While working for airline companies in Latvia and in Norway, I noticed that English plays an important role in the aviation environment, as it is the only language used in international aeronautical communication. However, not enough attention is paid to English language training for pilots: the special needs of the learners are often neglected, and the pilots’ background knowledge and L1 are not taken into account.
The purpose of this study was to find out whether Latvian and Norwegian pilots have different language problems which mainly depend on the influence of their mother tongues, or whether the problems are the same and depend on universal processes rather than language transfer. I wanted to find out whether those who develop language teaching materials should design the materials for Latvians and Norwegians separately (in case they have different problems) or if both groups can use the same “global textbooks” (in case they face the same problems).
In the theoretical part of this study I compared the Latvian, Norwegian and RP vowel systems in order to find similarities and differences in the systems of these three languages. I based my contrastive analysis mainly on the descriptions of phonemes provided by Bird (2005), Grigorjevs (2008), Kaurāte et al. (1985), Laua (1997), Nilsen (2010), Popperwell (2010), Vanvik (1975, 1983).
Then I designed a questionnaire and test based on the findings of the contrastive analysis. I gave it to 48 Norwegian and 30 Latvian pilots, whose task was to listen to RP vowel phonemes (sometimes substituted by the phonemes of their L1s) in connected speech and in isolated words, and to choose the phoneme they heard out of several possible options.
The results indicate that the pilots tend to assimilate their native phonemes to the RP phonemes; however, there are also other processes apart from language transfer that influence the pilots’ perception. The findings also show that connected speech creates more problems for both groups, and that the participants’ perception problems sometimes affect the ability to distinguish between English phonemes, which could cause misunderstandings. The Latvians demonstrated worse results for all the three parts of the test. On the basis of the findings of this study, I suggest having different language teaching programmes for Latvians and Norwegians.