Executive summary

INTERMAR promotes innovative practices in foreign language learning, based on intercomprehension processes, for maritime professionals in Europe, in the context of initial or in-service training activities offered to navy personnel and seafarers.

The notion of Intercomprehension (IC) is one of the most productive concepts that have entered the field of language learning methodologies in the late ‘90s, aiming at the development of plurilingualism. It may be theoretically defined as “the process of co-constructing meaning in intercultural/interlinguistic contexts” (Capucho, 2011) or, more simply, as a form of communication in which each person would use his or her own language and would be able to understand that of the other(s) (cf. Doyé 2005: 7).

The innovative aspect of IC consists mainly in this idea of being able to understand a language in spite of not having learnt it before. It is, in fact, a natural form of communication, based on mutual comprehension. Speakers of related languages, for example Scandinavian languages or Romance languages, can often understand one another. This natural ability may be transferred to the context of formal Language Learning in order to develop plurilingual comprehension skills in a quick and effective way.

Before the 90s, this idea was accepted by the common sense of all those who travelled through the world or by inhabitants of border regions, but would not have been imaginable in the context of formal school learning. Since then, a wide range of learning materials has been produced in the context of several European projects, but, in reality, IC is still almost unknown and existing materials are not commonly used.

One of the potential fields to which IC strategies would be of most benefit is the maritime one. Seafarers come into frequent contact with different languages both on board and ashore. In addition they are required to live and work with colleagues from diverse cultural backgrounds. English is the lingua franca at sea. However, as a means of bolstering effective communication, plurilingual strategies and skills must be considered a bonus. An understanding of other languages and cultures will foster better human relationships, enhance the wellbeing of the seafarer and in general prove invaluable for today’s multilingual, multi-ethnic crews.

Double synergies may be developed between the learning of Maritime English and the construction of IC competences, paving the way to learning other languages through IC specific activities and tasks. This will lead to improved communication and safety on-board.

Therefore,the aim of INTERMAR is to create a European community of maritime and naval institutions that share an IC approach to foreign languages. It has started from the already existing materials, but has built new adapted products to create an effective course tool box, available online on a learning platform provided by Sorbonne 3 in Paris.

On the Sorbonne platform, teachers and learners may find uniquely designed modules focussing on intercomprehension in Romance Languages, Germanic Languages, Baltic Languages and Russian, Intercultural Awareness and Maritime English. Modules contain task-based learning materials, many set in a maritime context, and teachers’ guidelines. Assessment tools are also provided to evaluate the learner in the Language Modules and through the whole process.

Blended 60-hour courses, where the modules are used according the specific needs of each institution, are being piloted in 8 Naval and Maritime Academies during the academic year of 2012 – 2013. The results of the piloting phase will allow any necessary reformulation to the materials, and the detailed design of efficient course structures, to be developed in the Naval and MET formal syllabi. Experts in IC from a wide range of EU countries, who integrate the Redinter network, will be available to teach these courses or to give systematic pedagogical support to local teachers who will want to do it.

From September 2013, the materials are freely downloadable from www.intermar.ax, the web page of the project.


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