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TRAINING MULTILINGUALISM AT SEA


(Presented at the 16
th
International Conference on Maritime Transport and Infrastructure 2014 at Riga)
Erik Hemming
land University of Applied Sciences, e-mail of presenting author: ehe@ha.ax
Abstract
INTERMAR is a project designed to facilitate the reciprocal understanding and learning of languages
through intercomprehension in a maritime context. It is a fact that English remains the professional
maritime language, but in many situations, good communication fails due to a single-minded belief that
anything that is not English is incomprehensible. In order to change this attitude, Intermar departs from
the belief that the life-long learning of several languages and deeper understanding of other cultures are
keys to success. Improved communication will be one of the expected outcomes.
Introduction
Failed communication is at the root of a majority of all accidents and incidents at sea. By this is meant
both the communication that takes place on board the ships and the one between ships and ships to shore.
Whereas the latter is dominated by English in international trade, the first is characterized by the use of
many different languages, even though the official working language of shipping companies might be
English. Since the work force many times is recruited from different countries, the issue of a working
language is very complicated and important.
Since language is the most important vehicle of culture, the fact that communication on board ships takes
place between speakers of different languages will inevitably also involve intercultural communication
also in purely technical discussions, in the form of ideas about hierarchy, individualism, non-verbal
communication, work ethics, time management, etc. if, added to this, the communication is carried out in
insufficiently competent English, then failed communication is clearly within reach.
The EU project INTERMAR is a project designed to facilitate the reciprocal understanding and learning
of languages through intercomprehension in a maritime context. It is a fact that English remains the
professional maritime language, but in many situations, good communication fails due to a single-minded
belief that anything that is not English is incomprehensible. In order to change this attitude, Intermar
departs from the belief that the life-long learning of several languages and deeper understanding of other
cultures are keys to success. Improved communication will be one of the expected outcomes.
(INTERMAR, 2013)
The partner consortium is composed of 18 institutions including European maritime colleges, both
merchant marine and naval, as well as universities with a language training component. A 3 ECTS credit
module was created in 2012 and 2013 to be used in maritime language training in higher education. The
basic idea is that related languages are understandable when used in specific contexts, both oral situations
and texts.

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English as lingua franca at sea
The IMO is at loss when it comes to strategies to remedy these communication challenges related to the
lack of common verbal language and cultural mind-set. Even vague formulae like ability to understand
orders and to communicate with the officer of the watch on matters relevant to watch-keeping duties.
(International Maritime Organisation, 1996) are few and far between. In fact, the words culture and
human factor are not mentioned at all in the STCW convention (Karlsson, 2013). Since nothing is stated
in the convention it cannot be expected that the topic is taken up by maritime training institutions.
Nor does the ISM code touch this issue more than lightly: The Company should ensure that the ships
personnel are able to communicate effectively in the execution of their duties related to the safety
management system (International Maritime Organisation, 2010) is a phrase a little too open for
interpretation.
Sadly, there is little support for the hope that the training of the Standard Maritime Communication
Phrases which is inscribed in the STCW convention bears fruit in the form of better communication or
even of being used at all. Of course, it must be very hard to be the one who is supposed to introduce that
type of formalised communication for a person who just has left school and grapples with a low rank in
the hierarchy on board. Language is after all just social behaviour and such is normally directed and
spread from above or from the centre in a social system (ArticleWorld, 2014).
Intercultural Communication
Failed intercultural communication is characterized by segregation which is a typical feature on board
ships in the international merchant navy. It is firmly structured in differences in rank, salary, contracts
types, accommodation, etc. and is counteracted by the by-product of segregation, namely stereotyping and
prejudice. By never really communicating as humans the learning process which is necessary to be able to
overcome obstacles never gets to start. Language problems add to this entrenchment.
Here too the change must come from above and the centre for communication to open up between
subgroups. One way of coming to grips with language barriers is to explore the life-long learning of
languages and cultures that is offered by proponents of intercomprehension. This method is maybe not
much talked about, yet it is used on board many ships, saving the from failed communication certainly
in the cases when crewmembers speak different but not very distant languages and do not understand
English, at least not better than the other available languages. (Trygg Mnsson, 2014)
Intercomprehension and Multilingualism
Intercomprehension may be theoretically defined as the process of co-constructing meaning in
intercultural/interlinguistic contexts (Capucho, 2002) or, more simply, as a form of communication in
which each person would use his or her own language and would be able to understand that of the other(s)
(cf. Doy 2005: 7).
One of the potential fields to which intercomprehension strategies would be of most benefit is the
maritime one. Seafarers come into frequent contact with different languages both on board and ashore. In
addition they are required to live and work with colleagues from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Which is the pedagogy of intercomprehension? It is to try to understand texts in languages that are
unknown or little known but related to ones own language/s, by means of the similarities between the
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languages and the context from which the text is taken (and ones own experience from similar situations
and other cultural knowledge one has acquired). (Janin, 2006)
Where and when?
It has been suggested by the workgroup behind the European Union initiative INTERMAR
(Intercomprehension at Sea) that intercomprehension be used with moderation but with persistence by
crewmembers in order to improve relationships and to slowly get used to hearing more languages and
trying to understand what people mean when they say things (or write). In many situations, good
communication fails due to a single-minded belief that anything that is not English is incomprehensible
(INTERMAR, 2013). Hence the mind map in figure 1 has been drawn up.

