4.5 ANNEX 1 DESCRIPTORS OF THE
ICAO LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY REQUIREMENTS
Manual on the Implementation of ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements
Second Edition 2010 Page 4-5. Level 3 through 6.
4.5.1 The ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements consist of a set of holistic descriptors (Appendix 1 to Annex 1) and Operational Level 4 of
he ICAO Rating Scale (Attachment A to Annex 1). Both are reproduced in Appendix A to this manual. Five holistic descriptors provide
characteristics of proficient speakers and establish context for communications. The Rating Scale describes the discrete features of language
use. (“Holistic” refers to the communicating person as a “whole”, in contrast to the descriptors in the Rating Scale which instead examine
individual, discrete features of language use.) A language proficiency Rating Scale may be thought of as a guide to good judgment and an
important step towards
harmonization of language standards to which pilots and air traffic controllers are held.
4.5.2 A note in Appendix 1 to Annex 1 states that “The language proficiency requirements are applicable to the use of both phraseologies and
plain language.” This statement refers only to those characteristics of language use to which ICAO standardized phraseology conforms.
Appropriate application of the language proficiency requirements to the use of phraseology should include the following criteria:
a) pronunciation of phraseology according to ICAO recommended pronunciations as found in Annex 10, Volume II, 18.104.22.168.3, Doc 9342 or
otherwise in accordance with the ICAO Operational Level 4 pronunciation descriptor of the Rating Scale;
b) using a speech transmitting technique (enunciation, rate of speech, pausing, and speaking volume) in accordance with Doc 9342 or
otherwise with the ICAO Operational Level 4 fluency descriptor of the Rating Scale.
Appendix 1: Holistic descriptors
4.5.3 The holistic descriptors and descriptors in the Rating Scale are designed as a frame of reference for trainers and assessors to be able to
make consistent judgments about pilot and controller language proficiency. Each descriptor is explained below.
a) Proficient speakers shall communicate effectively in voice-only (telephone/radiotelephone) and in face-to-face situations. Radiotelephony
communications lack the facial cues, body language and listening cues found in usual faceto-face situations. Communications without such
cues are considered to be more difficult and challenging, requiring a higher degree of language proficiency than face-to-face interactions. In
addition, other features of radiotelephony communications make it a unique kind of communicative event. For example, the sound quality may
be poor, with distracting Manual on the Implementation of 4-6 ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements sounds and the communicative
workload of the air traffic controller or a pilot may be heavy, with a corresponding need for efficiency and brevity. This holistic descriptor draws
attention to the need for training and testing to provide voice-only settings to exercise or demonstrate language proficiency, as well as face-to-
face settings that allow broader uses of language.
b) Proficient speakers shall communicate on common, concrete and work-related topics with accuracy and clarity. Context is an important
consideration in communications, and an individual’s language proficiency may vary in different contexts. This holistic descriptor limits the
domain of the communicative requirements to work-related topics; that is, air traffic controllers and pilots are expected to be able to
communicate about issues in their field of professional practice. Language proficiency should not be limited to standardized phraseology and
should range across a relatively broad area of work-related communicative domains. Appendix B provides a non-exhaustive list of topics and
domains appropriate to the work-related requirements of pilot and air traffic controller communications. It is meant as a guide to curriculum
development. The assessment of radiotelephony communications should not be limited solely to those topics.
c) Proficient speakers shall 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. Linguists have identified strategic
competence as an important part of language proficiency (see Chapter 2, 22.214.171.124, for a definition of strategic competence). One aspect of
strategic competence important to air traffic controllers and flight crews is the ability to recognize and resolve potential misunderstandings, e.g.
having strategies to check for
comprehension in a meaningful way, such as asking for a read back. Equally important is the ability to rephrase or paraphrase a message
when it is apparent that a message was not understood. Sometimes the phraseology “Say again” should be understood as a request for
clarification rather than repetition. Air traffic controllers and flight crews should understand that silence does not always indicate
comprehension. On the part of native-speaking air traffic controllers and flight crews, strategic competence can include an appreciation of the
threats presented by cross-cultural communications and a sensitivity to strategies to confirm comprehension.
d) Proficient speakers shall 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. One of the
more challenging events in all communications, including those involving the use of a second language, is when the unexpected happens.
