ICAO Language Proficiency Rating Scale

As you have found this website, you have probably already heard about the ICAO Language Proficiency Rating Scale, or LPRS for short. This is the method by which your Aviation English is assessed, and Level 4 has been deemed as operationally acceptable. Of course, by achieving a higher rating, you won’t have to be reassessed as frequently!


Image from www.skybrary.aero

Nobody expects you to be perfect so stop trying to be so! Look at the descriptors under “structure” for Level 4, which is operationally acceptable. It tells us that errors may occur, but that they rarely interfere with meaning. Rarely – that means that you can make a mistake which prevents understanding and still achieve Level 4. Just don’t make a habit of it. Even at Level 5 you may have a problem with a more complex structure which prevents understanding. I’d also like to draw your attention to “interaction”. This is where many students struggle because they cannot give immediate answers. In an operational environment you have to respond immediately, and that is why this is tested in the Aviation English exams.

ICAO document 9835 is the “Manual on the Implementation of ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements”. It is rather a long, formal document, but it sets out the main requirements and the dominant topics which need to be covered.

— Abbreviations, acronyms
— Animals, birds
— Aviation, flight
— Behaviour, activities
— Cargo, merchandise, packaging, materials
— Causes, conditions
— Geography, topographical features, nationalities
— Health, medicine
— Language, spoken communications
— Modality (obligation, probability, possibility)
— Numbers
— Perception, senses
— Problems, errors, accidents, malfunctions
— Rules, enforcement, infringement, protocol
— Space, movement, position, distance, dimension
— Technology
— Time, duration, schedules
— Transport, travel, vehicles
— Weather, climate, natural disasters

It also sets out what we as Aviation English trainers should be striving to achieve:

Standardised phraseology should not be the essential focus of aviation English training in the context of the current ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements.
For example:

– “Descend to Flight Level 2-8-0” or “Resume own navigation” are examples of standard phraseology.
– “Are you going to put me back on course?” or “There is oil on the taxiway” are expressions of plain language.

ICAO standardised phraseology is a set of clear, concise, internationally recognised, formulaic messages designed for use in most routine situations and the most commonly encountered emergencies. It has been carefully designed by aviation experts to convey a singular, operational meaning. This is in sharp contrast to common or plain language, which conveys meanings that vary depending on culture, context and expectation. Statistically, phraseology constitutes the bulk of transmissions in radiotelephony communications. Standardised phraseology is therefore best understood as an operational tool which, if misused, can negatively impact the safety of operational procedures.

Standardised phraseology, however, cannot address all of the non-routine, abnormal or, occasionally, emergency situations that occur, nor is it sufficient to convey additional information about any situation such as: reasons for a delay, the state of a sick passenger, the weather situation, the nature of a failure, or an obstacle on a taxiway. These are all circumstances where plain language is frequently required. It is this use of plain language that was the focus of ICAO’s Proficiency Requirements in Common English Study Group.

Given its operational specificity for radiotelephony communications, phraseology is taught as a distinct discipline in the operational domain by ATC instructors, or highly specialised and operationally qualified ATC English trainers. As part of this operational training, students learn transmitting techniques and pronunciation as described in the PANS-ATM (Doc 4444) and the Manual of Radiotelephony (Doc 9432). Qualified aviation English trainers delivering quality aviation English training materials can support their students’ proficiency in standardised phraseology by working with them on
pronunciation and fluency without infringing on the constraints set by Doc 9432 and Doc 4444.

As you can see here, standard phraseology should not be the focus of your Aviation English training. Here at rt-english.com we can help you to prepare for non-routine situations which will be tested. Russ also has extensive operational experience so you will also receive guidance where you really need it.

Further reading:
CAP 413 Radio Telephony Manual
ICAO Doc 4444 – Air Traffic Management


  • Bassam Kat

    After reading all the paragraphs to check my level of understanding the meaning of every word I read, I found that my interest is very high to continue step by step to see and locate all the advice, beginning to read more and more to discover everything will help me to know all the details about ICAO.

    I am 86 years old eager to find the best way to advance my English capability and dictation and welcome any advice to follow. and I will select any program it fitt with my budget/

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