The Test of English for Aviation (TOEFA) © has been developed to judge the English language proficiency of Pilots, Air Traffic Controllers and Aeronautical Station Operators, in the specific abilities of speaking and understanding, and according to the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) Language Proficiency Rating Scale and the holistic and linguistic descriptors.

The previously mentioned aeronautical personnel should demonstrate to the Civil Aviation Authority of the corresponding State, their ability to speak and to understand the language used for the radiotelephony communications; starting from November 27, 2003 in the case of Air Traffic Controllers and March 5, 2004 for airplane and helicopter Pilots.

Starting from March 5, 2008 the demonstration of these competencies will be an obligatory requirement for the applicants and personnel that maintain a license of Pilot, Air Traffic Controller or Aeronautical Station Operator, as well as the periodic evaluations that will be carried out, according to the level reached by each person.

The minimum level of proficiency for the aeronautical personnel is the Operational Level (Level 4), established in the ICAO Language Proficiency Rating Scale.

Design of the Exam

The exam is designed to measure the English language proficiency level, in the abilities of speaking and understanding (at an agreed minimum level) of the aeronautical personnel that take part in the radiotelephony communications, with the purpose of contributing to the safety and regularity of the air traffic in the international environment in which the personnel carries out the typical functions of their professions.For this reason, there is a special emphasis in the use of the foreign language before the operational procedures, according to the holistic descriptors pointed out in the ICAO Rating Scale.

Linguistic descriptor 1: Pronunciation
The evaluation is carried out by means of an interview, with open questions, so that the candidate demonstrates that he is able to make himself understood, with a dialect or accent intelligible to the aeronautical radio-communications. The pronunciation, rhythm and intonation are evaluated, as well as the grade of interference with the easiness of understanding.

Linguistic descriptor 2: Structure
Considering that the abilities of the language evaluated are referred to the oral production of the English language, the practical application of the grammatical structures is evaluated, when the candidate answers to the questions formulated by the language tester, during the interview.

Consequently, the correct use of the pertinent grammatical structures is measured, as well as the structures of the sentences and the appropriate use of the functions of the language, according to the scenario in which they are used.

Linguistic descriptor 3: Vocabulary
This descriptor is also evaluated through the interview. The extent and precision of the vocabulary used by the candidate is judged, with the purpose of communicating efficiently about the variety of familiar and not familiar topics that are used during the communication with the language tester. The capacity of the candidate to use the appropriate vocabulary (to manage successfully in unexpected circumstances) is also evaluated.

Linguistic descriptor 4: Fluency
The fluency of the candidate to communicate is evaluated through the oral interactions with the Interlocutor, as well as the dialogues that are generated after listening to the audiocassettes.
The capacity of the candidate to make himself understood with detail and with natural fluency is also evaluated, as well as the stylistic effects, accent and conjunctions used to achieve an effective communication, about familiar, not familiar or unexpected situations.

Linguistic descriptor 5: Understanding
The candidates listen to dialogues and real communications of native speakers of the English language, from audiocassettes, and they explain to the language tester (using the foreign language) the scenario or situation that he/she has just listened to; with the purpose of measuring their grade of understanding of the language and of the linguistic variants (dialects and accents) or tones that are intelligible for the international community of aeronautical users.

During the oral interaction that takes place between the candidate and the tester, after listening the tape, it is still evaluated the pronunciation, structure, vocabulary and fluency descriptors, to verify these competencies and to obtain a more precise information about them.

Linguistic descriptor 6: Interactions
The capacity of the candidate to interact with easiness in unexpected situations is evaluated, as well as its easiness to capture verbal and not verbal indications and to respond appropriately to them, by means of immediate, appropriate and informative answers that allow him to manage the relationship speaker/receiver efficiently, verifying, confirming or clarifying appropriately, when it is necessary.

The language tester presents situations and unexpected scenarios to verify the consistency and coherence of the answers of the candidate, according to the outlined scenario, what also allows the tester to confirm the capacity of the understanding of the candidate and his ability to interact appropriately.

Practical Examination of Aeronautical English Phraseology

This evaluation is only for Pilots and consists on the dictation of four Air Traffic Control clearances, using the Aeronautical English Phraseology, that are copied by the candidates and then read back immediately, one by one, to measure the accuracy of the read back and the practical application of the knowledge and necessary tools for an efficient performance in the aeronautical radio-communications in English.
The clearances used are adapted from published Standard Instrument Departures, Standard Arrivals or Route clearances, so pilots are familiar with the names of the locations, radio-navigation aids, routes or any other clearance element, according to the location where the examination is performed.

TOEFA © Scope and Depth

The scope and depth of the TOEFA © exam is in accordance with that specified by the ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements. For this reason, the scope of the evaluation is given by those "abilities to speak and to understand" that are specified in the Annex 1: Licenses to Personnel. The depth of the evaluation is defined by the Holistic Descriptors and the Standards for the Operational Level 4 of the ICAO Rating Scale.

Therefore, the candidates will demonstrate that they:

  • Communicate effectively in voice-only (telephone/ radiotelephone) and in face-to-face situations;
  • Communicate on common, concrete and work-related topics with accuracy and clarity;
  • Use appropriate communicative strategies to exchange messages and to recognize and resolve misunderstandings, in a general or work-related context;
  • Handle successfully and with relative ease the linguistic challenges presented by a complication or unexpected situations that occurs within the context of a routine work situation or communicative task with which they are otherwise familiar; and
  • Use a dialect or accent, which is intelligible to the aeronautical community.

Proficiency Demonstration

The aeronautical personnel will demonstrate their competencies in the English language for aeronautical communications, according to that specified in the amendments to the ICAO Annex 1: Licenses to Personnel, agreed in the Council of Air Navigation on March 2003. Consequently, the required minimum level is the one that corresponds to the Operational Level (Level 4) of the ICAO Rating Scale. The TOEFA © exam has been designed to judge the accomplishment of the ICAO proficiency levels.

TOEFA © Scoring

Candidates should demonstrate proficiency at least at Level 4 in all categories of the ICAO Rating Scale in order to receive an overall Level 4 rating. This is determined based on the performance of the candidates during the interview with the language tester, as well as their level of understanding of the material used to evaluate their level of comprehension of the English language, based on what is specified in each one of the levels of the ICAO Rating Scale and the holistic and linguistic descriptors.

The minimum satisfactory grade of the practical evaluation of Aeronautical English Phraseology, for Pilots, is also 80 over a possible total of 100 points. For each error made in the read back of the Air Traffic Control clearances, the candidate is penalized with two points; so, he should not make more than 10 errors in order to obtain a satisfactory grade.

This grade constitutes only additional information about this competency but it does not have anything to do with the results obtained during the interview, for speaking and understanding tasks, which are graded according to the 6 linguistic descriptors of the ICAO Language Proficiency Rating Scale.

Duration of the Examination

The oral interview, including the part of understanding, by means of audiocassettes, has an average duration of 30 minutes and is carried out individually. The practical evaluation of ATC clearances is only administered for Pilots, and has an approximate duration of 10 minutes.

The TOEFA © Exam is copyrighted by its author, Mr. William Aranda