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Aviation English: No Place for Amateurs

I enrolled recently in a free Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University MOOC on Human Factors in Aviation. I did so because as an aviation English teacher and teacher trainer, I know that I need to continually improve my understanding of human factors in aviation. Enrolling in online courses is just one of the ways that teachers can upgrade their knowledge in the three areas related to aviation English.

(The ERAU MOOC was awesome, by the way.)

What do aviation English teachers need to know? Aviation English teachers need to

  • Speak English

  • Have strong academic credentials in Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language

  • Be very familiar with aviation operational, technical, and safety procedures and issues.

Speak English well. (a) In another post, I discuss the so-called “native” English versus “nonnative” English teacher debate: “Being a native speaker of English is not enough.”

For now, let me reiterate: native English speaking teachers do not have an inherent advantage over teachers who speak English as a second or foreign language. Knowing and speaking English well is a prerequisite for being a good English teacher, but it doesn’t matter if a teacher speaks English as her first, second, third, or fifth language. Her academic TESL qualifications matter more than how she acquired English.

Aviation familiarity. In another post, I discuss the need for aviation English instructors to be very familiar with the technical aspects of aviation: “Aviation Familiarity.”

Academic qualifications. In today’s post, I want to address the academic teaching qualifications that all aviation English instructors need.

Who is best qualified to teach aviation English? Is a TEFL Certificate a good enough qualification for an aviation English instructor?

Consider this headline on a website for a TEFL Certificate Program:

“No Degree? No Problem. … You CAN travel to an exciting, foreign country and teach English without a college degree if you become TEFL certified.”

Many teachers in aviation English have a “Certificate’ as their only English language teaching credential. What is a TESL or TEFL certificate? Is it a good enough qualification for aviation English teachers?

There is a wide range of academic ESL teaching credentials. It can be difficult to understand what are good ESL credentials. ICAO gives guidance that you should know about. I’ll outline the ICAO guidance, and explain why I think it is important. First there are some things you should know about aviation English and language teaching.

Beware! English language teaching is an unregulated industry. Anybody can “teach” English. Anyone can call themselves an “English teacher.” Anybody can teach or market an aviation English program, without any qualifications whatsoever. There are no licensing requirements to be an aviation English teacher.

Teaching qualifications matter.

There is probably nothing in aviation English that I feel more strongly about than that aviation English teachers have high quality academic credentials specifically in language teaching. In more than twenty years of academic and corporate language teaching contexts, I’ve taught with, and supervised, all kinds of English teachers, from ESL teachers with master’s degrees or Ph.D’s, foreign language majors teaching English, to frustrated artists or writers teaching English to support their art, to “backpackers” working on the side to support their travels.

My conclusions:

  • Teaching credentials are important.

  • Language education is a profession, not a trade.

  • Language education is specialized, and requires a different teaching orientation than general education.

In my next post, I’ll explain WHY!

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