It is very disheartening to see the aviation industry littered with language schools capitalising on commercial opportunities and boasting about the fact that they are, or have access to, native English-speaking teachers. It is so frustrating to see how so many people miss the point.

In aviation, the defacto language for radio communication between pilots and controllers is English. To all members who subscribe to an international standard, set out by an organisation called ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation), English must be made available to pilots transiting a country’s airspace. As we know, according to Crystal (2012), the majority of interactions which take place in English are between speakers whose first language is not English. Even more so in the aviation industry, especially as pilots often cross several different countries in one single flight. Air Traffic Controllers also have to deal with hundreds of flights where the crew are not native English speakers.

So, the question remains? Why is that there are so many advertisements of English language training institutions trying to sell the fact that they have native speakers. Does it mean they think they are better teachers? This question I am unable to answer but what I can say is this:

“Being a native English speaker does NOT put you at an advantage over a non-native English speaker in the domain of aviation English pedagogy, but rather, it ‘may’ put you at a disadvantage.”

Communication between pilots and controllers has to be clear, concise and simple. In other words, less phrasal verbs that native speakers sometimes take for granted, no idioms, no contractions and if possible, less weak forms. Speakers whose 1st language is not English and who may have differing levels of proficiency will respond much better to language framed in this way and for them, this kind of language is a matter of course. I’m not saying, of course, that native English speakers make poor English teachers; there are so many time-served, front-line, highly experienced teachers out there who get the point.

In same regard, it appears that many of the English language teaching material, both in hard copy and online, seem to use native English speakers or actors. This seems inauthentic so I think it is important for us to make our own recordings. If you are in a multi-lingual class of speakers whose level is B2 – B1, then you have the perfect opportunity to create authentic recordings of speakers from different parts of the world. I would strongly encourage anyone to take advantage of this opportunity.

In the domain of aviation this is particularly important as pilots and controllers need to tune their ear to different accents.

The example below is a recording of one of my colleagues from Budapest talking about his job. The rest of the recordings are more domain specific to aviation and will, of course, mean more to pilots and controllers. These recordings are accompanied by various comprehension activities and of course lead on to other sections of lessons such as grammar and free-speaking.

In an ideal world, as an employer reviewing CV’s from prospective teachers, I would like only to see someone’s ‘language proficiency’ as opposed to their nationality because, to me, this is irrelevant for the purpose of their job function. And when I say language proficiency I don’t want to see the word ‘native ability’, I would like to see C2 or C1.


Crystal, D., 2012. English as a Global Language. 2nd ed. Stuttgart: Cambridge University Press.