JANUARY 19, 2005

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Air traffic controllers learn "plane" English at OSU

Air traffic controllers from Central and South America tour the Stillwater airport as part of their stay in Stillwater while attending aviation English courses through OSU's English department. The OSU English department is in the middle of creating a program for spring 2005 that will train air traffic controllers natural English language skills that will aid them when directing pilots in the air.

In 1996, a mid-air plane collision in New Delhi, India resulted in the death of 312 lives. The reason for the collision - inadequate English language skills on the part of aviation professionals.

In an effort to prevent similar disasters, Oklahoma State University's English Department and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are producing a curriculum to provide non-native English speaking air traffic controllers with English language skills.

Air traffic controllers from Central and South America recently came to Stillwater and attended trial courses in aviation English offered through OSU's English department. Dr. Carol Moder, associate professor and head of OSU's English department, said that OSU is well-suited for developing a program of this specialty.

"OSU is well-positioned to develop this specialized language curriculum because of its long history of aviation training and the extensive experience of faculty in the applied linguistics program in designing English for Specific Purposes curricula," Moder said.

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), in three separate air collisions investigators found that insufficient English language skills played a role in the events leading up to the accidents. With the loss of more than 800 lives as a result of similar poor communication skills, Moder said these courses are a result of the concern that has grown from the FAA and ICAO on how to correct for these language deficiencies.

To prevent future accidents, the ICAO will require air traffic controllers to meet a higher standard of English proficiency by the year 2008, Moder said. This proficiency will require clear delivery and understanding of the English language, along with the knowledge of standard "phraseologies," certain phrases of the English language that are used internationally by aviation professionals to communicate in the air. According to a manual developed by ICAO, using "phraseologies" alone has been found to be insufficient when compared to natural language proficiency. This means air traffic controllers will also need to master the use of "plain English" to communicate more effectively in emergencies.

The initial curriculum will be offered for three weeks with a more intensive curriculum being developed for launch in May 2005, Moder said. The intensive curriculum will run for five weeks and be offered on the OSU-Stillwater campus and at universities abroad. The courses will be taught by Moder, Dr. Gene Halleck, associate professor of English, and five of the English department's doctoral students.

"We believe that through this program OSU will be making a major contribution to improving air safety around the world," Moder said.

Contact: Alanna Bradley, 405.744.9076