Maritime English Language Proficiency

Maritime English Language Proficiency

Exam for Language Proficiency Requirements

This document is a brief representation of the program relating to the implementation of a system for evaluating the level of English as a recognized language in maritime communications.

The promoter, AFAN, is already a certified institution for the provision of a test called AELP, recognized by ENAC as one of the official tests for certifying the English level of pilots in the Civil Aviation sector. The organization benefits from a managerial and management structure already active in the provision of English tests. These activities certify the skills and know-how necessary for the implementation of the new project in the Maritime sector.

The composition of crews has undergone profound changes and it is now a constant practice for shipping companies to use mixed crews on board. It has been calculated that on board large cruise ships there are seafarers from dozens of states (up to 80 different ethnic groups have been found).

This makes it clear that a common language needs to be used!

The safety of cargo or passengers, vessels, personnel on board and of the sea therefore depends on the presence of highly qualified and up-to-date seafarers!

Maritime English is therefore the variant that has established itself as the international language of the maritime community, derived from the jargon of English fishermen and sailors but which has become increasingly closer to standard English as the decades have passed.

90-95% of the staff are not native English speakers, and the percentage regarding officers is similar as only 10% of them consider English to be their L1!

Maritme English Language Proficiency rome ciampino

Since 1973, English has been the only working language recognized by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the independent and permanent body that promotes cooperation in the maritime sector and regulates navigation at an international level.

AFAN's work has aimed at the establishment of a verification exam with criteria equivalent to the ICAO Language Proficiency in the language filter of the maritime sector. The MELP Test has implemented the standards introduced in phraseological matters with the explicit intention of reducing lexical richness, so as to ensure maximum intelligibility and the lowest possible degree of misunderstandings. As ESP, Maritime English therefore tends to minimize the polysemy of the English language, often choosing the least common alternative from multiple lexical items.


In Italy there are currently fifteen maritime headquarters where it is possible to take the state exam to obtain the qualification for the maritime profession. From an analysis of the ministerial decree, it can be deduced that a written translation test and an oral one aimed at assessing knowledge of Standard Marine Navigation Vocabulary and Standard Marine Communication Phrases are offered.

As regards the verification of specific competence in Maritime English, the translation method, whether oral or written, stands out more clearly (67%); However, 26% stated that they were given a closed-ended test, while just four respondents carried out a listening test, and only two carried out a simulation. 11% of participants also claim that they have not been subjected to any specific tests regarding Maritime English and 40.4%, almost half, say that SMCPs were not tested during their exam.


In this regard, it has emerged that companies require rather arbitrary levels of linguistic competence, and that they often verify this themselves or refer to private language training institutions; therefore we cannot always speak of real certification. 52% of the cross-section claim to have an English language certification, while 19% obtained it in Maritime English. Only 30% are aware of the existence of sector certification bodies.

Source: survey on MARITIME ENGLISH STANDARD University of Genoa ‘2020 "A common base for the effectiveness of communication on board".


The exam implemented by AFAN will be carried out in a standardized manner, following schematic parts with the feature of maintaining a high communicative interaction with the examiner.

The examiners

Examiners will be subject to regular checks to verify compliance with the training and exam delivery methods, as per the Afan Quality System instructions. On the day of the test, AFAN will send the examiner an indication of the material to be used in the exam. This is done for security reasons. The examiner will have time to prepare adequately in order to manage and conduct the exam in a natural way keeping to the schedule. Questions and instructions to candidates will be provided in a clear and natural manner. During the test, the examiner will ask questions/instructions which he can reformulate to facilitate the candidate's understanding. This is also very important with regards to the instructions in order to avoid misunderstandings or disputes.

If candidates use abbreviations or technical terms, the examiner will ask for explanations of them, trying to get the candidate to discuss the topic/acronym/subject. This will help to better understand the candidate's language skills, as it forces him to speak and discuss for a certain amount of time. The examiner will have tools and help desk staff available to check any doubtful and/or incorrect expressions for the case. AFAN will vary the material as much as possible, mixing the different exam sets randomly. On each form used, the examiner will place the number of the assigned test, i.e. the one sent by AFAN.

