Our panellists battle it outby Clare Foges , Oliver Kamm / February 18, 2016 / Leave a comment
Clare Foges is a former speechwriter for David Cameron and a columnist for the Times
Of course migrants should learn English. The strategy to date has left an astonishing number of people mute in our mainstream economic, social and cultural life. The last census (taken in 2011) showed 863,000 people living in England who are not able to speak English well or at all. They might as well be faced with hieroglyphics. The bus stop is babel. They are here but not fully here.
We have come to this situation through wrongheaded kindness. Proponents of multiculturalism didn’t want to “impose sameness” or be guilty of cultural imperialism. And so a whole architecture of interpretation and translation was erected.
Tameside council’s website boasts “access to a bank of interpreters covering over 140 different languages.” Manchester council printed a leaflet about pigeon-feeding in Urdu. You can register to vote or apply for housing without having a good grasp of English.
All this may be kind in the short term, but in the long term it is cruel. Remove the necessity to learn English and many immigrants will not bother.
And what then? They are condemned to menial work and unemployment. Those non-proficient in English are three times more likely to have no qualifications. They are overwhelmingly more likely to be unemployed.
Saying immigrants don’t need to learn English betrays that poisonous soft bigotry of low expectations: pat them on the head and assume they will never rise beyond washing cars or cleaning houses.
Speaking English is about more than being “economically active.” It is about belonging. It shames this
that there are so many women—particularly of Pakistani and Bengali backgrounds—who remain strangers in a strange land, unable to have the pleasure of conversing about the weather.
I want people who come here to eventually love this country and to be a part of it. For that they must learn English.
Oliver Kamm is a columnist for the Times and the author of “Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage”
No one disputes the benefits for migrants of learning English, but you’re proposing an illiberal solution to a phantom problem.
The 2011 census shows 864,000 people in England and Wales (not just England, as you said) who…