Sunday, June 20, 2010

Speak English or else you may not live with your UK sweetheart

I do not harbour any intense hatred of the British government as Robert Mugabe does, but early this month I was driven to scorning them when I read that they are making English language tests a prerequisite for non-Europeans to be allowed to settle in the UK with their British partners. So there you have it, before you marry your Pommie sweetheart make sure that you know how to speak English!

As an English teacher I am a great advocate for sound proficiency in the world’s most widely used language, the international lingua-franca so to speak. I also admit that more often than not the adage that says when you are in Rome (England in this case being Rome), do as the Romans (English) do, is the truth. I will even go further and yield to the argument that Britain faces the problem of thousands of trumped up marriages, where people marry Britons just for the sake of residence. Some of these migrants struggle to integrate into British society and they cannot get jobs because of linguistic challenges, thereby becoming a strain on the country’s social services.

The following words are taken from and are from British Home Secretary Theresa May:

“I believe being able to speak English should be a pre-requisite for anyone who wants to settle here. The new English requirement for spouses will help promote integration, remove cultural barriers and protect public services." In a tough line consistent with her party's stand, she added: "It's a privilege to come to the UK and that is why I am committed to raising the bar for migrants and ensuring that those who benefit from being in Britain contribute to our society."

Despite my admission above that English speaking is ideal , I still smell an ethnic or linguistic rat somewhere in the dungeons of White Hall, out to do some engineering and purging of those cultures deemed inferior to the English. May’s words smack of the arrogance that drove her imperialist forebears to attempt to conquer the whole world. These are the reasons why I think the way I do:

1. It seems the people that will be affected the most by this legislation, are Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi citizens who have been known to settle in the UK through marriage. Migrants from the EU will not be affected by this legislation, although many such as the Eastern Europeans, would probably fare worse than the Asians (some of whom belong to the British Commonwealth) when it comes to knowing and speaking English. Besides Britain itself, none of the other EU states is primarily English speaking.

2. Those fraudsters that are able to speak English well, will still be able to secure arranged marriages or partnerships of convenience. So is this to say that the crook who speaks English is somehow more acceptable than the one who does not?

3. What about those genuine relationships and future marriages built on true love? Are they to be doomed just because one of the partners cannot speak the Queen’s language to the satisfaction of a third party? It is after all not the whole of the UK where English is spoken. Will the Scottish, Welsh and Irish languages be added to the list of options that one can be tested on? Methinks the ghost of Hitler lingers in the air especially when May and her peers see it as a privilege to marry one of their own.

So far I have not heard of any loud outcries regarding this issue. It will be interesting to read comments from those in the UK, and those outside just to know what public opinion is out there. One wonders what the reaction would come from the Conservatives if British citizens wanting to marry and reside with Africans or Asians were to be subjected to tests in the indigenous languages of those areas.


  1. Interesting post Mthoko. When immigrating to NZ I had to prove that I spoke English or would be subjected to ELS (English as Second Language) classes. I do agree that having a primary language by which all residents/citizens can communicate with one another is beneficial. I have clearly seen what has happened in the US when immigrants (illegal or otherwise) come to the country and they are unable to communicate within the the business world or educational system. This is a problem that is being felt by many local governments and is causing division amongst the people... And please don't get me started on illegal immigrants crossing borders and demanding that everyone else start speaking their native language..

  2. I disagree with you. I am British. This is about integration into British society. Living in a country but outside of its culture is not the way to go. I believe that to be a citizen of any country you should be able to speak the official language of that nation. I know an Iranian man who moved here in the 1970s and believes exactly the same, and is infuriated by those who do not try to learn the language. How else can you actively participate as a citizen? And I believe that Brits abroad should learn local languages, although they are lamentably poor at doing so and it is a national shame. But migrants can only be treated as equals and as active citizens if they can speak the language. If they learn it, they are likely to suffer less discrimination and encounter fewer difficulties. This is in their interests too.

  3. Will thank you for your comment. You will agree that there are far more non-Britons who speak English as a second or third language than there are Britons who speak any of the African, Asian or Arabic languages. In that case, if the marriage is genuine, it is very much obvious that the foreign spouse speaks enough English to get by and who says they cannot learn? What about the non-English speaking EU member who is allowed to live with his or her British spouse? No integration concerns there it would be seem. To me this clearly means that it is not about English competence but about which continent you are from.


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