What language should be used in maritime training? The maritime industry, by definition, is international. Yet mariners from all corners of the earth are required to work together, communicate and interact.

Sometimes we find similar problems in such unexpected places I was really interested today in this:

“There is hence a common practice that in non-English-speaking countries and regions seafarers are completely educated and trained in [their] native language except for the maritime English course… [This may] give rise to an academic knowledge gap between the transfer from English to [the] native language and further causes a delay for seafarers to appropriately apply the academic knowledge in the real English-working environment onboard.”

It says exactly the same thing that I having been saying to colleagues alike for nearly 20 years but without the children being able to back me up I have been  a lone voice until I found similar thinking people.  Here from the maritime industry is a debate which clearly looks just at prior learning and the need to just know the technical words in the language required. I could not have said it better myself.  Perhaps the conclusion they come to will help those of us in education who are still knocking at brick walls on occasion.  I will keep an eye and update.

also interesting food for thought is this

Standard English maritime testing, such as MarTEL, has been created and employed to further ensure a minimum universal communication proficiency. This is all good and necessary, but it does not negate the fact that English is not the native language of most mariners, and that by some accounts 80% of maritime accidents are caused by human error, with 50% being attributable to poor communication.

The full article which is actually quite interesting can be found here


The Problem

According to Chen and Geng, most MET institutions provide instruction wholly in the native language of the students. Yet this creates a problem:

“There is common practice that in non-English-speaking countries and regions seafarers are completely educated and trained in [their] native language except for the maritime English course… [This may] give rise to an academic knowledge gap between the transfer from English to [the] native language and further causes a delay for seafarers to appropriately apply the academic knowledge in the real English-working environment onboard.”

The authors further reflect that teaching non-English speakers wholly in English is impractical at best, and is therefore not a viable alternative. Instead, they propose bilingual MET.

Bilingual Education

The authors describe bilingual education as follows:

“Bilingual education involves curriculum instruction used alternatively in two languages. In the broad sense, bilingual education is a strategic approach to deal with the proficiency relationship between a minority language and a majority one for the student …. However, in the specific sense, bilingual education is mainly focusing on the method that the lecturers use alternatively two languages in class, very often a native and a secondary language.”

They describe two general forms of bilingual education – additive, and subtractive. In the first, the goal is to add new knowledge by teaching that knowledge in the non-native language. In the latter form, the goal is to replace existing native-language knowledge using terms from the new language. In the words of Chen and Geng:

“[Bilingual education can] either be additive or subtractive, being premised either on the value of adding academic knowledge of another language to that of the student’s existing language repertoire or, conversely, of losing or replacing one of language with another.”

The authors talk about ways to measure success of bilingual education – notably there are two goals that it is meant to address:

  1. Language and literacy development – the main goal here being to make non-English speakers proficient in English by teaching them domain-specific knowledge in the language they are to use when operating in that domain (as mariners).
  2. Academic achievement – it must be acknowledged that it is not sufficient that the students learn English. They must also, of course, learn the topic of instruction.

Bilingual MET in China

According to the authors, as early as 2001, the Chinese ministry of Education had implemented bilingual education in universities and colleges as a way to “cultivate the international talents to meet the educational challenge of the future”. In 2011, the Shanghai Maritime University launched a bilingual Bridge Navigational Systems course. In this course, teachers are selected who are at least Second Mates and who have significant seagoing experience. They are also selected to have proficiency and academic knowledge of the subject both in English and Chinese.

“[The] teaching syllabus is also developed in both languages. Students … are provided with both the Chinese textbook and original English one including the English electronic slides. The academic knowledge in class is introduced in full English firstly and then repeated in Chinese if students [have any] doubt. Assessment is conducted in English.”

So clearly there is a good deal of English used in the course, and the students are supported with materials both in their native language and English. I find it particularly interesting that assessments were conducted in English. This, no doubt, was an instrumental factor in providing the necessary incentive and motivation for students to make use of, and pay attention to, the English language materials even though this would have required more effort on their part.

Although the authors do not present any empirical evidence of the program’s success, they do provide the following:

“According to the assessment results and the participation activities of the students in class, it is concluded that students were well motivated and expressed high enthusiasm to attend this class since their maritime English and academic knowledge were also further improved compared to the students’ instructed in full Chinese language.”


The authors conclude that while bilingual MET does create additional burdens for instructors (such as additional time, costs and a higher degree of language and pedagogical competence), they feel as though the positive outcomes are worth it. Indeed, at the very least this is an area that deserves further experimentation and analysis. It would be great to hear from any readers who have experience in this area – either as instructors or as trainees.

About The Author:

Murray Goldberg is the founder and President of Marine Learning Systems (www.marinels.com), the creator of MarineLMS – the learning management system designed specifically for maritime industry training. Murray began research in eLearning in 1995 as a faculty member of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia. He went on to create WebCT, the world’s first commercially successful LMS for higher education; serving 14 million students in 80 countries. Murray has won over a dozen University, National and International awards for teaching excellence and his pioneering contributions to the field of educational technology. Now, in Marine Learning Systems, Murray is hoping to play a part in advancing the art and science of learning in the maritime industry.

UCR trains teachers for bilingual classes

Here is an interesting story about the neeed for qualified teachers in bilingual schools and the innovative way that online work is used to help support the adults whilst learning. I think that we shall see more use of online lessons as the austerity measures bite and adult learners need to work their way through their teaching qualifications.

The hybrid class includes class meetings and online work, so it fits in the schedule of teachers such as Pablo Ramirez, a Rubidoux High School math teacher.


Ramirez said he hopes to teach in a dual immersion classroom once Jurupa expands its program beyond elementary schools.


Jurupa started its first dual immersion class five years ago at Sunnyslope Elementary and another last year at Stone Avenue Elementary, said Martha Gomez, director of language services for the district.


The first class of dual immersion students at those schools will start fifth grade and first grade, respectively, next month. The schools plan to add another grade to the program each year until dual immersion goes through middle school and high school, she said.



Schools need to operate as Ethical communities

Sir Michael Barber discusses Education at this week Education Summit and says that Schools need to operate as ethical communities and learners need to get on with people from different backgrounds and should be improved so that  global education does not  change at the geographical borders.We need as teachers, schools and educationalist to teach our learners to become World Citizens.

I believe that those of us who are already embracing bilingualism and multilingualism are already embracing this and are already developing ethical communities, but those of us who are using a learners previous experiences to build on then we are further forward than most. What needs to come next is assessment and global assessment so that if you have a grade C for argument in China it means the same in the UK…a really big ask but certainly something to be working towards. He suggests that if we look towards the new video games that is how assessment will need to look in the future as that is how the children are used to learning.

Some EAL educationalist in the UK still want new arrivals to start at their starting point rather than the new arrivals starting point as it is easier for them  What we need are tools to be able to communicate with each other successfully, because in an ideal world no one no matter how clever will ever be able to learn and communicate successfully in 6000 languages, as Lord Green says ‘it is a skilful country that will succeed in the world as large, we need to equip children with life skills’.

E (K+T+L) is the equation that Michael believes everyone in Education should be working towards.  E =  the Ethical Communities, K= knowledge, T=thinking and L=leadership skills

See more of his speech at:


and also Jim Wynn from Promethean at