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Investigating the English communicative competence of Chinese seafarers and its effect on their employment in the international maritime labour market

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Fan, L ORCID: 0000-0003-3464-4181 2018 , 'Investigating the English communicative competence of Chinese seafarers and its effect on their employment in the international maritime labour market', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

With the development of technology and the introduction of shipping regulations, the rate of marine accidents has been declining steadily. However, accidents attributable to human factor still remain at a high level. As one aspect of human factors, communication failure accounts for 24% of maritime accidents at sea and still presents an increasing trend. This trend becomes a growing concern in the shipping industry. Effective oral communication among seafarers in every company becomes a compulsory requirement under the Manila Amendments 2010 in order to address the increased frequency of communication-related marine accidents worldwide. Effective communication plays an essential role in ensuring safe, secure and clean shipping.
Communication is a two-way process of conceiving, sending, receiving, interpreting and reacting to messages. A failure at any point in this process may result in ineffective communication. Ineffective communication can be disastrous in the maritime context. Communication involves a sender and a receiver and both of them are responsible for effective communication. Understanding and being understood are equally important for effective communication. Around 80% of the world merchant vessels are crewed with multinational personnel among whom the communication becomes an issue due to different cultures and different accents and usage of English language especially by non-native speakers.
Chinese seafarers were able to pass required English exams and obtain their certificate of competency (CoC) in their maritime education and training institutes. Yet many of them still experience difficulty in communicating with foreign seafarers at sea. Although the number of certified Chinese seafarers has significantly increased in the last two decades, the share of Chinese seafarers in the international maritime labour market remains almost unchanged. For Chinese seafarers to compete in the international maritime labour market, it is not sufficient for them to meet the lowest standards set out in the International Convention on Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) 78/95/2010. They must meet the shipping industry’s demand for English communicative competence. Some researchers claim that English deficiency of Chinese seafarer is one of the barriers for them to work on foreign ships. Other researchers believe that Chinese seafarers have improved their English ability due to much effort and investment made in maritime English education in China in the last two decades.
Currently, there is not only limited research on the level of English communicative competence of Chinese seafarers but a general lack of research on the communicative competence in the maritime context. The concept of communicative competence has been widely used and studied. Frameworks of communicative competence have been developed in different disciplines and for different purposes. However, these frameworks may not be suitable for measuring the communicative competence in the context of modern shipping. The building of the framework in the maritime context can help measure the communicative competence of Chinese seafarers and explore its effect on their competitiveness in the international maritime labour market. Four objectives were established in this study. First, this study tried to develop a framework of communicative competence in the maritime context. Second, based on this framework, this study tried to examine the current level of Chinese seafarers’ communicative competence. Third, this study intended to explore the relationship between the communicative competence of Chinese seafarers and their employability in the international maritime market. Fourth, this study put forward recommendations for the improvement of maritime English education and training in China.
To achieve the research objectives, a mixed method approach was adopted for this study which involved both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Stakeholders’ views from different perspectives were gathered with an online questionnaire and semi-structured interviews. With advertisements for participation posted on seafarer websites, a questionnaire was made available online for 8 months and 235 valid responses were received. The interview participants included 12 seafarers, 12 employers and 25 maritime English teachers. The 12 seafarers were randomly selected from the participants in the questionnaire who volunteered to participate. Using stratified sampling, 12 employers and 25 maritime English teachers were obtained based on the directories of the shipping companies and maritime education and training institutes registered in the China Maritime Safety Administration (CMSA). Semi-structured interviews were conducted face-to-face or by telephone at interviewees’ convenience. The questionnaire data were analysed using SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) software version 22 and the interview data were analysed using NVivo software version 11.
The results of this study show that the framework of communicative competence in the maritime context consists of linguistic competence, intercultural competence, psycholinguistic competence, strategic competence and pragmatic competence. In view of the fact that seafarers of different nationalities are working in a confined space on board, the intercultural and psycholinguistic competences are required in the maritime context. Both employers and maritime English teachers agreed that the overall communicative competence of Chinese seafarers was poor or very poor and it had witnessed a declining trend during the past decade. However, Chinese seafarers held that their communicative competence was fair since they passed all the English exams required for an academic degree and a professional CoC. Both Chinese seafarers and foreign employers agreed that English communicative competence is one of the prerequisites for Chinese seafarers to be employed in the international maritime labour market. The requirement for English communication ability by foreign employers was much higher than that set out in STCW 78/95/2010 since only 10% of Chinese seafarers could pass job interviews conducted by foreign employers due to English communicative incompetence.
Chinese seafarers in this study agreed that English communication knowledge and skills received in maritime education and training institutes could not meet the demand of work and life on board. An inappropriate maritime English examinations system and boring maritime English teaching methods were highlighted by the Chinese seafarers. Most maritime English teachers interviewed agreed that the inappropriate maritime English examination system and textbooks as well as well as poor English foundation of maritime students were contributable to the unsatisfactory maritime English education and training in China. Foreign employers generally showed their concerns about the quality of maritime English education in China, especially the quality of maritime English teachers. The findings also indicated that there was a great lack of needs analysis for maritime English teaching and learning in China while needs analysis is indispensable for maritime English as a subset of English for Specific Purposes (ESP).
It is suggested that the examinations and teaching materials should be revised to cater for English communicative teaching and learning in order to ensure that maritime English education is consistent with the communication demand of the international shipping market. Oral communication accounts for more than 85% of the total communication for a deck officer on board. However, instead of oral communication ability, reading ability is greatly emphasised in maritime English education and training in China. It is imperative to change this predicament. This work requires a close cooperation between China Maritime Safety Administration, maritime education and training institutes and shipping companies. Chinese seafarers gave top priority to ‘immersing in an English speaking environment’ and ‘encouraging learners to speak freely’. Currently, almost all maritime courses are delivered in Chinese and maritime English courses are mainly taught with a traditional grammar-translation method. The grammar–translation classes are dominated by maritime English teachers who endeavour to explain grammatical rules in Chinese. Instead of an English-medium education, it is a Chinese-medium maritime education and training since Chinese language is used as the primary medium of instruction. A lack of English speaking environment can greatly contribute to ‘dumb English’ which is a phenomenon that students can read English but cannot speak it well. In China, there is a limited English speaking environment except that in the classroom. In order for learners to be immersed in an English speaking environment as much as possible, it is necessary to write maritime courses bilingually to facilitate teaching maritime courses bilingually. A combination of ‘teaching maritime English in English’ and ‘teaching maritime courses bilingually’ was proposed. Within a favourable English learning environment, learners can be motivated and free to speak English with confidence. Furthermore, online maritime English education can be adopted by integrating interactive online learning activities which may help address the issue of lack of interactive communication practice found in this research.
This study developed a framework of communicative competence in the maritime context and opens new avenues for research on communicative competence in the maritime context. Based on the framework, this study is the first to provide empirical research on the communicative competence of Chinese seafarers and its effect on their employment in the international maritime labour market. The future research may include how to operationalise the framework of communicative competence and how to apply it to maritime English teaching and learning and assessments. Future research may investigate innovative learning and teaching methods in maritime English education in China and the effectiveness of these methods in improving communicative competence of Chinese seafarers.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Fan, L
Keywords: Maritime education and training, communicative competence, maritime english, seafarers, maritime labour market, employability
DOI / ID Number: 10.25959/100.00028685
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2018 the author

Additional Information:

Chapter 4 section 3 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: Fan, L., Fei, J., Schriever, U., Fan, S., 2017. The communicative competence of Chinese seafarers and their employability in the International maritime labour market, Marine policy, 83, 135-145

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