Human Factors experts have emphasized the threat of letting our expectations hinder our interpretation of reality. Sometimes, a complication or
an unexpected event can lead to a communication breakdown. It is important for air traffic controllers and flight crews to have sufficient
language proficiency and the strategic skills to manage a dialogue through any unexpected event. It is the nature of the work of controllers and
pilots to adhere to strictly defined procedures and regulations and yet to be able, when confronted with a new situation, to demonstrate
substantial lexibility in their response. This holistic descriptor emphasizes the need for language skills practiced and demonstrated in this
e) Proficient speakers shall use a dialect or accent which is intelligible to the aeronautical community. A first and natural response to this
holistic descriptor is to inquire which dialects or accents would be considered intelligible. One answer is to consider how this issue has
traditionally been handled among native-speaker controller populations. In the United Kingdom, for instance, a great variety of regional dialects
and differences exist. Air traffic control applicants and trainees are informally screened for use of a dialect appropriate to the international
aviation context. A determination of what constitutes a strong regional dialect or marked accent is based on the extensive experience and good
judgment of the trainer or assessor. When an individual demonstrates a strong regional dialect or marked accent, one determined to be easily
understood only by those most familiar with the dialect, that individual is counseled to use a dialect more widely acceptable or is provided with
additional elocution or speech training.
Attachment A: ICAO Rating Scale 4.5.5 The scope and focus of the ICAO Language Proficiency Rating Scale are specific and unique in several
a) the ICAO Rating Scale addresses only spoken language (speaking and listening); it does not address reading and
b) the ICAO Rating Scale has a distinct aeronautical radiotelephony focus; it addresses the use of language in a workrelated
aviation context, voice-only communications, using strategic competences for safe communications in case of
complications or unexpected turn of events, and emphasizing intelligibility in an international community of users;
c) ICAO Operational Level 4 does not target high degrees of grammatical correctness or native-like pronunciation. Grammar, syntax,
vocabulary and pronunciation are judged primarily to the extent that they do not interfere with effective oral communication; and d) the final rating
is not the average or aggregate of the ratings in each of the six ICAO language proficiency skills but the lowest of these six ratings.
4.5.6 The ICAO Rating Scale contained in Attachment A to Annex 1 describes language use as opposed to “can do” statements. Professional
language teaching or testing specialists are familiar with this form. The ICAO Rating Scale delineates six levels of language proficiency ranging
from Pre-elementary (Level 1) to Expert (Level 6) across six skill areas of linguistic performance: pronunciation, structure, vocabulary, fluency,
comprehension and interactions.
4.5.7 The number of levels was determined as sufficient to show adequate progression in developing language proficiency without exceeding
the number of levels between which people are capable of making meaningful distinctions. It is not an “equal interval” scale; the amount of time
required to progress between levels will vary, i.e. moving from Elementary Level 2 to Pre-operational Level 3 may take longer or more training
than moving from Operational Level 4 to Extended Level 5.
4.5.8 Levels 1 to 3 of the Rating Scale have been provided in order to assist Contracting States in setting language proficiency standards for
recruitment and training purposes, whereas Levels 4 to 6, in addition to providing the minimum operational standard (Level 4), also provide the
basis for determining intervals between recurrent formal evaluation or dispensation from the need to be re-evaluated.
4.5.9 It should also be noted that the descriptors for Expert Level 6 exceed the demands of aeronautical radiotelephony communications. Level
6 has a very wide coverage since it is intended to account for most first-language Manual on the Implementation of 4-8 ICAO Language
Proficiency Requirements speakers with native or native-like proficiency as well as second- or foreignlanguage speakers with a high level of
proficiency. Attainment of Level 6 should be considered as being beyond the realistic expectations of most second- or foreign-language
learners. Furthermore, it is not an indispensable requirement for successful aeronautical communication.
4.5.10 It is important to note that the Rating Scale does not refer to native or native-like proficiency, resulting from a principled decision that
native speech should not be privileged in a global context. All participants in aeronautical radiotelephony communications must conform to the
ICAO proficiency requirements, and there is no presupposition that firstlanguage speakers necessarily conform. An additional reason for
avoiding the use of the term native language or referring to a native speaker is because of the proven difficulty in defining just precisely what a
native speaker is (see Chapter 2, 2.4).
4.5.11 It is assumed that anyone awarded a particular rating level demonstrates proficiency better than the descriptors contained in each level
below. Failure to comply with descriptors in one category in one level indicates that the next lower proficiency level should be awarded. A
person’s overall proficiency rating is determined by the lowest rating assigned in any of the language proficiency skills of the rating scale. This is
essential because the Operational Level 4 descriptors were developed as the safest minimum proficiency skill level for aeronautical
adiotelephony communications. A lower score on any one feature indicates inadequate proficiency; for example, pilots with Operational Level 4
ratings in all areas except pronunciation may not be understood by the air traffic controllers with whom they must communicate. In summary,
individual must demonstrate proficiency at Level 4 in all categories in order to receive a Level 4 rating.
4.5.12 A cautionary note: some descriptors at the higher levels of the rating scale refer to the ability to use complex structures or idioms. These
statements should not be considered as a contradiction of the requirement to adhere to standardized phraseology in its published form when
the situation demands this.