Skip to content

Overcoming Language Barriers

Safety4Sea has published an excellent article on issues with language barriers at sea. The article can be found here.

Language barriers are a common challenge in the shipping environment with multinational, multilingual and multicultural crew. What native speakers often don’t realize is that their own way of speaking the language ‘correctly’ can be as big a barrier as the listener’s limited comprehension of the language, thus creating a barrier to effective communication.  The article highlights some clear principles for overcoming language barriers.

  • Speak slowly and clearly, don’t rush through your communication; 
  • If in doubt – ASK: Ask for clarification. If you are not 100% sure you’ve understood what others say, politely ask for them to make it clearer. Don’t assume you’ve understood what’s been said;
  • Frequently check for understanding. Use two-way communication and reflective listening – repeat back what you have heard;
  • Be specific. Spell out your expectations and deadlines clearly; 
  • Be patient. Cross-cultural communication takes more time. 

The full article can be found here:

Members may wish to refer to:

IMCA Safety Flashes summarise key safety matters and incidents, allowing lessons to be more easily learnt for the benefit of all. The effectiveness of the IMCA Safety Flash system depends on Members sharing information and so avoiding repeat incidents. Please consider adding [email protected] to your internal distribution list for safety alerts or manually submitting information on incidents you consider may be relevant. All information is anonymised or sanitised, as appropriate.

IMCA’s store terms and conditions ( apply to all downloads from IMCA’s website, including this document.

IMCA makes every effort to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data contained in the documents it publishes, but IMCA shall not be liable for any guidance and/or recommendation and/or statement herein contained. The information contained in this document does not fulfil or replace any individual’s or Member's legal, regulatory or other duties or obligations in respect of their operations. Individuals and Members remain solely responsible for the safe, lawful and proper conduct of their operations.