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I’ll admit it… Rebecca and I have been slacking off on our French lessons for the past couple of weeks. We were very consistent for 2 months or so, completing our lessons every day. The sessions got pretty tough though so perhaps that helped us to fall into this slump. We have still been thinking about it though and when faced with the opportunity here in Martinique, we have been doing our best to communicate in the local tongue.

One thing we have not fully been able to do it decipher the Coast Guard announcements that are routinely broadcast here only in French. It strikes us as very odd that the CG will go to the trouble to broadcast a security announcement but then do so only in French. It’s not like they don’t have someone at their office who can speak English because they do, as evidenced by the fact that they will repeat Mayday calls in both English and French. A security (Securité) broadcast is pretty important too though and it’s perplexing why they don’t consider them worthy of translation. Is that log floating out on the water only going to be a hazard to a French boat, or that navigation light that is out only going to affect local vessels? I guess we had better get back to practicing. That or get out of French waters.

We do intend to continue our travels south but unfortunately the weather isn’t really cooperating. With our next planned passage an overnighter to St. Vincent, we’d really like to have some settled weather. A forecast of twenty plus knots of wind with frequent squalls to 30-35 is not the kind of weather that makes us eager to leave our nice protected anchorage.

Dominican graffiti.


  1. Stick at it, it gets easier…little and often! Bonne chance.

  2. I learned this… It seems to work.

    Je ne parle pas français. Je suis un anglophone stupide. s’il vous plaît me montrer la miséricorde et parler anglais.

  3. Bruce is right, admit being stupid English right away and they feel better, it’s a grudge that has lasted for hundreds of years. If anchoring is involved…it’s different…hold your ground and spread those anger wings. 🙂

  4. I think it’s great that you are attempting to learn French (I want to brush up on my French as well as learn Spanish… but like you said, it’s hard!), regarding your problem with the CG broadcasting messages in French, I’m just going to play devil’s advocate for a moment… There are lots of French boats that sail in U.S. waters (as well as Spanish and many other nationalities) – should we broadcast our USCG messages in English and also French as well as Spanish? I’m just curious as to why you would expect them to broadcast in English in a French territory.

    While I do understand that English is more or less a universal language, I wouldn’t expect a foreign country to speak English. It’s like when flying… Japanese airlines speak Japanese, etc.

    Have you ever tried to respond to a security message and ask for an English translation? I’m sure they could (and would) provide translation if requested… at least I hope they would – I just don’t know that I would expect them to do it automatically. I can understand your frustration of not understanding the messages, but not necessarily your frustration that they aren’t speaking English automatically.

    • To my knowledge, there are two official languages for Maritime radio: French and English. Then again, maybe that’s just because we’re from Canada. 🙂

    • Melody,

      While I understand your sentiment with regards to foreign languages in native countries (I for one sigh every time I hear ‘Press One for English…’) I also feel the need to correct one example you used. In international flying, all controller to pilot and pilot to pilot communications take place in English as agreed to by treaties for international flying. the cabin communications by the flight attendants my be in Japanese, but I assure all communications from Air Traffic Control are in English…which I believe would directly correlate to the CG communications to boaters.
      That said, good for anyone in a foreign land attempting to speak the native tongue I know I do when abroad…though admittedly poorly. 🙂

      • I never really thought about pilot communication before the comments on this thread. It does make sense that there would have to be something unified. Now I now that there is.

  5. I thought, (And I admit this could be wrong) that all official marine radio communication, i.e. the coast guard was required to be in English.

  6. Every foreign airline I’v been on has always also spoken English. Are you French Melody?

    • Pretty sure that THE official maritime language is English. That is not to say that everyone speaks it of course.

    • Noreen, no I am American. I admit I’ve never sailed in a French territory so I wasn’t trying to be argumentative – I don’t know what the official maritime language is. But being American, I was merely pointing out that I wouldn’t expect it to be in English. I would expect it to be in French and if translated in English, all the better. So I’ve learned something new today and I appreciate the knowledge! As far as the soccer player video, I don’t understand the point. If I were an American athlete on American soil, I would expect a French reporter to address me in English. To blast this guy for wanting to be addressed in his own language (in his own country) is a little pompous, no?

      • I wouldn’t expect general conversation to be in English either. The point I was making is that Security announcements, second only to Mayday calls in importance, should be broadcast in English. The coast guard’s radio reaches to Dominica to the north and St. Lucia to the south, both English speaking countries.

        As for the soccer player, if he spoke English, which he appeared to, then in my opinion he was being a dick, plain and simple.

  7. I think you will find that the ONLY language for flying is English. It is in a simplified form so that every pilot can, and must, learn it. Those who break this rule, typically the French, are the pilots who cause near misses and similar problems because other pilots do not know what is going on or who is where. There are reports, all too frequently, of problems in French airspace because of this.

    I can’t find the defining quote, but I have always been told, categorically, that the ONLY language for maritime communication is formalised English for the initial communication, and for the rest of the message, if it involves matters of safety. This formalised English is of course substantially ‘Franglais’ so as to make it easier for French speakers. Communication on the working channels can be in other languages.

    I have witnessed the chaos that can result when this rule is ignored. Several French boats called the Harbour Master of a French port. They all spoke in their form of local French. They ignored the earlier call from a fast ferry that was coming in and had called in English. The situation quickly became critical at which the Ferry radio operator put out a forceful call in English and told them all what he thought about them, and then followed it up in local French in case they had not ‘got the message’. They did! Fishing boats an others scattered very quickly. Clearly furious, and said so. The Harbour Master protested too (!) and he got chalked off as well! I had a French speaking friend with me who translated all this with glee. 🙂


  8. Oh, I so love the French. They really are no different than Americans; although, most Americans that I know would argue vehemently in opposition. I would argue that both French and Americas are really just two sides of the same coin. Ahem, my overly dramatized example:
    Nice Man from Argentina: “Hola! Como estas Amigo?”

    American Man (w/a Redneck Affliction): “What’s that there yur spek’n? Awe nah, we donta speak no Mexican round here; we speak pure American in these parts. Ya’ll needs to speak the local language or make yourself adios. ”

    🙂 Ah, yes… them be my redneck people! 🙂

    • Note that my only issue with the French language around here concerns the Securité announcements on the VHF, not day to day conversation. We are in a French island after all.

    • Securité, should be broadcast in the native language first and then English. Isn’t it a fact, that English is used more than any other language when involved in international affairs and when it really “counts?”
      I picture some fat ugly (just my personal imagination) bureaucratic governor or something in the French islands sticking with that grudge I mentioned earlier. You can not deny that some French tend to have “attitude” when dealing with English just as many American can have “attitude” towards…….just about anybody! Ha!

  9. Hi, I come from Montreal and my native language is French. I try to learn english since a long time but it’s very hard for me. We plan to travel in the Carribean with a catamaran soon and I should practice my english. I can help you in french and may be we can speak in english a little bit and then I improve mine!

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