Language lessons

Once again the government is mooting some anti-immigration measures, and as usual the full story is lost under the dance of racism – that action and reaction where the government panders to the racism it thinks the people hold, the media creates a scare story, and the population sees the policy as ‘too little, too late’ because they’ve been primed to think that civilization is about to collapse.

The Commission on Integration and Cohesion ( notes that not speaking English is a barrier to integration. This is, of course, true. It’s hard to integrate into a community if you can’t communicate, and us Brits don’t have language skills and so wouldn’t be able to help a non-English speaker much.

However, the spin on this seems to have focused the story on the spouses coming from the Indian sub-continent. I heard one story about having Pakistani/Bangladeshi people having to learn English before they arrived. It’s picked up on these two statements:


“Language support offered to spouses from abroad is therefore of real interest to me – should we be asking whether they should speak English before they arrive?”  Darra Singh, the Commission’s Chair

‘Where UK residents who have limited English language skills (or only speak English outside the home) choose to marry non-English speaking spouses from abroad, there are real difficulties in breaking down the language barrier. Family units are formed from individuals who never get to the point of speaking English fluently and therefore have little opportunity to integrate. The commission is seeking views on how best to encourage spouses and other key groups to speak English.’ (CIC press release)


But how often does this happen nowadays? As far as I’m aware, the British citizens (of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin) who are marrying people from the sub-continent are largely my age (early 30s) and younger and speak English perfectly well. After all, they can’t be new here – if they were they’d have needed to be already married into a British family in order to be here in the first place.

Indeed, the argument can’t really be used in relation to anyone. The Europeans who come here to join European spouses have freedom of movement in the EU (and I can’t see a requirement for us to learn Spanish before we go and live in Spain). Those from elsewhere who come here to work legally are very likely to have learnt English so their spouses will not be joining a non-English speaking family unit. I doubt it will be used with the Thai brides bought for British men (who incidentally, can end up trapped in the home with no contact with society, just like the stereotypical Muslim female).

The only group of people this may be relevant to is refugees. They are the only group that haven’t got freedom of movement or a work permit and English skills. Are we really likely to say that when someone claims refuge from an oppressive state, that we’ll only let their family come too if they learn English? This doesn’t seem very civilised, so I can only assume that this idea, wherever it came from, is a dead duck.


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