Monday 18 April 2011

Languages, migrants and assylum seekers

It's a bit rich for the nation which sends droves of migrants to Spain who have no intention of leaning Spanish and who,far from integrating, create enclaves where pubs are the main areas of social intercourse and fish and chips the main dish, to demand that those coming here should learn the language before they arrive and quickly develop a taste for warm beer and familiarity with the Book of Common Prayer and Hymns Ancient and Modern.

Equally bizarre is the fact that the prime minister who complains that many migrants don't speak English is actually cutting the funding for the classes which would teach it.

I suspect that the overwhelming majority of immigrants to Britain not only speak some English but are very anxious to improve their command of it. Before Christmas I did some teaching on a post-graduate business studies course at a local university, on which the majority of students were from abroad. I gained the strong impression that one of the main attractions of the course was just the university's expertise in business studies as the fact that it provided an opportunity to study in our internationally valued language.

One of the oddities of my retirement is that, in the last couple of years, I have offered my services , as a volunteer teacher or provider of English conversational practice, to half a dozen different organisations involved in immigrant welfare. Four have not responded at all and the other two have said they had no use for me. It's a topsy-turvy world where I have found it easier to get paid employment than to be taken on as a volunteer. I feel desperately sorry for those unemployed who are not simply looking for something useful to do, but also need an income.

Anyone who doubts the positive contribution that immigrants make to Britain's culture, politics and economy should read Mehdi Hasan's splendid article in last Saturday's guardian. Among other things he reminds us that both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are the children of immigrants, and that David Cameron is descended from a German-Jewish financier who came to this country in the 1850s.

1 comment:

  1. Exactly right, Peter. It occurred to me when reading the PMs latest thoughts on these matters that had his suggested criteria been applied a couple of hundred or so years ago, then George 1st would have almost certainly been refused entry to the UK on a number of levels - language, background, relationships etc. But there you go, he was , and his descendent will be providing our 'bit of fun' and jingoistic flag waving on April 29th!