Force immigrants to learn English?

The Beeb is reporting that everyone’s favourite potential PM, Gordon Brown, is trying to win the “psychotically racist” vote by suggesting that not only should all potential immigrants to the UK have to learn English, if they refuse, we should force them to learn it.

Wow. Whose exact benefit is that for? The immigrants? Could be, but why force them if it is? They’ll do it of their own volition, surely.

If it isn’t, who wins from this plan? TEFL teachers and precious few others, that’s who? And how do you force people to learn a language?

“You! What’s that called? Tell me… No? It’s a ”loaf of bread“. Are you going to remember that? Are you? If you don’t get 100 out of 100 on your next vocab quiz, I’m going to send you back to where you came from! Now here are your flashcards.”


But here’s a question: why are we stopping with immigrants to Britain and English? How about people who relocate to other parts of Britain? Should we make Glaswegians who move to the home counties practice a slightly posher accent to make them more intelligible to the sheltered shire classes? Should we force surfers who move down to Newquay to learn Cornish? How about anyone who buys a holiday home in North West Wales being forced to learn Welsh? And let’s not get started on forcing the Northern Irish to learn Gaelic…

3 Replies to “Force immigrants to learn English?”

  1. When do you want them to learn English – after they’ve committed a terrorist attack or before? What’s wrong with asking immigrants(I assume a great many immigrants in the UK are Muslim)to learn English? Will they learn English on their own, if not compelled to do so? No, it’s probably the same situation here in Canada(we arrested seventeen terrorist suspects last week), none of whom apparently felt much loyalty to the country they were living in. Thank you.

  2. Hmm. All immigrants are terrorists. But if only they learnt to speak English, they wouldn’t blow anything up? Did I miss some of the workings out there? I’m not entirely sure I follow the ‘logic’ of that though.
    If immigrants can get by without learning English, why not let them? There are plenty of English people who move to the Costa del Sol and never end up speaking Spanish. So far, very few (I would hazard a guess at ‘none’) have actually blown anything up, despite not speaking a word of Spanish other than “gracias”. And then there’s English people who have moved to France, English people who have moved to Wales and so on. Still not many terrorist acts. Or are we just singling out Muslims here? Could you give me some stats on what percentage of Muslims who speak English have become terrorists and what percentage who don’t have become terrorists, just to see if any studies have backed up your theory that language tuition reduces senseless violence? Cos if that’s all it takes, I vote we force everyone in the world to learn a second language.
    And how exactly do you ‘force someone’ to learn a language? What if they’re just not very good at languages? Do you throw them out the country if they can’t master the difference between the present continuous and the perfect tense or is that an acceptable glitch? Do you have different standards for immigrants from different countries whose languages don’t share as many features with English (should Japanese and Finnish immigrations get an easier time of it than German immigrants, say?). How about immigrants from the rest of the EU, who can’t be thrown out, even if they refuse to learn English?
    As for the “not learning English” if not compelled to, the follow-on article points out that so many already want to do so, we don’t have enough teachers to meet demand.
    We arrest terrorist suspects all the time. They’re usually Muslim. They’re usually innocent of everything they’re accused of (cf recent raid on the East London “chemical warfare factory”, in which one man was shot but which didn’t turn up so much as an aspirin). Don’t use “terrorists suspects” as a synonym for “terrorists”. It’s usually inaccurate, to say the least.
    So the question is, if someone comes to this country (or Canada) and doesn’t learn English (I’ll skirt the question of should they be forced to learn French as well – I can see how much fun you’re having already with that policy in Quebec), exactly how much grief does it cause you? Is it really a problem if they can’t talk with you?

Comments are closed.