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Aviation & English

Image from CoolClips

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS AND ENGLISH VOCABULARY

I hosted a series of French air traffic controllers through a language tuition agency. English is the official language for aviation and the French civil aviation association pays for their air traffic controllers to spend one week every three years on a full immersion English course. Obviously it’s important to keep their English up-to-date and refreshed.

It led to some interesting issues. Obviously, there is a slightly specialised vocabulary connected to aircraft, meteorology, airports etc. Here is an unusual word, for example, ‘buffet’. This can be a noun, a verb and an ‘ed/ing’ adjective, such as, ‘a buffeting wind’ or ‘the aircraft was buffeted’. The meanings can be as follows:

buffet /ˈbʌfɪt/

Noun [WITH OBJECT]

1 (especially of wind or waves) strike repeatedly and violently; batter.

‘rough seas buffeted the coast’

No object ‘the wind was buffeting at their bodies’

1.1 Knock (someone) off course.

‘he was buffeted from side to side’

1.2 (of difficulties) afflict (someone) over a long period.

‘they were buffeted by a major recession’

Noun

1 (dated) A blow or punch.

1.1 A shock or misfortune.

‘the daily buffets of urban civilization’

2  Aeronautics 

fifteen degrees of flap induce marked buffet’

another term for buffeting

Finally, above, we see the meaning in aeronautical English!

But this word, with a change in pronunciation, can mean something quite different:

buffet / ˈbʌfeɪ/, /ˈbʊfeɪ/

Food

  • a meal laid out so that guests may serve themselves: a buffet of cold cuts, salads, and desserts.
  • a counter, bar, or table for food or refreshments.
  • a restaurant with such a counter or table.

And here, again, it can be an adjective (before a noun):

  • served from or as a buffet: a buffet supper

So you can see here that what seems like a simple word can actually present quite a complex set of meanings, which can be quite confusing for a non-native speaker or indeed, a native English speaker!

CONFUSING PHRASAL VERBS – AS ALWAYS!

All Latin-based language speakers (French, Italian, Spanish, Catalán etc) find our phrasal verbs very difficult. It’s understandable because with just the change of the final particle (up, on, in, off, through etc) you can change the meaning of a verb completely. Think of ‘get up’, ‘get on’, ‘get in’, ‘get off’, ‘get through’… 

When my students first arrive at my house, I usually suggest a walk to a local destination. I give them a map with my house marked on it and show them where we intend to go. I ask them to direct me to this destination. I find that this is a very good way for the student to start to understand where they are in relation to the rest of the city. If they accompany me, they will not pay attention to the route – that’s normal human psychology. I give them the language they will need: ‘Turn right’, ‘Turn left’ or ‘Straight on’ and indicate the directions with my arms.

While returning home with one of my French air traffic controllers, he directed me ‘Turn right’ and ‘Turn left’. When it came to ‘Straight on’, he was surprised. He asked me if ‘Straight away’ meant the same, as in ‘continue in the same direction’. I explained that it was certainly very different and was an instruction of TIME, not of DIRECTION. Not only that, it’s an urgent instruction and implies that this instruction means IMMEDIATELY, WITHOUT FURTHER QUESTION. He was very surprised. He thought his superiors at work didn’t understand this difference.

 However, if you think about the phrasal verbs, ‘move away’ or ‘get away’, these ARE verbs of movement and direction. So it’s no wonder they find it all so confusing…

ASKING QUESTIONS IN ENGLISH – IT’S SO DIFFICULT!

I spend a LOT OF TIME and effort, correcting my students’ questions. In many languages, you can ask a question by changing the intonation of a statement. It’s very simple. You change this statement, ‘You like coffee’ into a question by simply changing your intonation to rise at the end of the sentence, ‘You like coffee?’.

However, in English, we have to use an auxiliary (‘do’ or ‘did’), ‘Do you like coffee?’ or invert the subject and verb in questions with ‘be’, ‘Are you hungry?’. The ONLY time we DO NOT do this, is when our question is not really a question but a statement of surprise, ‘You like coffee?! Oh, I thought you hated it.’

Two of my air traffic controllers have told me that they are encouraged to ask questions in the English way when they are speaking to the pilots on the radio. This is for two reasons; one is that it is quite clear that a question is being asked from the beginning of the sentence, because of the auxiliary or the subject/verb inversion. Secondly, it avoids the possibility of the pilot misunderstanding the question as a command. So it is really VERY important. But ALL my air traffic controllers, usually very high-level English speakers, do NOT practise this when they speak English. I was very pleased to learn this, as I it can be embarrassing, constantly correcting these very good English speakers.

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5 of my favourite Bristol excursions

Photo to illustrate a visit to Bristol Blue Glass, hand produced blue glass
Benedetta watching Bristol Blue Glass being hand produced

As part of my homestay package, I offer my students two or three afternoon or evening excursions a week. Over the years, I have discovered some great places to visit in this lively city. Often these destinations are free or very inexpensive. Here are some of my favourite places:

Bristol Blue Glass Factory

Blue glass is a special glass that is made by hand in Bristol.  It’s interesting to go to the factory, where you can see the glassmakers produce these unusual dark blue glass items. The work room is extremely hot with several huge furnaces burning fiercely. The young people who produce the items are friendly and will explain their blowing and spinning techniques of the molten glass.

https://bristol-glass.co.uk/

This visit is completely free and provides an opportunity to see artisans working and creating blue glass items. There is also a shop, where you can buy the things that you have just seen created.

The Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery

This is another one of my favourite destinations with my students. The building itself is a delight, with an enormous Box Kite bi-plane designed in Bristol in the early 20th century, suspended from the ceiling of the imposing entrance hall. The museum contains several galleries with a range of subjects: Egypt and Assyria; South Western Natural History; Dinosaurs and Sea Monsters; Minerals; a Chinese gallery with the best collection of Chinese glass outside the Forbidden Palace; Pottery and Silver objects and on the top floor, a small Art Gallery of classical and modern art.

This is a free visit with a suggested donation of £5.00.

The Georgian House Museum

This is a fascinating insight into life in a house which was occupied by a wealthy sugar plantation owner and slave owner. The house is furnished as it would have been during that period of history. There is a small section which explains the family history of the owner, John Pinney, and how he profited from slavery on the Caribbean island of Nevis. John Pinney was fond of a cold bath and there is a plunge pool in the bottom of the house. The basement which shows the lives of the servants is the most interesting part of the visit. This visit is free, although they accept donations gratefully.

M Shed

This is a great place to visit to learn about Bristol’s industrial and social history. It’s very interactive and interesting. You can learn about Bristol’s engineering background and why it became the birthplace of the supersonic aircraft, ‘Concorde’, built in collaboration between the UK and France.

 It also has a section which explains Bristol’s connection with slavery, through the ‘Triangular Trade’. This was the name given to the route which went from Bristol to the west of Africa, and then across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and back to the UK, as part of the slave and sugar trade. Many Bristol families became fabulously wealthy through this shameful business.

This is a free visit but with a suggested donation of about £5.00

Underfall Yard

http://www.underfallyard.co.uk/

Underfall Yard is an area of the Cumberland Basin, part of the Bristol Harbour which you can see from the end of my road. The original hydraulic pumps which used to operate the bridges and sluices of the harbour have been recently restored. These pumps were designed in 1907 and stopped working in the 1970s, and they run the pumps for visitors three times a week. There is also a good café which serves delicious coffee and tasty snacks! After some refreshment, you can walk around the harbour and look at the various different marine businesses and the colourful houses and views of Clifton and the Clifton Suspension Bridge.