - is either ignorant or biased.

Quoting lightsaber (Reply 4):
The world is standardizing on 5 languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, and Arabic.
Although, to be fair, French is still a very influential language.

1/- The influence of Russian ( I studied it for a while as "sovietico" in Angola ) has dropped tremenduously since 1990.
2/- If you want to quote an article or a link, I think the best way would be to stick to its contents or conclusion : your link gives French as the second most influential language in the world... something I would accept after five decades of travel.
3/- The role of Arabic is highly debatable : that it is the language of Islam is a blatant misconception as it is such an ancient / dead language that it is akin to say Latin is the second most used language as it is the basis of Christianity.
People in Indonesia could read the Quran...do they really speak Arabic?

[Edited 2016-01-18 04:26:18]
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777Jet
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Mon Jan 18, 2016 12:27 pm

Quoting Cory6188 (Thread starter):
Are there any airlines that don't have English as part of their standard procedure for their airport and on board communication? Any airports where there isn't dual-language signage? I'd be curious as to any examples.

CA pilots are very fluent in English  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWXyFe8_oE0
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csavel
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Mon Jan 18, 2016 12:35 pm

Quoting IAHWorldFlyer (Reply 9):
I figured it's probably because a huge majority of Dutch people speak English at a high level.

Also likely b/c you were flying United. While more and more Americans speak a second language, Dutch isn't amongst the languages likely to be spoken. No offense, but if you learn a second language as an American, you will probably learn Spanish for obvious reasons. Spanish is practically an unofficial second language anyway. After that a "global" language, French, Arabic, Chinese.

Unless you are of Dutch heritage, married to a Dutch person, or simply like Dutch culture there is simply no competitive advantage to learning Dutch.

I say this being a native of Nieuw Amsterdam, Nieuw Nederland who can't speak a word of Dutch. I don't accept perfidious Albion's annexation, and thus I do not accept so-called "New York" being part of the USA. Take that Ted Cruz!
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Birdwatching
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Mon Jan 18, 2016 12:42 pm

I have sometimes noticed, in several countries where English is not the official language, how certain announcements from the cockpit to the cabin crew were in English for some reason. E.g. a German cockpit crew on a domestic flight in Germany will make announcements to their German cabin crew in English, like "Boarding completed" or "cabin crew please be seated for landing" or "cabin crew 8 minutes to landing". Why do they do that?

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gabrielchew
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RE: English Language In Aviation

Mon Jan 18, 2016 12:49 pm

Quoting Cory6188 (Thread starter):
Are there any airlines that don't have English as part of their standard procedure for their airport and on board communication? Any airports where there isn't dual-language signage? I'd be curious as to any examples.

In China, English is only used onboard if there and non-Chinese onboard. Also, on the smaller airlines (e.g. Joy Air, Okay Airlines), often the crew don't speak English. I guess it's not a requirement. However, in the airport, most people speak at least some English, and all signage is in English and Chinese. I'm fairly sure that in a fair few Francophone African countries, the signage is in French, not English (actually, that extents to everything that isn't in the local language).

Quoting Cory6188 (Reply 16):
Yeah, this has been somewhat amusing to me in the past...I certainly understand having things in the local language as well as English, but the lack of Dutch signage at AMS has definitely surprised me.

I guess the issue is that every additional langauage added to a sign make the sign more cluttered and less clear, whilst adding only a small amount of functionality to a relatviely small group of people( (e.g. I imagine the number of Dutch speakers using AMS is actually a fairly small %, and the number of only Dutch speakers virtually nil). Some places have taken the choice to add key languages to their signage (e.g. English/Catalan/Spanish in BCN, English/French/Italian/German on the Paris Metro, Japanese/Korean/Chinese on the departure boards for certain flights in SIN, but English for everyone else), whislt others obvsuiously don't see the need (like in London, where there is only ever English).
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