Flying Off the Handle in an Airport: 3 Tips for Teaching Aviation Workers How to Speak English in Stressful Situations

Flying Off the Handle in an Airport
3 Tips for Teaching Aviation Workers How to Speak English in Stressful Situations

abepiusc
by abepiusc 6,234 views |

People working in the aviation industry without a doubt encounter the most diverse languages, cultures, and speech.

They also frequently come into contact with the angriest of people due to the high stress nature of travel. If you are teaching English for specific purposes (ESP) to those about to or currently working in the airline/airport industry, be sure to include some tips about dealing with angry and stressed out customers. Here are tips for preparing students to speak English in tense situations.

ESP for Aviation Workers: How to Combat Stress and Keep Speaking English

  1. 1

    It’s All About Intonation

    The words we speak say a lot, but the tone we say them with says even more. Unfortunately, intonation can be one of the most difficult things for learners to pick up on, especially if they come from tonal-based native languages like Chinese.

    The best way to overcome this problem is to teach students about common intonation and stress patterns. Show them arrows to model the rise and fall of intonation with example sentences and questions.

    Compare and contrast the different intonation patterns of people:

    • who are happy
    • who are angry
    • who are tired
    • who are polite
    • who are sarcastic

    Also explain that in order to emphasize certain words, English speakers put more stress on them. In order to stress them, they often come out louder and with longer vowel sounds. Do some word stress practice with your students so they can practice hearing emphasized information in speech (for example, “I need MY SON to be in an aisle seat” has much different meaning than “I need my son to be in an AISLE seat.”)

    • The best way to practice intonation is to find several listening exercises and scripts (these can be from online conversations, TV episodes, YouTube videos, or movies). Since this is ESP, it’s best to keep these videos all taking place in the context of an airport. You can prepare the scripts in advance or make it a dictation exercise by having the learners copy down the words they hear first in order to make their own script. Once the students have a script in front of them, have them draw basic intonation arrows (rising/falling) and then label them with an emotion. To make is more challenging, use only audio links or prevent them from seeing the faces of the individuals to draw emotion cues only from the words and intonation and not facial expressions. Alternatively, to focus on word stress, have students circle the words they hear having the most stress or significance in the sentence.
    • Next, practice intonation using role plays and dialogues. You can use the same dialogues from the listening exercise above, or create your own. Here is a sample airline one that would be good for this exercise:
      • Flight Attendant: Hello sir (mam). How can I help you?
        Customer: I’m on the 4:00 flight to Los Angeles, but I’d like to switch my ticket to an earlier flight.
        Flight Attendant: Okay, let me check for you. Unfortunately, all earlier flights are booked. You would need to pay $100 to upgrade to first class to leave on the 2:15 flight.
        Customer: But I need to get home to see my daughter. I really have to be on the 2:15 flight. Isn’t there anything you could do?
        Flight Attendant: I understand, but unfortunately we only have one seat first class seat left, so you would need to pay $100 or wait until your 4:00 flight.
        Customer: Thanks for your help

    Give this (or another generic airline dialogue) to several pairs of students and assign each of them a type of customer—angry & aggressive, overly tired, nervous, happy & relaxed, etc... Focus on having students change just the intonation to portray their scenario correctly. For an added interactive element, have the students present their dialogues in front of the class, but don’t tell the class which kind of customer they have. Have the class guess based on the students’ intonation after they have finished.

  2. 2

    It’s All About Culture

    Airports are arguably some of the most diverse places around. There are continuously several different cultures interacting simultaneously, and while English may be the dominant lingua franca, there are countless dialects and varieties of English at any given time. People working in the airline industry must be capable of understanding and communicating with a variety of English speakers.

    As a teacher, vary your listening samples as much as possible. Find recordings online of people with different English accents speaking and have students practice listening. Don’t forget to use examples with less than perfect English—native and nonnative speakers alike don’t always use proper grammar, so your students need to be on their toes and prepared for such cases.

  3. 3

    It’s All About Fluency

    To handle difficult and high-stress situations, students need to be extra confident with their fluency skills. Try these activities to build fluency.

    • Non-stop speaking
      Speak for 30 seconds (try 60 seconds for more advanced students) without stopping or using a (non-English) filler word. This should not be a script or something memorized (for example the safety instructions given at the beginning of a flight) but a spontaneous topic. The teacher or a student could ask a question, and the student must answer the question for 30 seconds.
    • Give a crazy presentation
      Assign students to give a presentation, for example a but instruct the other members of to continually interrupt by raising their hand to ask questions. The student should answer questions as they come without getting flustered and then attempt to continue giving the presentation. This will help to keep their English strong despite the frustrating interruptions that will surely come in their job.
    • ESP Hot potato
      Like the classic hot potato game where an object is passed around the circle, a timer set to go off at an unknown time is set, and an object goes from student to student. When the student gets the hot potato, they must say items from a category (e.g. objects in an airline gift shop), and they get one point for each item they say. They can say as many as they want before passing the potato to another student, but if the timer goes off while they’re holding the hot potato, they lose all their points. For example, an industrious student might start off with the potato and say 10 things before passing it, so be sure to set the timer for truly random intervals. Any activity adding pressure to students while speaking English will help them to not get flustered and keep their fluency.

Working in the air travel business can be stressful, so speaking English shouldn’t have to be. As an ESP teacher, prepare your students to deal with the stressful world of air traffic with confidence!

How would you help a student speak English in a stressful situation?

What are your tips for speaking confidently under pressure?

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