Background to ICAO Language proficiency requirements

Investigations of several major airline accidents and accidents over the last few years show that a lack of language proficiency by pilots and air traffic controllers has been a contributing factor. Although a majority of pilots and controllers are familiar with the ICAO standardized phraseology, experience show that when an abnormal situation arises or an event occurs that requires a pilot to exchange information with a “foreign” controller in plain language, the ability to communicate sometimes diminishes greatly. The result of the communication, rather than being a helpful resolution of uncertainty, may be the introduction of further confusion and, ultimately, a complete breakdown of awareness that leads to a catastrophe.

ICAO has specified six different levels of proficiency in six different criteria (see the ICAO language proficiency rating scale). To be operational the licence holder is required to pass a minimum of level four on all six criteria.

The six criteria where the applicant will be assessed are: pronunciation, structure, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension and interactions. The lowest score in any of the six criteria is the final score of the language assessment.

It is not required to have English as a mother tongue or to speak “Oxford English” to pass ICAO level six, which some people seam to believe.  If you look at the requirement for pronunciation you are required to use a dialect or pronunciation that “almost never interferes with the ease of understanding”.

Download language proficiency rating scale here