Thursday, 28 July 2011

speak English or else

I read a piece in The Times (£) yesterday, and the Normster comments on it, to the effect that the British government is illiberal in requiring those wishing to immigrate to the UK to learn English.  He helpfully points out that the piece can be seen here outside the paywall, for which thanks.  The couple in the piece, Mr and Mrs Chapti, are being prevented from living together (Mrs Chapti is a British citizen living in the UK) because Mr Chapti cannot speak or read English.  Mrs Chapti says he is too old to learn.  I am sceptical.  I had to become fluent in French (which I was not at all before) in my 50s, and it took me about six months once I was living in France.  For Mr Chapti, learning to read English would probably take longer than that, but it does not follow that it is impossible.  Norm suggests that is illiberal to oblige a person to use a particular language, and so indeed it would be if that was what was proposed, but Mr and Mrs Chapti, once living together, are free to use whatever language they please at home, and with their friends and neighbours.  My experience in politics in a place with a large population of Pakistani origin was that a great many of the older women, who had not gone to school in the UK, could not speak English.  This kept them at home and within their community, only using Pakistani shops, and so on.  This meant that their movements were tracked while their husbands were at work, and that suited the husbands just fine.  There was always resistance from "community leaders" (all men of course) to any offer of English classes.  I do not think this is a particularly liberal state of affairs.

Language and politics - when I went to work in Latvia in 2006 I could not speak Latvian, although I had begun trying to learn.  I was told I had to go to some office and get residence papers, which in fact was not necessary as Latvia had joined the EU by then and I was an EU citizen.  But I went, and was unable to communicate in Latvian.  I do speak Russian, which I tried - all Latvians over the age of 18 speak perfect Russian - and was told it was not permitted.  At that time the ruling that Latvian should be the only language of the state was fairly new, and in respect of schools it was hugely controversial.  But in government offices it was not.  I think the Latvians were right, at least about government offices and institutions.  If I really had needed those papers to be able to work in Latvia I would have had to hire an interpreter, and serve me right.


Anonymous said...

I heard the interview with Mrs Chapti on The Today programme. In theory, I certainly agree with everything in this post. Especially with the section relating to the control that some Asian men exert over Asian women over language. Anyone who has had dealings with large Asian communities within a constituency, will know that not 'allowing' the women to speak English is often used by the men in the community as an attempt to control them and keep them in their place. This is deeply wrong and it is why some Womens' Centres are so bitterly resented by these Asian men, because they run langage classes for women.


If I was told, for example, that I had to, out of necessity, reach a cetrain standard in Maths to live in a country/qualify for a job etc, I know that I could't do it.

I have tried in the past and just CAN'T. I can do lots of other things, but not that. Therefore, there will be some people ( maybe NOT this man, but some people) who are in a simialr position as far as languages are concerned.They just can't.

Christine said...

The rules provide the following exemptions:

"We have decided to allow exemptions on the following grounds-

a) where a spouse is aged 65 or over at the time they make their application
b) where a spouse has a disability (mental or physical impairment) which
would make it unreasonable to expect them to learn English and/or pass the
English test
c) where there are exceptional compassionate circumstances that would
prevent a spouse from meeting the requirement.

Exemptions b) and c) will be considered on a case by case basis. "

I think that the requirement for basic English for those settling in the UK is basically a good thing. My recent experience is of reported poor communication at parents evenings, making it harder for teachers to explain how children are getting on and how parents can help their children progress. Poor English also restricts job opportunities.