Whether you like it or not, English is the language of aviation.
That’s a simple fact that you can’t ignore if you want to work in our industry.
Which means that before you are hired by any major airline, you must be able to speak fluent English or to pass an English test to prove your proficiency.
This article has been written with the help of Ray Cooper. Ray has 15 years of experience of teaching English as a second language (10 of them in a large technical institute). He specializes in the sort of spoken English that should be used for effective communication between workplace colleagues.
So if you are preparing your English test, we’ve got you covered.
The information below will help you understand different ways of learning and pass your cabin crew interview.
Table of Contents
Do you have to take an English test to be a flight attendant?
The short answer is yes.
You will use English with your colleagues every day of your working life, so the airlines need to test your ability to communicate with them clearly and concisely.
If you are applying from a non-English speaking country, most airlines will require you to complete an English test, which could be either written or oral, or a combination of the two.
But before we discuss the sorts of English tests that different airlines set for flight attendant applicants, let’s look at a few tips on how you can get ready for them.
The key here is preparation.
Make sure you have enough vocabulary associated with the aviation and the flight attendant world and make sure to prepare for the English test well in advance.
How do I improve my English skills?
There are lots of ways that don’t involve sitting in a classroom or working one on one with a teacher.
Classroom learning certainly has its place, but in my experience, when it comes to conversational English, non-English speakers have the most difficulty with accents and the speed of speech making it difficult to understand all the words clearly.
So here are some ways of getting used to those things.
Watch movies or TV series in English that use subtitles
This can be very effective if you have a t.v. that allows you to turn the subtitles on and off.
Watch maybe two to three minutes with the subtitles on and then the next two or three minutes with them off.
This will give you practice at listening to English with and without the support of the words on the screen.
Carefully watch the lips of the person who is speaking. We pick up a lot of clues about what is being said by doing this and it really does make a difference. Think about how hard it is to understand spoken English when you are making a telephone call.
Listen to music (paying attention to the lyrics)
You’ll pick up new words and the music will help you retain what you have learnt.
It’s also quite a lot of fun and doesn’t feel like study at all.
Look on the internet for a song that you like and add the word ‘lyrics’ into the search bar after the title. Most modern songs have a video clip where the lyrics appear on the screen at the same time as the song is being sung. This is a seriously good way to learn new words.
Listen to English language podcasts
Again, this can be fun, because you can pretty much pick the topic of your choice.
This is a little harder than watching a video or movie because you have no visual clues as to what is being said.
But it is very important that you understand English in situations where you can only hear the spoken word.
Pick a topic that you like and know a little about. Chinese cookery, for instance. You will already be familiar with some of the words and because you are interested in the subject, it won’t feel like work.
Read, read, read
Magazines, books, comics, the back of cereal packets, read, read, read.
And do it out loud if you can.
A busy restaurant or on the bus might not be a good place to do this, but you get the idea.
Can I just say that again? Read, read, read.
Advertisers often use stylized letters (fonts) that can be interesting to look at but very difficult to understand for the non-English speaker. Try your best to read these, it will boost your confidence and you’ll get quite a buzz when you succeed.
Speaking another language is like going to the gym
The more you workout, the easier it gets.
So practice your English by talking to friends and colleagues.
Practicing speaking the language will also increase your understanding of it.
This can be very difficult at first because there is a fear of making errors and sounding foolish. Accept that you will make mistakes, but also accept that most people are understanding and kind.
Use your phone to call people and have them call you
Remember how I said that understanding someone can be difficult if you can’t read their lips?
Okay, let’s make that work for you.
Make phone calls to your friends about nothing important at all just so you get the chance to practice your English.
You can do this while you’re both in the same place. Go into another room and make the call. That way you can easily compare notes with each other afterwards: ‘How did I sound?’ ‘Did you understand that bit about my work experience?’
Do a simpler version of the telephone trick
Two of you can stand in the same room, but with your backs to each other.
That way you will have no visual clues as to what the other person is saying, so you will really have to listen to the words that they are using.
Have fun with this by having more than two people do it. Three or four of you with your backs to each other can turn it into a sort of talking party. It may sound like a silly idea, but it really does work if you have friends like you who are also trying to improve their spoken English.
Use your mobile phone to record yourself speaking
Then play it back and listen to how you sound.
If you were someone else listening, could you understand what was being said?
