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ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements (LPRs)
for Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has established English language proficiency requirements (LPRs) for all pilots operating on international routes, and all air traffic controllers who communicate with foreign pilots. These standards require pilots and air traffic controllers to be able to communicate proficiently using both ICAO phraseology and plain English.

Formal evaluation of language proficiency was required as of March 2008, but ICAO effectively extended the deadline to 05 March 2011.

All Air Traffic Controllers and Flight Crew Members engaged in or in contact with international flights must be proficient in the English language as a general spoken medium and not simply have a proficiency in standard ICAO Radio Telephony Phraseology. Those who do not have English proficiency must acquire it, or risk removal from international flight routes.

ICAO Holistic Descriptors

Proficient speakers shall:

  1. communicate effectively in voice-only (telephone/radiotelephone) and in face-to-face situations;
  2. communicate on common, concrete and work-related topics with accuracy and clarity;
  3. use appropriate communicative strategies to exchange messages and to recognize and resolve misunderstandings (e.g. to check, confirm, or clarify information) in a general or work-related context;
  4. handle successfully and with relative ease the linguistic challenges presented by a complication or unexpected turn of events that occurs within the context of a routine work situation or communicative task with which they are otherwise familiar; and
  5. use a dialect or accent which is intelligible to the aeronautical community.

ICAO Language Proficiency Standards

ICAO grades English language performance on a scale from 6 (highest) to 1 (lowest):

Level 6: Expert
Level 5: Extended
Level 4: Operational
Level 3: Pre-operational
Level 2: Elementary
Level 1: Pre-elementary

In order to conform with ICAO Language Proficiency requirements, Pilots, Air Traffic Controllers and all others who use English in R/T communication on international routes must be at ICAO English Language Level 4 (Operational) or above. An individual must demonstrate proficiency at Level 4 in all six categories in order to receive a Level 4 rating.

Those who are assessed at ICAO Level 4 (Operational) must be re-tested every three years. Those who fail may not be licensed to operate on international routes, so even if a pilot or controller achieves Level 4 once, further English training may be needed to maintain this level of proficiency.

ICAO Language Proficiency Rating Scale:

 

LEVEL
PRONUNCIATION
Assumes a dialect and/or accent intelligible to the aeronautical community.
STRUCTURE
Relevant grammatical structures and sentence patterns are determined by language functions appropriate to the task.
VOCABULARY
FLUENCY
COMPREHENSION
INTERACTIONS
Expert 

 

6

Pronunciation, stress, rhythm, and intonation, though possibly influenced by the first language or regional variation, almost never interfere with ease of understanding.
Both basic and complex grammatical structures and sentence patterns are consistently well controlled.
Vocabulary range and accuracy are sufficient to communicate  effectively on a wide variety of familiar and unfamiliar topics.  Vocabulary is idiomatic, nuanced, and sensitive to register.
Able to speak at length with a natural, effortless flow.  Varies speech flow for stylistic effect, e.g. to emphasize a point.  Uses appropriate discourse markers and connectors spontaneously.
Comprehension is consistently accurate in nearly all contexts and includes comprehension of linguistic and cultural subtleties.
Interacts with ease in nearly all situations.  Is sensitive to verbal and non-verbal cues and responds to them appropriately.
Extended 

 

5

Pronunciation, stress, rhythm, and intonation, though influenced by the first language or regional variation, rarely interfere with ease of understanding.
Basic grammatical structures and sentence patterns are consistently well controlled.  Complex structures are attempted but with errors which sometimes interfere with meaning.
Vocabulary range and accuracy are sufficient to communicate effectively on common, concrete, and work-related topics.  Paraphases consistently and successfully.  Vocabulary is sometimes idiomatic.
Able to speak at length with relative ease on familiar topics but may not vary speech flow as a stylistic device.  Can make use of appropriate discourse markers or connectors.
Comprehension is accurate on common, concrete, and work-related topics and mostly accurate when the speaker is confronted with a linguistic or situational complication or an unexpected turn of events.  Is able to comprehend a range of speech varieties (dialect and/or accent) or registers.
Responses are immediate, appropriate, and informative.  Manages the speaker/listener relationship effectively.
Operational 

 

4

Pronunciation, stress, rhythm, and intonation are influenced by the first language or regional variation but only sometimes interfere with ease of understanding.
Basic grammatical structures and sentence patterns are used creatively and are usually well controlled.  Errors may occur, particularly in unusual or unexpected circumstances, but rarely interfere with meaning.
Vocabulary range and accuracy are usually sufficient to communicate effectively on common, concrete, and work-related topics.  Can often paraphrase successfully when lacking vocabulary in unusual or unexpected circumstances.
Produces stretches of language at an appropriate tempo.  There may be occassional loss of fluency on transition from rehearsed or formulaic speech to spontaneous interaction, but this does not prevent effective communication.  Can make limited use of discourse markers or connectors.  Fillers are not distracting.
Comprehension is mostly accurate on common, concrete, and work-related topics when the accent or variety used is sufficiently intelligible for an international community of users.  When the speaker is confronted with a linguistic or situational complication or an unexpected turn of events, comprehension may be slower or require clarification strategies.
Responses are usually immediate, appropriate, and informative.  Initiates and maintains exchanges even when dealing with an unexpected turn of events.  Deals adequately with apparent misunderstandings by checking, confirming, or clarifying.
Pre-operational 

 

3

Pronunciation, stress, rhythm, and intonation are influenced by the first language or regional variation and frequently interfere with ease of understanding.
Basic grammatical structures and sentence patterns associated with predictable situations are not always well controlled.  Errors frequently interfere with meaning.
Vocabulary range and accuracy are often sufficient to communicate on common, concrete, or work-related topics, but range is limited and the word choice often inappropriate.  Is often unable to paraphrase successfully when lacking vocabulary.
Produces stretches of language, but phrasing and pausing are often inappropriate.  Hesitations or slowness in language processing may prevent effective communication.  Fillers are sometimes distracting.
Comprehension is often accurate on common, concrete, and work-related topics when the accent or variety used is sufficiently intelligible for an international community of users.  May fail to understand a linguistic or situational complication or an unexpected turn of events.
Responses are sometimes immediate, appropriate, and informative.  Can initiate and maintain exchanges with reasonable ease on familiar topics and in predictable situations.  Generally inadequate when dealing with an unexpected turn of events.
Elementary 

 

2

Pronunciation, stress, rhythm, and intonation are heavily influenced by the first language or regional variation and usually interfere with ease of understanding.
Shows only limited control of a few simple memorized grammatical structures and sentence patterns.
Limited vocabulary range consisting only of isolated words and memorized phrases.
Can produce very short, isolated, memorized utterances with frequent pausing and a distracting use of fillers to search for expressions and to articulate less familiar words.
Comprehension is limited to isolated, memorized phrases when they are carefully and slowly articulated.
Response time is slow and often inappropriate.  Interaction is limited to simple routine exchanges.
Pre-elementary 

 

1

Performs at a level below the Elementary level.
Performs at a level below the Elementary level.
Performs at a level below the Elementary level.
Performs at a level below the Elementary level.
Performs at a level below the Elementary level.
Performs at a level below the Elementary level.

Source: ICAO. (2004). Publication of Doc 9835-AN/453, Manual on the Implementation of ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements.

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