THE TEST – duration approx. 1 h 15 mins


The examiner will record the introduction message before the candidate enters the room. He will pause the recording and welcome him to the test room. Before starting, he will speak for a few minutes with the candidate himself in order to put him at ease, thus creating a more relaxed environment.

The examiner will be required to check that the candidate does not have a mobile phone or any other electronic devices with him. If so, he will make sure they are turned off or left safely in another room.

He will check his and make sure that all personal data corresponds to that received during the exam registration phase. If not (e.g. incorrect name or no ID), he will make the necessary corrections and promptly inform the AFAN offices who will proceed with a formal check and give authorization to complete the test.

MELP aims to test the following skills Listening, Reading, Structure, Vocabulary, Interaction and Fluency.

Part 1 - Initial questionnaire

This part lasts about 7-8 minutes. The examiner will ask the candidate general questions regarding his life, work and/or interest in sailing. He will try to put the candidate at ease. Questions will be asked clearly and reformulated if necessary.

If the examiner deems it appropriate, he may add further questions to ensure that the candidate explains the topics in a more comprehensive way (however, there will be a tendency never to exceed one minute per answer. 40 seconds is the ideal estimated time). If the candidate's answer is too short, the examiner will ask some follow-up questions “How/Why…” or “Anything else…” … etc.

Part 2 - Listening comprehension

This part lasts approximately 10-15 minutes and is divided into 2 sections. The first part consists of 10 audio messages that the candidate must repeat. These can be repeated using the same words as the track or by paraphrasing. Candidates are not allowed to take notes in this part.

At the end of each message the examiner will ask. "What did they say?"

Candidates may ask to have the message repeated, in which case the examiner will repeat it only once. Messages cannot be repeated more than once. If the candidate asks to have it repeated again, the examiner will reply that it is not allowed and will move on to the next message. If a candidate does not respond within 10 seconds and does not ask for the message to be repeated, the examiner will move on to the next one. The tracks can be repeated only at the request of the candidate. The examiner will remind the candidate that he must repeat the entire message in full. Therefore, candidates cannot repeat one part of the message after hearing it the first time and the other part after hearing it the second time.

After the candidate has finished repeating, the examiner will move on to the next message. Once the first part of the listening is finished, he will move on to the next listening section. In this second part, candidates will carry out a “Fill in the gaps” exercise. The examiner will tell the candidate that he should write the missing words while listening to the audio and that he is not interested in his spelling skills.

The candidate should do this exercise in one shot and if he asks to listen again, he will not be able to achieve the highest level. The highest level in this part can only be achieved if all answers are correct and given after one listening.

Part 3 - Reading comprehension

This part lasts approximately 30 minutes and is divided into 2 sections. 10 minutes for reading, 20 minutes for use of English (grammar and vocabulary). This can be done via computer or can be completed on paper using a printed answer sheet.

The first part is a reading comprehension consisting of 2 texts to be read followed by 15 multiple choice questions to test the candidate's understanding of the text.

The second part is a test of the candidate's use of English.

It is made up of 2 exercises: the first is based on vocabulary and the second on grammar.

At the end of this section, the examiner should check that the candidate has answered all parts on the answer sheet.

Part 4 - Pictures and discussion

This part lasts about 10 minutes. In the first section, the candidate will be given a photo while the examiner will ask them some questions about the photo. After the candidate has finished answering the questions about the first photo, he will move on to the next one.

Once he has finished answering the questions regarding the second photo, he will proceed to a topic chosen from those given in the manual and the examiner will ask the candidate the last series of questions. At the discretion of the examiner, further supporting questions may be asked.

With the completion of the final part, the test is ended and the examiner moves on to the assessment and subsequently submits an evaluation sheet to the AFAN desk. In the event of a positive result, the certificate will be issued according to the times and methods established by AFAN.


The AFAN management will be able to inspect the exam through the recording and contest the examiner's assessment, using the judgment of a second linguistic expert if necessary. They will also be able to re-assess the result by starting a procedure towards the examiner to understand his evaluating ability.

The exam material is confidential and regularly screened, the exam cards are chosen randomly.

Please refer to a practical test to understand the full assessment ability of the MELP TEST.