Thursday, 28 July 2011

English Speaking Country

One of the hot topics at the moment is a case brought by a woman with UK residency who wants to bring her husband over from India. The trouble is, he doesn't speak English and the rules brought in last year mean that an ability to speak our native language is a prerequisite of entry to this country. I think for most people that is considered to be a reasonable compromise.

The wife has lived here for several years. She claims that this decision breaches her human rights because she is entitled to a family life. Yet again, the spectre of the European Convention on Human Rights looms large. But, speaking through a translator because she was shy of her own English skills, she freely admitted that her husband has no intention of learning English when he gets to this country. She says that at 58 he is too old to learn a new language. She suggests she'll be able to get him a job at the factory where she works - but I sincerely doubt that. What employer is going to risk employing people without a basic grasp of the English language? They won't, if they're cautious in any sense. And, if they do, that's placing both employer and employee in a precarious position.

At first I thought this story was a simple one of location - he lived in a rural village and couldn't get access to a language teacher. There were ways around even this - supply the husband with language tapes or the wife herself could teach him before he came over here. Perhaps I was not so adverse to allowing him into the country if he was going to make an effort to integrate when he got here. But he won't. Which inevitably means more pressure on our public services. Even if he doesn't claim benefits there is still the difficulty of going to see a doctor and needing a translator in order to have a conversation. He will live a very isolated life, communicating with only the people who speak his native language. As a commentator on Radio 2 just pointed out, this will lead to more ghettos and more segregation, which does our fragmented society no good in either the short or long term.

It's painful that EU open border rules mean that we have to accept Europeans into our country, no matter what their language status. This makes it seem unfair, as if we are discriminating against countries outside the EU. This is one of the woman's claims - that we are treating her differently because of her ethnic background. One way out of this, of course, is to take full control of our borders by escaping from the EU - but that's a separate issue.

It has been pointed out that many Brits who retire to other countries don't bother to learn the language there either. That's wrong too. We should practice what we preach and the joy of learning a language is a wonderful thing. I don't know why anyone would enjoy being isolated from the people around them.


  1. I think the whole ghettoisation and isolation argument is a smokescreen. It's funny that we are brushing away none native British people living abroad as an after thought or aside. They too live in ghettoised little Englands in Spain, Portugal, Greece etc.

    If you hold the word ghetto up to the light the watermark that reveals is the word community. If Cameron's Big Society is small societies making the greater picture of the UK ten small Indian, Pakistani, Turkish, Iraqi communities are a shining example of this. So in a way this woman and her husband are signing up to the Prime Minister's big idea.

    I don't believe that anybody should be forced to learn our native language before they arrive here. However I do believe full support should should be given after arrival to enable the person to at least attempt to learn English. Would a cut happy government be willing to fund such a huge program though?

    One final point that hasn't been raise don any debate about this case could open it right up. What if her husband was a deaf mute?

  2. Perhaps the Brits living abroad aspect isn't receiving the attention it deserves but that's because it isn't really the bottom line. If the country we were entering had laws to the effect that we had to learn their language before living there (I know France is already very strict on this) then we would be compelled to follow that law. The essential argument here is whether the rules should be altered in the name of the European Convention of Human Rights.

    You're right that the current government wouldn't indulge in language courses. I'm aware they're cut many already since they came into power. But what would you do with the person who doesn't want to learn the language like this woman's husband? Focusing on the specific case, is it right he should be allowed to enter when he has no intention of learning the language?

    And for the final point... I think if he was a deaf mute we'd be accused of disability discrimination if we didn't allow him in...

    Thanks for your comment.