Be hard on yourself and don’t cover over any mistakes.
Listen to the tone of your voice. Remember that in English how you say something can matter almost as much as what you are saying.
Find online courses
While you work to increase or improve your English, you may come across these letters: ESL.
They simply stand for English as a Second Language.
Many courses are run using these initials, so it can be handy to type them into search bars if you are looking for something along those lines.
Planning is critical. Setting yourself targets and goals. For many, it could be watching a video lesson every day or learning 20 words per week.
Practice, practice, practice. And have fun doing it
Reading cereal boxes, making phone calls, talking with your back to each other, watching your favorite movies with subtitles, all of these easy to do things that can be fun.
So what are you waiting for?
Try reading this article out loud. Now!
Prepare for the test
Do your research before the English test.
There is no excuse for not being prepared.
Do your research and make sure that you know what format the test will be in and what you can expect to have to do.
Will there be multiple-choice questions or short answers?
Will you have to write an essay?
When you know what the format will be, you can practice it. Doing your research is nearly half the battle.
You can use our tests below to practice
Be confident, don’t be afraid of making mistakes.
They are not expecting you to speak perfect English, it’s not your first language, after all, it’s ESL.
So don’t be shy and try not to overthink it.
Confidence has a lot to do with the way you speak and come across to the listener.
Try thinking in English for at least an hour before the test. Treat this as a warm-up before exercising in the gym. Thinking in English will help you to answer questions in a quick and smooth manner without having the hesitations of your brain translating everything before responding.
How is the English test set at Emirates Airlines?
Emirates are constantly changing their interview process.
Recently their English test was changed to an online one.
It’s at a basic level, but you should prepare well enough to get at least an 80% pass mark.
On the assessment day – if you pass all the other tests – they’ll give you a link to an online English and personality test. You must complete this within 24 hours.
This English test is made up of multiple-choice questions (choose the correct word, preposition, adverb, that sort of thing). It’s basically all about simple grammar.
You’ll have a 30-minute time limit.
After passing your English and behavioral tests, you’ll receive an email from the recruitment team to inform you that you have passed and you’ll get an invitation email to a web-based or personal final interview.
This will be about your previous experience and how you handle different airline scenarios with regard to customer service.
Finish this successfully and you’ll be in!
Try not to worry about your English test, it’s easy enough. Use any B2 level test or TOIEC test or the tests given below and practice at home.
There’s that word again: practice. I can’t say it too often.
How is the English test at Qatar Airlines?
On the assessment day, there will be first a presentation of the company, and right after that, you’ll have your English test.
It’s easy as well, so no need to worry.
It’s made up of 3 exercises:
- You’ll be asked to read a text and to check your understanding you must answer 5 multiple choice questions about the story. It’s usually a small article about Qatar Airways history and awards.
- A grammar exercise where you will have to choose the right answer. Eg. Circle the correct form of a verb in a sentence, Circle the synonyms…
- A ‘fill in the missing words’ test.
Apart from these exercises you’ll also have to write an essay, 100-150 words only, on different themes like: ‘Workplace ethics’, ‘What are your best qualities?’ and similar topics.
*Note: It seems like the essay writing is no longer required. Whew!
How is the English test at Etihad Airlines?
Very similar to the Qatar one above.
It’s very easy, A2 level, but you must get 100% to pass.
- They will have words spread on two tables and you’ll have to put them in order and make sentences with the words
- Reading comprehension: Read a text and answer 3 or 4 questions
- Fill in the gaps: choose the right vocabulary words
- There will be customer feedback examples and you’ll have to determine if it’s a positive or negative review and mark an S for a satisfied customer or U for an unsatisfied customer.
Eg. The flight was long but the seats were comfy and spacious. (S)
Type of English tests
As you can see, most airlines use the same type of English tests, and it’s usually about an hour long.
It does change and subjects may vary, but just as an idea of what to expect, these are the most common tests you’ll find in all international airlines:
- Multiple-choice questions: mainly to check your grammar, but also your knowledge of vocabulary. some phrasal verbs and idioms are included. Don’t know what a phrasal verb is? Look it up. Now. Practice, practice, practice, remember? That includes practicing while you are reading this article. There is only one correct answer to each multiple-choice question.
- Fill in the gaps: to check your grammar, verb tenses and vocabulary
- Questions about a reading comprehension text. This evaluates how well you understand what you have just read in English.
