Aviation English in a Bilingual Context

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Seneca Doty
Dr. Jacob (Joshua) Shila
Dr. Cynthia Ducar


With over one thousand fatalities attributed to language errors within the field of aviation, pilots’ level of self-efficacy in English, the official language of aviation, relates directly to their level of comfort in the cockpit and ability to perform their flight duties safely. There are international standards that evaluate a pilot’s ability to read, speak, write, and understand English before a pilot is permitted to test for his or her license. However, issues still arise and can be attributed to a pilot speaking limited English register of aviation English. This study investigates the use of English and Spanish in the applied context of aviation by researching bilingual cockpit interactions. Data pooled from a survey of pilots who speak Spanish as a native language were used to recognize patterns between language acquisition and proficiency within the cockpit as well as understand the frequency with which pilots hear their native language over the radio. The primary research question attempted to evaluate pilots’ comfort level in professional aviation situations that involved the use of non-native language. Additional research questions investigated how bilingual pilots react linguistically to emergency situations and how this affects their abilities to perform flight duties. Understanding pilots´ in-flight experiences in relation to language proficiency may contribute to a proactive safety culture by providing recommendations that could help prevent future accidents.


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