Seafarers and the Language of the Sea

Bonjour, hola, ciao, guten tag, namaste, marhaba, Kon’nichiwa, Selamat tengahari, hei, Ni hao, privet, mabuhay and a big welcome to our Seafarers Happiness Index blog on UNESCO, “International Mother Language Day”.

International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) back in November 1999, and has served as a rallying call upon States “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”.

The initiative not only increases awareness of language issues but also supports the implementation of strategies and policies in favour of language diversity and multilingualism in all parts of the world.


Today there is growing awareness that languages play a vital role in development, in ensuring cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, but also in strengthening co-operation and attaining quality education for all, in building inclusive knowledge societies and preserving cultural heritage, and in mobilizing political will for applying the benefits of science and technology to sustainable development.

For seafarers the issue of language is a very sensitive, serious and even emotive issue. We received many responses to the Seafarers Happiness Index from crew who were perhaps in a minority onboard when it came to nationality. They found it incredibly hard to be accepted fully into the fabric of life onboard.

Yes, we know that English is the language to be used for operational matters, and it seems that most seafarers have the level of skill to do so. However, when it comes to the softer side of life onboard, when it comes to relaxing, to engaging and to building a real social unit – the issue of languages becomes very important indeed.


Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”. This captures pretty well the situation onboard many ships. People use their heads when dealing in English with the matters relating to the ship, but when it comes to their own emotional needs, we are perhaps overlooking the importance and implications of language.

Having social cliques onboard is bad enough, but to have them speaking in different languages and building barriers to inclusion and acceptance then that becomes a whole new level and layer of complication.

#28Days #Seafarers #Shipping Also check out the Mission to Seafarers website to learn more that the charity does to address many of the issues raised across these challenges facing shipping.

The Seafarers Happiness Index needs the support of those at sea, and of the shipping industry. So if you would like to be a part of driving positive debate and change – complete the survey or share your thoughts with us.

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