It probably is common guesswork to think that in nowadays' World we all speak English no matter what our mother tongue is. This should be even more the case with Civil Aviation, where everything is in English and the staff is hired also based on its linguistic capabilities, yet the question arises:

  • How does the ATC deal with a crew who is not capable of a clear pronunciation? The opposite might also happen.

What to do in such cases?

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    $\begingroup$ It doesn't affect the question but is worth noting that English is not the only official ICAO language. You can be serviced in English anywhere but if you are in Canada you'll hear plenty of french and over Mexico you'll hear almost entirely Spanish comms. $\endgroup$
    – casey
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ "we all speak English". You should travel in Africa or some other countries in Europe of Middle East to learn that this is not even close to true. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 17:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Relaxed While I agree that the first sentence isn't true in a lot of places, it is actually mostly true in the context of international civil aviation for almost all of the world. It's an ICAO requirement for ATC and pilots flying to or through airspace where they don't speak the native language. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ @FrancescoCastellani I used to be called Annoyed, so there you have it. But you could easily edit the question and I would happily relax and upvote it. $\endgroup$
    – Relaxed
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ @FrancescoCastellani Personally, I'd just remove the first sentence and change the second one to something like "While English proficiency is generally required by ICAO for international civil aviation, communication difficulties still sometimes arise with non-native speakers, regional accents, or even poor radio signal reception." $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 19:01

2 Answers 2


There is special phraseology snippets that allow information to be transmitted over the frequency with more accuracy, slower, repeated or worded differently.

ATC may also query other company traffic to relay information in another language or they might use the ACARS/CPDLC system to transmit a text message, should both parties be capable.


„Repeat all, or the following part, of your last transmission“

(Source: AIP Germany GEN 3.4)


„Request: Communication is difficult. Please send every word, or group of words, twice.
Information: Since communication is difficult, every word, or group of words, in this message will be sent twice.“

(Source: AIP Germany GEN 3.4)


„Reduce your rate of speech“

(Source: AIP Germany GEN 3.4)

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    $\begingroup$ To add to this: Any intersections, fixes etc. which are hard to pronounce for non-native speakers can be easily said out in phonetic alphabets. For e.g. "KLMAN" would simply become Kilo Lima Mike Alpha November for those who don't use it regularly. $\endgroup$
    – RaajTram
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ Why English teachers don't always make the best pilots: "You mean more slowly, young man!" $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 17:13

From a legal standpoint English is not only the official language of aviation but you must be "English Proficient" to legally fly at least here in the US. This is both an FAA and ICAO requirement these days. Although what happens when a repeat is needed has been covered in other answers it should be noted that accents should not stand in the way of communications and you may, depending on your case be required to have an "English Proficient" endorsement on your license. In reality there should never be a pronunciation issue (but we live in a far from perfect world) Here is the full ICAO chart of grading,

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Here is some interesting info on the dangers of language differences in aviation accidents.

As for the fact that some aircraft radios garble signals and don't help in transmitting marginally acceptable audio all while in a plane with near defining engine noise; that is a whole separate question...

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    $\begingroup$ You don't need to be English proficient to legally fly. You need to be proficient in one of the languages applicable to your CAA's jurisdiction OR English. You can fly legally with only LP German lvl 4 in Germany and no English proficiency, because German is one of languages used in R/T (VFR only). $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ Added to reflect this as a US/FAA requirement $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 14:24

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