There are numerous advantages, and some challenges too, when it comes to a living the typical seafarer's life at sea. And the very nature of the maritime industry means that crew members of all levels of experience will find themselves working alongside people who hail from different cultural backgrounds, and who speak a different language.

The tired old cliche of native English speakers being able to get by speaking English L-O-U-D-L-Y is exactly that - a tired old cliche. Therefore it falls to seafarers of all nationalities to do the very best they can to overcome language barriers while working in one of of the many maritime jobs to choose from.

English: the lingua franca for life at sea

But that can be easier said than done and it may be tempting to argue that English is the lingua franca that shipping companies throughout industry, and indeed global business, operates upon. However for native English speaking seafarers to attempt to communicate in another tongue the outcome will usually only be a positive one.

person shouting into homemade tin can telephone

Firstly, showing respect for another culture is a huge deal and whether you’re a ship owner or manager, a cadet or an officer, being empathetic to the different nationalities you have on board will help to foster a mutually respectful workplace.

It's a part of crew management and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that when all crew members feel appreciated and valued - regardless of their background, religion, language or ethnicity - they will likely be a more engaged and loyal workforce.

Hello, Kamusta, Привет, Hola, Здрастуйте

Respect is really the foundation of conquering communication issues and at its most basic a seafarer can show consideration by at least knowing which language their fellow crew members are speaking.

Maritime jobs can be challenging but learning a few key words and phrases in the languages that are likely to be encountered on board will go a long way to helping create a friendlier and more favourable working atmosphere.

large metal sign studded with light bulbs saying Hola

These words could be as simple as ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in Russian or more technical and industry related in Tagalog.

One thing that is important in crew management and that shipping companies should instill in senior crew is that when communicating in English with non-native speakers, using simple and direct speech will help get the message across and avoid misunderstandings. That means not using slang or idioms and only using jargon when necessary and when it has been established that everybody knows its meaning.

Language training in maritime jobs

On a similar note, using visual methods of communication - such as charts, diagrams, drawings, and pictographs - will be helpful for all crew members, regardless of language, particularly during training sessions.

And while we’re on the subject of training for maritime jobs, shipping companies may also want to consider introducing language classes as a crew management tactic. These could be informal and fun or related to different topics such as navigation at sea or trigonometry in marine engineering.

chalkboard with the words past future present written on in white chalk

Of course language classes can go both ways and will be extremely beneficial for non-native English speakers who need to learn specialized words and terms related to the maritime industry.

However for English speakers who are on board a vessel mostly crewed by Ukrainians or Filipinos, learning basic communication in their fellow seamen's mother tongue will go a long way to ensuring a safer, more efficient and amicable voyage.

There are challenges that come with any seafarer's life at sea but they don’t have to be insurmountable and the likelihood is that the ship as a whole will benefit from having a crew that can communicate more efficiently and effectively.

seven yellow balls with emoji faces sitting on shiny surface

Not only that but the well-being of those on-board will increase as they are given the language skills to be more productive in their working life and more social in their downtime.

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