English is the international language of aviation, and all air traffic controllers are supposed to be able to provide services in English, but some pilots can get away without speaking English. First off, they only need enough English to understand basic ATC transmissions, and as anyone who has ever waited for a controller to get a read back from a Korean crew can tell you, that may not be much. Secondly, if a crew is operating only in a subarea of the world where a non-English language is prevalent, they may be able to operate legally using only that language. For example, you may fly in the province of Québec using French only, or between former Eastern bloc countries with only Russian. Pilots who are not native speakers of English undergo an oral exam to qualify as "English-speaking" on their licence, and anyone can test to have French added, too.
I speak some French. I took five years in school, but it wasn't intensive. It sounds better than Stephen Harper's French, but I don't know aviation vocabulary, and I never learned the subjunctive because we learned new verb tenses year by year, with passé historique in grade eleven and then I didn't take French in grade twelve. I'm going to assume that they taught us things in an order roughly corresponding to its utility, and given that one mostly encounters passé historique on historical markers and in textbooks, I can probably live a long and happy life without ever mastering le subjunctif.
But if I'm going to do work for an operation based in a French-speaking area, I'm going to learn some basic airplane vocabulary and try to increase my command of French enough to get French competency listed on my licence. This is not so much because I want to talk to ATC in French, but so I can talk to mechanics in remote areas of Québec without charades, and simply to socialize with pilots who prefer French.
The vocabulary of today will be basic parts of the airplane, because it's a massive cheat. The French and English were working on airplanes at the same time as the Wright brothers, and innovations and terminology went across the channel and across the Atlantic. Thus we have:
le fuselage - fuselage (main body of the airplane)
l'aileron (m) - aileron (wing trailing edge hinged surface used to control roll)
l'empennage (m) - empennage (tail section of the airplane)
le longeron - longeron (wing spar)
le canard - canard (horizontal stabilizer forward of wing)
l'aile (f) - wing (aileron is a diminutive form of this word)
le train d'atterrissage - landing gear (as in terre, land)
l'hélice (f) - propeller (think 'helix')
le volet - flap (maybe related to voler, to fly?)
le stabilisateur - horizontal stabilizer
la dérive - vertical stabilizer
le gouvernail de direction - rudder
I've taken all these from figure 1 on the first page of Entre Ciel et Terre. Interesting to me is the fact that the gender of the nouns, necessary for using each word correctly in sentences, is not included in the figure. I had to search the text to see which articles were used, or look up the words elsewhere. Obviously a word like aile would be familiar to anyone who spoke French well enough to be using this textbook, and volet is a word with a non-technical meaning that, like English flap, applies to anything that hinges off a main part, but there must be some words on the list that would be new to a new student of aviation. Would they just use their instincts to determine the gender? There are some forms that imply a certain noun gender, but even a native speaker can't predict that with perfect accuracy.
French speaking readers are encouraged to add or correct anything here, and to leave comments on the blog in French, for me to puzzle out, even if you have to use use le subjunctif. And while we're on language, a reader wanted to know how you all pronounce the English words inaugural, jugular, rectangular, and circular. Say where you learned English, and if it's your first language.