Friday, 22 November 2013

English for immigrants – and foreign languages for the English

Two recent news articles have caught my eye and set me thinking. One is on the new plans by community secretary Eric Pickles to promote effective learning of English as a second language by those settling in this country. The other is on recommendations for schools to introduce a range of new languages, and for language learning to take more priority than it presently does.

Eric Pickles has outlined a plan to help immigrants with their English. His idea is quite innovative really as it involves special supermarket checkout staff at Asda and the Co-op to be sympathetic listeners ready to help immigrant shoppers with their English skills. Apparently, the new members of staff are to wear badges to make them easily identifiable to people learning English as a second language.

Mr Pickles rightly points out that that those who don’t learn English will have limited opportunities, and will not be able to engage in everyday conversation with neighbours, nor engage with their children’s schools, hospitals or other public services. Six million pounds will be spent on this project, which will also involve setting up English lessons in places of worship such as mosques and temples.

Meanwhile, there is also a drive to encourage a lot more foreign language learning in our schools, and to introduce languages other than the usual French and German offerings. John Warne of the British Council warns that the UK will lose out economically and culturally if young people are not encouraged to take up more language learning. He recommends that languages such as Arabic, Chinese and Japanese should be made available as well as European languages.

The emphasis is not on fluency, which takes years to attain, but on functionalism, so that people can make themselves understood and be able to communicate with those of other cultures. However, a recent YouGov poll found that only a very small percentage of the UK population could hold a conversation in a European language.

To conclude: immigrants to this country need encouragement to learn English so as to communicate well, and our young people need more encouragement to learn languages other than English! The result should be an interesting one if the plans are carried out and the recommendations followed.


  1. The English (British) really are lazy when it comes to learning other languages. We should definitely do more.

  2. I've never been to a supermarket abroad where special English speaking staff offer their services. I disagree with this initiative: everything you need in a supermarket is visually available and if there is something you want that isn't there, learn the words before you go shopping. And are these staff going to be trained in Eastern European or Middle Eastern languages for example? Would they know the Hungarian word for cucumber or explain the difference between monkfish and salmon in Swedish?