- Writing an essay on a particular subject:
e.g.: your communication skills, Introduce the best places to visit in your country, what do you do or don’t like about yourself and why.
The trick here is not to complicate things. Use simple sentences to explain simple ideas. Treat this a ‘KISS’ exercise: Keep It Simple, Stupid
- A two minute round of self-introductions to the group so that you can demonstrate your verbal skills.
- A group discussion. You will have to discuss a situation with another 6 or 7 candidates.
E.g. explain what 3 objects you would take if you were to be stranded on a desert island.
List them and discuss why you would choose each one. The point of this is to share your ideas and point of view with others.
- A one on one interview in English may be conducted to test conversational skills. This interview lasts approximately fifteen minutes. Pronunciation and English speaking ability are evaluated here.
- You can also be asked to read an inflight announcement in English and/or any of the languages you said you speak. You will find examples in the next section.
Is it ok to apply for a cabin crew job if you are not fluent?
In theory, no. You should be fluent in English. But the reality is that for a non-English speaking country, you just need to speak Basic/Intermediate level. As long as you can hold a conversation in English, you’re good.
I have seen candidates that don’t really speak fluent English getting a cabin crew job in Emirates.
They know you will improve fast there, as you’ll be 100% immersed in an English environment 24/7.
So even if you struggle at the beginning, you’ll become fluent pretty fast.
My advice to candidates that are not feeling confident about their English is to prepare their English interview thoroughly and attend a recruitment event.
Find out everything you need to get ready for your English exam, is it a multiple choice test? will you have to write an essay?
It’s important to prepare yourself before the interview, relax and be yourself.
Don’t be afraid. Getting a cabin crew job with Etihad, Emirates or Qatar doesn’t require advanced English at all.
If you feel that during the recruitment event that your English is not OK, then you can go away and work on improving your English and then try again.
But trust me, if you’ve studied English at school, it’ll be pretty simple.
There is absolutely nothing to worry about, it’s a basic grammar, spelling and comprehension test.
If you’re still not confident, try the practicing techniques I described above until you feel comfortable and then go for an interview.
English tests to practice
Multiple-choice tests to practice
You can choose the level that suits you, but you should be able to pass the B2 level tests
- B2 Level Upper Intermediate Tests – 35 questions with answers
- B2 Level Test – 25 questions with answers
If you are not sure about your level, take this test:
Here is a reading comprehension test that I have put together. It is similar to ones that are used by the airlines.
TIPS FOR READING COMPREHENSION
The very first thing to do is to read the whole thing through.
Do this reasonably quickly, without stopping to try to figure out anything you don’t understand.
This is called scanning.
It’s kind of like warming up your brain for the task ahead.
- Read the text through a second time, slowly and carefully.
- Stop and relax. Take thirty seconds or more just to let the information settle in.
- Do exactly the same thing with the questions that are being asked about the text.
- When you have read the questions through a second time, make sure that you have a good idea of exactly what you are being asked. Not understanding the questions correctly is a good part of why people give wrong answers.
- Find the section of the text that contains the answer. When you have finished, read the answer you have given and then read the question again. I know it’s back to front, but it’s a good way to check if things match up.
- When you have done that, read through the text again and then read your answers again.
- Sit back and relax.
Reading comprehension test
This can be a text about the company or some aviation-related news like this one from Arabianbusiness :
Unruly passengers force IndiGo Delhi-Jeddah flight to turn back
An IndiGo flight to Jeddah from Delhi on Tuesday evening had to turn back to the parking bay after it started taxiing for take-off, after few passengers on board created a ruckus and one of them tried to open the aircraft’s door.
A group of five passengers were subsequently offloaded and handed over to security personnel at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, causing a delay of more than three hours before the flight resumed operations.
“We confirm the incident on the flight from Delhi to Jeddah on February 18, 2020. Some passengers displayed unruly behavior and were offloaded so that the plane could continue flight operations,” IndiGo said in a statement.
“A report has been filed with the relevant authorities, ” the airline said.
The incident took place on IndiGo’s Jeddah flight when a number of passengers, who were part of a larger group travelling from Delhi to Jeddah, became agitated over the fact that two of their fellow members could not make it to the flight. The passengers began arguing with the crew and then tried to open the aircraft’s door.
