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Aviation Proficiency Test Preparation: Picture Description and English Communication Skills

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Two planes collided, Plane de-icing, Plane entering a flock of birds in flight
Picture Description and English Communication Skills

Aviation English proficiency is of critical importance for professionals in the aviation sector, particularly pilots and air traffic controllers who need to communicate effectively on an international level. Aviation Proficiency tests play a pivotal role in assessing the skill and ability in this context. In this article, we will explore the significance of enhancing picture description and English communication skills, specifically in preparation for aviation proficiency tests.

Aviation Proficiency Tests and English Communication Skills

Aviation proficiency tests are vital for evaluating communication and safety, especially for pilots and air traffic controllers. The images presented during these tests can depict unexpected events, unusual situations, weather conditions, accidents, or even routine flight scenarios. Pilots and air traffic controllers are required to explain these images, assess the situation, ensure safety, and make accurate decisions.

The Picture Description Process

The ability to describe a picture accurately is essential in aviation competency tests. This process encompasses the steps candidates should follow when describing a specific picture:

Step 1: Summarize the Picture in One Sentence Before delving into the details, it is essential to provide a brief summary of the picture in one sentence. This sentence should convey only the most crucial information. For example, a summary sentence could be, "This picture depicts an accident scene" or "This image illustrates adverse weather conditions at an airport."

Step 2: Describe the Details of the Picture In the second step, candidates should begin describing the details of the picture. Start with the most significant details and gradually move on to less significant ones. During this phase, it is important to diversify vocabulary by using various terms and expressions. For instance, when describing an accident scene, candidates can elaborate on the positions of vehicles, the condition of the injured, and other critical elements.

Language Skills and Terminology

During aviation competency tests, candidates may be required to describe unexpected or unusual events and situations. Therefore, developing an extensive vocabulary and knowledge of aviation terminology is essential. Pilots and air traffic controllers should expand their vocabulary in the following areas:

  1. Describing each part of an aircraft

  2. Explaining weather conditions and time of day

  3. Describing the physical layout of an airfield

  4. Enumerating various types of damage that can occur

Furthermore, having a good command of verb tenses is crucial. This allows candidates to describe:

  • What is happening at present

  • What has happened in the past

  • What is likely to happen in the future

Candidates should also learn language skills necessary for explaining why these events have occurred. This will involve, among other things, modal verbs of possibility/probability, conjunctions, and infinitives of purpose.

Making Inferences about Unseen Details

In the third step, candidates should contemplate details that are not visible in the picture but can be logically inferred. This is the stage where speculative language comes into play. For instance, candidates can make educated guesses about the whereabouts and emotions of passengers, speculate on the cause of the incident or event, and predict what might happen next. They can also consider how weather conditions have influenced the situation and how the described scenario will impact the surrounding area, typically an airport.

Summary and Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, using this structured approach can help candidates describe pictures more effectively and confidently in aviation competency tests. However, it is important to remember that practice is crucial in improving this skill. Through practice, candidates can learn to describe pictures more efficiently and enhance their performance in the tests.

Speculation and Expressing Your Opinion

After describing the facts presented in the picture, it is time to use your imagination to speculate about what could have happened and what might occur in the future. The goal of this part is to express possibilities and showcase your logical thinking skills with a clear English structure. The second layer is the vast realm of speculation, allowing candidates to use their favorite and well-practiced grammar structures:

Starting a Sentence

  • "I think..." (Note: If you really need to say "I think," then go ahead. However, it's a commonly used structure and may not impress the examiners. Use forms that will make your speech stand out.)

  • "I guess / I suppose..."

  • "It looks as if..."

  • "It seems..."

  • "I'd say..."

  • "Judging by his/her appearance, he/she seems to be..."

  • "As far as I can see, this picture was taken..."

  • "My intuition suggests/tells it could be..."

Modal Verbs

  • "It must be / They have to be / He may be..."

  • "It must have been / She should have never brought..."


Paraphrasing is crucial during the speaking exam. In case you realize there is a word that you don't know or you've forgotten it, never, ever admit that you don't know what to say. Paraphrasing means saying the same thing but using different words; imagine you're playing a game like Taboo. A forgotten word is a forbidden word, and you must describe it using alternative terms. Even if you've never played the Taboo game, the art of paraphrasing is highly useful during the examination. Always do your best and never give up; never admit that you don't know a specific thing or occupation, etc. Try as much as you can, and believe me, your effort will pay off.

Comparison and Expressing Your Opinion

The final aspect to consider is comparing and expressing your opinion.

Finding Similarities

When discussing a picture, try to identify any elements that connect you to the people or situations depicted in it. Emphasize these similarities to make your speech sound more natural.

  • "Anyone in the aviation industry can relate to..."

  • "This photo addresses one of the most challenging aspects of my job..."

  • "I've always admired individuals who..."

Remember the Rules

You are allowed to reference aviation rules and regulations.

  • "As per the recent ICAO amendment, all pilots and air traffic controllers are mandated to..."

  • "According to aviation regulations..."

Giving Your Opinion

  • "In my experience..."

  • "If I were in their situation, I would..."

  • "I wish..."

  • "To the best of my knowledge..."

  • "I may be mistaken, but..."

  • "In my opinion..."

  • "As far as I'm concerned..."

  • "I'd like to emphasize that..."

  • "My personal view is..."

In Summary

To sum up, having a clear and organized structure in your speech increases your chances of passing the exam. This structured approach eliminates confusion and provides a clear path from beginning to end.

Start by focusing on the picture and brainstorming ideas.

Describe what's happening in the picture using the present continuous tense (e.g., "She is bending down and holding her knees.").

Engage in speculation using various tenses (e.g., "She's in her late 30s.") and imagine what may have occurred (e.g., "It could have been a terrorist attack.") and how it might affect the future (e.g., "In my opinion, these situations should be eliminated in the future due to more comprehensive security checks carried out by airport staff."). Mix up your tenses for variety; sticking to a single structure can make your speech sound monotonous.

And always remember that non-verbal communication also contributes to your overall impression. Smile at the examiners and be polite.

With this revised text, your communication during the ICAO speaking exam should be more clear and effective.


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