Do you speak our language?

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By on Monday 10th Feb, 2014 at 13:20

As cabin crew dealing with many nationalities on a daily basis, you would think that all cabin crew are multi-lingual. That is not necessarily the case - you may be surprised to know! So, what language skills are needed by the airlines? Are there any languages that are considered beneficial to the cabin crew role and are languages an added advantage when applying? These are just a few topics we will cover here.

By Patricia Green

As a general rule, most cabin crew have to be able to speak English as that is the language that is used in aviation and is set by the authorities to create better crew communication and prevent potential incidents or accidents. For smaller regional airlines, English may not be used onboard and the local common language used. However, all safety and emergency procedures training and related items onboard the aircraft, should be in English.

Near fluency or fluent is the preferred level of English for all cabin crew, so mis-communication should not occur. This is tested at your airline assessment day through written exam or oral exam with a native speaker – this can also apply to 2nd language speakers where certain languages are specifically asked for by the airline.

What if you need to improve your English?

There are a few ways of doing this – there may be a course held locally that you can attend, for example, the British Council (in many capital cities around the world) holds regular English courses. You could also learn online or join a programme where you can use Skype and talk with an English speaker directly to practice your language skills. If you prefer to learn alone, there are some useful books with CD’s or CD roms entitled ‘English for Cabin Crew’ or ‘Aviation English’ – these can be found online. There are also specialised Aviation English courses and tutors available via the internet, if you wish to study in private with an individual.

What other languages are preferred?

For large commercial airlines it will depend on what region you will be working, for example in Europe, French, German and Italian are often asked for as 2nd or 3rd languages. In the UK, English is obviously the most important but any 2nd European language is an advantage and if you have any language skills it is worth adding them to your CV, whether basic or conversational. In the Middle East, it is popular to recruit cabin crew with language skills, as they want to be multinational and almost always will have a native speaker on a flight, which can be very useful! Some of them also request Arabic speakers, but this will be specified on their careers page.

For private jets and business aviation, Mandarin and Russian are the most requested languages, along with English fluency, because industry is booming in those regions and the private jet industry expanding. French can also be useful as it widely spoken in Africa for example and parts of the Middle East. If you want to learn another language there are many online courses (some for free) and more unusual techniques like the Earworms method, which involves learning language with music, for something a little different!

Useful phrases onboard

As a side note, once you are cabin crew you may naturally pick up useful phrases onboard, when you travel regularly to different countries. It is something useful to learn as you go and shows a politeness towards your passengers, even if it’s just a ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ in their language – it will be appreciated.

Apart from English, it is not essential to have another language, but it can be an advantage and is always useful to improve your CV in the future. Always check the airline’s career website for the requirements of their cabin crew, it will state which languages they are looking for. Also, from time to time, this may change (eg. If they start a new route to a different country) they may recruit for language speakers from that region.

About the Author:
Patricia Green has been Cabin Crew for major airlines in the UK and Middle East for seven years and also an SCCM. She has also worked as a VIP Flight Attendant working for very high profile clients and world leaders on their private jets. Last year Patricia moved to flying on a freelance basis in order to concentrate on working as a freelance instructor as well as setting up as a Cabin Crew Consultant. She advises potential crew how to get their dream job and helps experienced crew move from commercial to corporate flying. In response to many requests from fellow crew and students, Patricia has written a series of E-books to help guide new crew with lots of insider advice and useful hints and tips.

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Photo: Austrian Airlines