Compulsory English classes for Immigrants?

immigrants-forced-to-learn-english
Courtesy of Good Morning Britain
Yesterday, I was getting ready for work with Good Morning Britain showing on the TV,  in the background.  Good Morning Britain (GMB) is a friendly melange of  light news, weather, entertainment, and competitions; and normally forms the backdrop to my early morning routine. That, or BBC breakfast (if hubby is awake).   Normally little attention is paid to the TV, but yesterday one headline did catch my attention.
IMMIGRANTS SHOULD HAVE TO LEARN ENGLISH BEFORE COMING TO BRITAIN
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not so much the call to learn the language of the society in which one is expecting to work, live, eat and breathe in that worried me. But it was more the sentiment behind the headline that left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
I felt like it was painting ALL immigrants with the same big and bold, extra-large brush. As if all immigrants arriving on the latest smuggled boat lacked the ability to construct a three-word sentence in English.
For me it conjured images of robe cladded, headscarf-wearing illegal aliens in various parts of Britain refusing to come out of the ghettoised communities they had constructed for themselves. I thought of foreign men and women who could but smile and nod dumbly upon hearing anything more complex than a simple “hello”.
For me it conjured images of robe cladded, headscarf-wearing illegal aliens in various parts of Britain refusing to come out of the ghettoised communities they had constructed for themselves.
Surely that’s an unfair portrayal of a whole section of people whose presence have not only upheld institutions such as the NHS; but whose cultures have also made the world food section at my local Tesco a lot more interesting!
Then I thought about my father. Is he also included in this demographic of immigrants that are being accused of not being knowledgeable enough in the English language?
After all, when dad decided to join mum and I permanently in the UK from Ghana all those years ago, he didn’t just come with a suitcase of  shirts and shorts (as inappropriate as they were for the cool November weather).  He also arrived with years of experience as a maths teacher,  an advanced lexical range that could rival the Oxford dictionary and a stack of books…all written in English, might I add!
He was (and still is) a genius at Scrabble and has a collection of books that will make any avid reader proud. “Wantonly”, “cumbersome”, and “cantankerous” are all words I understood by the age of 8 because of my dad’s extensive vocabulary.
“Wantonly”, “cumbersome”, and “cantankerous” are all words I understood by the age of 8 because of my dad’s extensive vocabulary.
So if  dad were to be new to the UK today, would he also be part of the people that will be cruelly assessed and forced to sit in a classroom he didn’t need to be in, just because he was not a British native?
Back to the GMB  headline
It was only after closer inspection of the news story that I realised it was saying that migrants should learn English BEFORE entering the UK OR be made to learn once they arrive. Aaaah! I get it now. This separates the “cans” from the “cannots”. Dad you are safe.
As harsh as it might sound, and as wonderful as diversity has been for the UK  (from our celebrated national dish – the Indian curry, to the infamous M&S) there is only so far you can go if you lack the basics to communicate with people on a day to day basis. I am all in for encouraging non-English speaking migrants to learn the language of the country they are in, but what I don’t agree with is the tarnishing of every immigrant who is looking for a new life in Britain, with the same brush. Afterall not everyone has come here to scrounge whilst keeping themselves to themselves.
And whilst we are on the subject, British natives, how much effort are you putting into learning Spanish when you purchase your holiday homes in the Costa Del Sol?
What do you think? Should immigrants be forced to learn English?
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