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Acceptance of, opposition to and competency levels in maritime English as seen by seafarers


Schriever, UG, Acceptance of, opposition to and competency levels in maritime English as seen by seafarers, Proceedings of the 21st International Maritime English Conference, 6-10 October, Szczecin, Poland, pp. 1-19. ISBN 9788389901378 (2009) [Non Refereed Conference Paper]

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In this gathering of professionals – educators, representatives of commercial language training bodies as well as seafarers - you have looked at the development of Maritime English for many years. The group met for the first time in my home town of Hamburg 28 years ago, at a time when I was still happily at sea and blissfully unaware that an effort was being made to unify international seafarers by promoting a common language which was essentially meant to make the seas safer and trading more effective. Much of what you have done in this group has in fact brought us nearer to that goal.

Having spent 25 years at sea and having then had the pleasure of teaching seafarers from many different nationalities at the AMC, there were some queries which kept recurring to me in an initially amorphous way again and again when it came to communications. I have tried to put these questions into an articulate form and then attempted to find some valid answers. The survey was ethnographic in nature and a quantitative technique – a questionnaire – was used along with the qualitative tools of interviews and case studies.

The areas of inquiry, as I formulated them, were as follows:

  • investigate the perception among seafarers for the need of a common language and how they see the viability of the English language to fulfil that role,
  • reveal any possible opposition for cultural, political or religious reasons shown by individuals to having the English language imposed on them,
  • determine the efficacy and the limitations of a codified language as in the SMCP and to investigate the frequency of incidents in the maritime sector where communication was ineffective and led to mishaps or contributed in an adverse way to the outcome of accidents,
  • examine the status of English language proficiency among seafarers today and seek the seafarer’s opinion on what level of Maritime English competence should exist for different ranks on board international trading vessels.

There is simply not enough time in this forum to go through the findings of all three strategies and I will refine myself to the technique of the questionnaire only. This should keep the "real" researchers among us happy. I have to say, though, that the most enjoyable exercise of the survey was that of the interview. These lasted from 40 minutes to an hour, were held in a semi-formal style and you could almost feel the wind in your hair and the ship roll as the conversation flowed.

However, as mentioned, I would like to look only at the results of the questionnaire in my presentation today. I have, for the purpose of this talk, selected the questions in a sequence which fits the array of the research as I presented it earlier.

In this presentation I will portray the view of seafarers in today’s industry in regard to:

  • a common language at sea;
  • the capacity of English to fulfil that role;
  • reservations about English;
  • the usage of the SMCP;
  • miscommunication through deficient language skills;
  • the Maritime English competency of seafarers today.
The summary contains conclusions and some thoughts which we in the industry and in maritime education will have to deliberate on in the future.

Item Details

Item Type:Non Refereed Conference Paper
Keywords:maritime English
Research Division:Language, Communication and Culture
Research Group:Other language, communication and culture
Research Field:Other language, communication and culture not elsewhere classified
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Communication
Objective Field:Communication across languages and culture
UTAS Author:Schriever, UG (Dr Ulf Schriever)
ID Code:82813
Year Published:2009
Deposited By:NC Ports and Shipping
Deposited On:2013-02-19
Last Modified:2013-02-19
Downloads:1 View Download Statistics

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