According to airline sources, the offloaded passengers were part of a group of 110 passengers of the airline’s connecting flight from Srinagar. Their two fellow passengers had been stopped at the boarding gate at the Delhi airport as they had lost their boarding passes.
“During taxiing for takeoff, the group leader demanded that two members of their group be accepted on board. The cabin crew stopped him and convinced him to be seated in his place the passenger continued to shout and tried to open the door,” the sources said.
Following the commotion on board, the flight captain decided to return to the parking bay.
After the offloading of the unruly passengers, an anti-sabotage inspection was performed on the flight as per the safety procedure.
The IndiGo flight, which was scheduled to depart for Jeddah at 8.10pm, finally departed three hours later.
Why was the flight from Delhi to Jeddah delayed on Tuesday?
Why were the passengers offloaded?
What was the leader demanding? What did he do?
How long was the flight delayed in the end?
Writing an Essay on a selected topic
Popular choices include: introducing some good places to visit in a country, writing about your adaptability skills, or writing about 3 things you want to improve about yourself.
As I said, keep it simple with easy to understand sentences and ideas.
This is not the time to be clever.
In this assessment, you will be split into groups and given a brief to discuss.
“There has been a mix up with the catering company and even though 20 people had placed orders for vegetarian meals there are only 10 available on the flight. What should you do?”
Try not to be bossy and overtake the conversation, try not to be “a know it all”.
Instead try to be confident, friendly and communicative.
Talking over others and trying to impress with your language skills is not the way to do things.
Being a flight attendant is a group activity and you need to show that you can work and communicate well with others.
The airline recruitment staff will be looking for candidates to demonstrate specific qualities – particularly English – during the group assessment.
These discussion activities are a good indicator of a candidate’s confidence, motivation, and enthusiasm.
The conclusions you come to don’t have to be the right ones, they are looking to see you come up with a logical solution and that you can communicate your views sensitively, effectively and politely in English.
You may also be asked to read an Inflight announcement.
For this, they will put paper sheets in front of each candidate and you will be asked to pick up one paper, say your name and what number paper you picked and then read the announcement out loud.
Speak confidently and remember that you are talking to the people in front of you and not the piece of paper in your hands.
Make as much eye contact as you possibly can without losing your place.
A glance up at the end of every two or three sentences is good.
- Ladies, and Gentlemen! The captain has turned off the seatbelt sign, which means you can leave your seat now if you wish. However, for your own safety and the safety of others around you, you must keep your seatbelt fastened while you are seated. Should the seatbelt sign come on again during the flight, please return immediately to your seat, and for everyone’s safety, you must keep your belt fastened while seated.
- Ladies & Gentlemen! In a moment, We will be distributing arrival cards and Customs and Quarantine declarations for L. A. There are three different U. S. immigration forms and each passenger will be required to complete one of these forms, depending on your nationality, passport or Visa status. There are no immigration requirements for U. S. citizens.
- If you hold a valid U. S. Visa, you are required to complete a WHITE I-94 Immigration Form. If you are traveling under the U. S. Visa Waiver Programme, then you must complete a GREEN I-94W Immigration Form. If you are not traveling under a U.S. Visa, then you must fill out a BLUE I-94T Immigration Form.
- Ladies & Gentlemen, now We’re approaching Seoul where the local time is 09:00. At this stage, you should be in your seat with your seatbelt firmly, fastened. Personal television screens, footrests, and seat tables must be stowed away and all hand luggage stored either in the overhead lockers or under the seat in front. Please ensure all electronic devices including laptop computers and computer games are turned off.
Books on English that are useful
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These 2 books are essential for those preparing for a career as a cabin crew member.
But they are also suitable for those working in the industry who need to improve their communication skills when carrying out their pre and in-flight responsibilities.
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This book is a step-by-step guide for aspiring Flight Attendants, it will be your best resource to prepare your flight attendant assessment day.
It’s not written to learn English but it can help you a lot.
So, there you have it. English is a compulsory part of your skillset as a flight attendant, so it is best to become as fluent in it as you can.
Learning English is what we call a transferable skill, it will give you an advantage in many other situations and jobs.
ESL, English as a Second Language, is not something difficult that you just have to put up with, it’s actually pretty easy and it gives you a head start in the world of aviation.
Ok, want to start practicing right now? Write down 5 questions about what you have just read in this article
e.g. What are two tips about practicing to speak English?
Try to answer the questions without looking at the text. Then read the text again to check if you got things right.