One component of the ICAO Language Proficiency Rating (LPR) Scale is idiomatic language, which refers to the use of phrases and expressions that have a figurative meaning different from their literal meaning. Idiomatic language comes under the umbrella of ‘Vocabulary’. For example, while many learners are familiar with the term “extinguish a fire,” its idiomatic counterpart “put out a fire” may pose more of a challenge.


The ICAO LPR Scale for Vocabulary

The LPR Scale evaluates idiomatic language based on how appropriately and effectively it is used in communication:

🔸 LEVEL 6 - Vocabulary is idiomatic, nuanced, and sensitive to register.

🔸 LEVEL 5 - Vocabulary is sometimes idiomatic.

🔸 LEVEL 4 - No mention of idiomatic language.


Fun Fact: There are many opponents to the inclusion of idiomatic language in the rating scale, arguing that it contradicts the necessity for clarity and brevity in radio communications. However, for the time being, we must accept and work within these parameters, regardless of personal opinions.


What is Idiomatic Language?

Idiomatic language includes a wide range of expressions that convey meaning beyond the literal interpretation of the words. Here are a few examples:



Idioms are phrases whose meanings cannot be inferred from the literal meanings of the words.

☆ Kick the bucket: to die. “Before I kick the bucket, I’d like to travel around Asia.”

☆ Piece of cake: something easy. “Nobody expects their first solo flight to be a piece of cake.”



Proverbs are short, commonly known sayings that express a general truth or piece of advice.

☆ Actions speak louder than words: what you do is more important than what you say. “In aviation, actions speak louder than words when it comes to safety protocols.”

☆ Any port in a storm: in an emergency situation, any solution is acceptable. “When all engines fail, any port in a storm will do!.”



Phrasal verbs consist of a verb and a preposition or adverb that modifies the verb's meaning.

☆ Take off: to remove clothing or to leave the ground (as in an aircraft). “The plane will take off in ten minutes.”

☆ Give up: to stop trying or to surrender. “The pilot refused to give up despite the loss of flight controls.”

☆ Look after: to take care of. “The flight attendants look after the passengers’ needs during the flight.”

☆ Run out of: to exhaust the supply of something. “The crew had to make an emergency landing because they were about to run out of fuel.”



Colloquialisms are informal words or phrases used in everyday conversation. Not usually acceptable in formal writing.

☆ Gonna: going to. “I’m gonna check the flight plan one more time.”

☆ Wanna: want to. “Do you wanna be the pilot flying for the first leg?

  Auntie: aunt. “My favourite auntie will be coming to visit tomorrow.”



Slang consists of informal language and expressions that are often specific to particular groups or cultures.

☆ Cool: excellent or impressive. “That aerobatic manoeuvre was really cool.”

☆ Gobsmacked: amazed or astonished. “I was gobsmacked by the view from the cockpit.”

☆ Crash: to fall asleep quickly. “After the long flight, I just want to crash.”



Metaphors are figures of speech that describe an object or action as something it is not, to imply a comparison. Similes are comparisons between two different things using "like" or “as."

☆ He has a heart of stone: unsympathetic. “Despite his reputation for having a heart of stone, the pilot showed great compassion during the emergency.”

☆ As brave as a lion: very brave. “The pilot was as brave as a lion during the emergency landing.”

☆ Slept like a baby: slept very well and peacefully. “After the long-haul flight, I slept like a baby.”


🗣️ Hyperbole

Hyperbole involves exaggerated statements that are not meant to be taken literally but emphasise a point.

☆ I’m so hungry I could eat a horse: very hungry.

☆ I’ve told you a million times: many times.

☆ I have a ton of homework to do: lots of homework.


🗣️ Idiomatic Comparisons

These are specific types of idioms that compare one thing to another in a figurative way.

☆ Fit as a fiddle: to be in good health. “Even at the age of 80, Grandpa is as fit as a fiddle.”

☆ Busy as a bee: very busy. “Since the new restaurant opened, the staff have been busy as a bee, serving customers from morning till night.”

☆ Blind as a bad: having poor eyesight. “The pilot joked that he was as blind as a bat, causing the passengers to feel very uneasy.”


Enhancing Your Idiomatic Skills

For those looking to improve their understanding of idiomatic language in aviation, context is key. It’s not just about memorising phrases but understanding when and how to use them appropriately. Engaging with native speakers, keeping a journal of new language, watching movies, reading books, and consistent practice can all help. Remember, proficiency in idiomatic language might not be useful for your everyday tasks, but it could enhance your communicative competence and confidence, particularly in unexpected or informal scenarios.

So, while you might not use slang or colloquialisms in official communications, knowing them could enrich your interactions and understanding of English in both personal and professional aviation contexts.


Learn More About the ICAO Scale

For more insights into the ICAO Scale and its various components, check out my other blog posts on Fluency, Discourse Markers, and Pronunciation - Intonation, Stress, and Rhythm.


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