In the past incidents and accidents originated from language difficulties between pilots and controllers resulting in communication problems with sometimes terrible consequences. To improve the level of English used by air traffic controllers and pilots, ICAO introduced the Language Proficiency Endorsement test (LPE).
This test establishes a certain level of Aviation English where level 4 is needed as an operational minimum. Below you will find the requirements for this test.
Contact your local authorities or flying club for details on where to take the test in your area.
How strange it may seem, the test is also required for native English speakers. Section 3.2.1 of ICAO Doc 9835-AN/453 has the following to say about this:
"The ICAO language proficiency requirements apply to native and non-native speakers alike. As English is the most commonly used language for international aviation communications, many non-native speakers of English will require language training to improve their language proficiency. Nonetheless, the burden for improved communications should not be seen as falling solely on non-native speakers. Native speakers of English, too, have a fundamentally important role to play in the international efforts to increase communication safety, and much of the information contained in this chapter is aimed at native speakers interacting with non-native speakers."
So, we as pilots and air traffic controllers will all have to do this test. One small advantage for native English speakers and those fluent in English as a second language, is that they will have to do this test probably only once.
The test itself isn't that difficult and consists of two parts. The first part is a listening section were you need to answer questions based on a radio conversation between an aircraft and ATC, the second part is an interview where the examiner(s) interacts with you on aviation subjects. Both tests should take each about thirty minutes. Good luck!
With the recent introduction of EASA Air Crew Regulations (EU 1178/2011, Annex 1) the rules on English Language Proficiency were further modified to include formal radiotelephony knowledge and a VFR/IFR flight scenario.
The table below shows all levels and requirements needed to pass the test.
TIP: Do not forget to have this rating added onto your license!
ICAO stated that LPE-4 is valid for three (3) years (as of April 2018: LPE-4 will be four (4) years (EASA)), LPE-5 for six (6) years and level 6 is valid permanently for life and no further assessment will be necessary.
Flying around in Europe and many other continents too, you will notice that in a lot of countries English is not the first choice by pilots and controllers. One wonders if they understand the risks and uncertainties involved for foreign pilots flying in the same airspace not knowing what is happening around them. So please use English on the radio!