Figure 1. When and where to use intercomprehension (INTERMAR, 2013)
Training multilingualism
In order to start early in the lives of mariners the course module INTERMAR was designed for use at
Maritime and Naval Academies throughout Europe. It was launched in 2013 after a year of trials at eight
academies. As was pointed out at the official launching ceremony in Lisbon in 2013, it is always difficult
to make room for a new module in tight curricula. In addition, this one builds on quite unorthodox ideas,
at least when seen from an academic perspective. It will be possible to insert the syllabus in different
ways at different institutions, but these are the sections to work with (figure 2):
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Figure 2. Subsections of the course module (INTERMAR, 2013)
The blended learning in the figure means a mix of online work, group work with tasks, and in-class
follow-up activities and drawing of conclusions. Hence the 60 hours can be reduced to 30 on the
timetable. It is often the case that navigation students have full days of in-class studies, unlike, say,
language students. Therefore it has been a challenge to convince managements to insert this course on the
curricula. However, it is clear to most people involved in education that new technology is heralding new
ways of learning for new generations (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005).
It is strange to think that the main objective of INTERMAR is NOT to remember words or to learn
grammar, NOR to write or speak the languages. Instead the focus lies on developing strategies concerning
how to USE languages one hasnt studied, mainly in the process of making sense of texts (spoken or
written) in contexts. This is a deeply human activity so it is clearly within reach. De Beaugrande puts it
aptly: Making sense of a text is very much a special case of making sense of the world (de Beaugrande,
1980).
Instead the target competences can be summed up as in the land University of Applied Sciences
syllabus, refer to table 1.
Table 1. Learning outcomes from an Intermar syllabus example (land University of Applied Sciences, 2012)
Ability to use languages that one never has studied (specified as the following objectives):
Ability to make sense of written and spoken texts in foreign languages.
Ability to use context and linguistic similarities as keys in the decoding process.
Ability to read closely and to listen attentively to foreign languages.
Ability to use Internet resources as tools and as sources of information and entertainment.
Ability to decode English pronounced in foreign accents.
Understanding of ones own ways of learning.
A positive attitude to foreign languages and cultures.

If these outcomes are reached (even partly) it is likely that students develop receptive competences that
can be measured in test-like situations. In languages that are similar to the ones one already has studied or
used perhaps even up to level B2 on the CEFR scale after just a dozen hours of training (Council of
Europe, 2011). Depending on decreasing similarity that level will approach A1 and far below but never
go down to zero, see the de Beaugrande quote again!

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Conclusion
Nobody knows what the challenges of new generations are to be. If globalization continues to drive our
cultural development, multilingualism will be there for a long time to come. Employing inexpensive crews
means that the problem of insufficient competence in English will stay on for a long time. What can be
done now is to embrace the present situation and see it as full of opportunities. Sailors dont wait for the
windfall; they learn to sail. Manoeuvring the oceans of human communication is an opportunity that is
brought to most people by means of information and communication technologies. Yet only few venture
out, beyond the Pillars of Hercules to navigate the unchartered waters of human communication.
INTERMAR seeks to change that.
References
Capucho, F. M. (2002). The Role of Intercomprehension in the Construction of European Citizenship. Viseu:
Universidade Catlica Portuguesa.
Doy, P. (2005). Intercomprehension. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.
Grech, M. R., Horberry, T. J., & Koester, T. (2008). Human Factors in the Maritime Domain. Boca Raton: CRC
Press.
INTERMAR. (2013). Welcome. Retrieved March 3, 2014, from INTERMAR: www.intermar.ax
International Maritime Organization. (1996). International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and
Watchkeeping for Seafarers. London: International Maritime Organization.
International Maritime Organization. (2010). International Safety Management Code. London: International
Maritime Organization.
Karlsson, E. (2013). Regulations and Communication on-board a ship. Gothenburg: Chalmers University of
Technology.
Trygg Mnsson, J. (2014). Lingua Franca at Sea -The use of a Common Language at Sea. Gothenburg: Chalmers
University of Technology.