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.