to think that if you become a British citizen, you should be able to speak English....

(118 Posts)
Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 12:35:14

.....to at least a competent level?

I became a new British citizen recently. At the ceremony, there were about 20 of us to be sworn in. We had to read out loud an Oath or Affirmation one by one. I was sent about 3 copies of both the Oath and Affirmation in various letters before the ceremony and it was also printed on individual cards on the day.

At least half of the other people on the day struggled massively with reading out the words. Some could barely make any attempt at all, and had to repeat 2-3 words at a time after the official. Quite a few people also had difficulty following the instructions during the ceremony - stuff like 'sit on the green chairs in the middle of the room', 'keep the blue bit of card, you will need that later', 'front row come up first please'.

I have no idea how they could have passed the Life in the UK knowledge and language test. I feel strongly that you shouldn't be allowed to become a citizen of a country where you can't speak the main language - become a resident by all means, but shouldn't you have to demonstrate competency in English before being allowed to become a citizen?

redexpat Thu 03-Jan-13 17:01:13

On the face of it YANBU. However ...

Did you know that the uK actually has no official language and English is just the defacto? There are 6 officially recognised languages.

The intention to learn is a good indicator. However if someone has been traumatised (many of those seeking asylum) then that can affect the brain, and they can't learn as well. I know this because I live in Denmark (where you also have to pass a language test to get citizenship) and went to language school with refugees. It also becomes more difficult to learn the older you get. Also I read that a lot of the EFL courses have been cut. This idea of total immersion is total bollocks. You need to be at a certain level before this works.

It also depends where you are starting from. If you cannot read and write in your own language then it is more difficult to learn to read and write in another, especially if EFL classes no longer exist. If you are university educated and have learnt another language previously, you are better placed to learn english. But then why should people who through no fault of their own (civil war, being female and not being educated, poverty) who havent had the same life chances be barred from citizenship?

The BBC provides news in several languages so you can follow current events without reading english.

Also as someone who lives abroad it is really frustrating and annoying when natives say foreigners should do xyz when actually a lot of the locals can't or won't do the same. It's possible to be a bad citizen adn speak englsih, but it's possible to be a good citizen and speak no english.

digerd Thu 03-Jan-13 16:32:09

I lived in Germany , married to a german citizen. My Dh's family were from East Prussia who fled in 1941 when the Russians invaded. Many of the women and children fled to West Germany on foot.
I was living there before 1989, and the East German relatives who remained in the East, were allowed to visit for occasions like funerals, and birthdays of elderly relatives. DH had cousins there who visited us in the West.

To get german citizenship, there is a test for knowing the german language. Don't know about any other country in Europe though, but sounds a common sense rule, as others have said.

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 16:30:39

Being bilingual is a real advantage when it comes to learning other languages later in life too.

I always find that really sad.

I remember reading about a man who stopped speaking his first language as a child, and married someone who spoke his second language. Then he had a stroke and it was the first language that was the more deeply ingrained, so he ended up only able to speak in that and unable to communicate with his own wife.

I think it's really important to keep up both languages if you can.

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 16:23:59

'The remarkable thing is even if both parents are foreign (say Chinese), the children speaks only English'

If children go to school in Britain, they are often reluctant to speak their home language for a period because all their friends and teachers etc speak English and they want to fit in. Of course if their parents keep speaking to them in their home language, they will still be able to understand.

I work with an Indian colleague who is over for a years contract in Switzerland. He went to a private International school where the language was English. His Indian parents only spoke English to him, and he cannot speak any Indian languages.

Actually I can tell you that Gok (the one on TV) can't speak Cantonese even though his father has a very obvious chinese accent. The first well known British with foreign parents I can think of after my post.

Paiviaso I am a British citizen through decent. We don't have to prove anything except our heritage. But since one parent must be British-born to claim this, I would have thought most children who are citizens by decent would speak English. I realise there are probably cases were the parents never speak English to the children but surely it's a bit rare to completely abandon your native language, especially when it's an extremely useful one as English is internationally.

I'm from NZ so it would indeed be rare if the child of a British citizen can't speak English. But it seems the normal thing that the children of non-native speaking parents can't speak their parent's language. The remarkable thing is even if both parents are foreign (say Chinese), the children speaks only English. But they can usually understand chinese.

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 16:10:59

No I don't think so KRITIQ. I have no problem with people coming to live in the UK without functional English, so long as they plan on learning English when they arrive. I'm aware that this is harder for adults and that it's not something that can be done overnight. But I do think that people who live here should have to demonstrate reasonable competency in at least spoken English before being granted citizenship.
Like another poster said, if I had to move to a country where I didn't speak the main language, I would work my butt off to learn it - life is so much more stressful if you don't speak a common language with people you work and live with. And I wouldn't expect the people who live in that country to learn English just because I can't speak the main language of that country.

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 16:05:58

'What does the language test consist of OP?'

The language test is the Life in the UK test, where you are tested on your knowledge of British history, law and customs. There isn't a separate language test. Obviously it's written in English (or Welsh) and must be answered in English (or Welsh) so that's the language component. I hadn't realised that some people don't have to sit it, for example those who are applying for citizenship through marriage or ancestry. Paiviaso, that sounds like a very simple English test - I'm surprised it's not more rigorous in the States.

It's interesting though that other posters have said that Poland and France test the language skills of people who are applying for citizenship through marriage. I wonder why the same doesnt happen here?

KRITIQ Thu 03-Jan-13 14:52:12

I think what we might be forgetting is that often people do understand and can speak more of a language than perhaps they feel comfortable doing with everyone. I remember nearly 30 years ago - the first time I went to a non English speaking country, which was Norway. I discovered that most people did speak and understand English quite well, but felt self-conscious doing it in front of other Norwegians or with me until they got to know me a bit better.

It's not really safe to assume that a person doesn't speak or understand English just because they don't feel confident speaking it in a group or with us, or if they prefer speaking a different language with friends or family.

Also, even where a person is pretty good at a language, when it comes to complicated things like medical information, or say when you are feeling stressed or in pain, sometimes those skills can go straight out the window. It could be extremely dangerous to assume a person in such circumstances has to speak English fluently and confidently or tough luck.

I applied for citizenship before they introduced the tests, and the ceremonies, because I just couldn't abide the thought of all the bizarre and expensive rituals and processes that in a million years would never make me "feel" or "be" more British than I would be without them. I just had to do the oath/affirmation and as a result, I had to download Queen's back catalogue and agree to purchase subsequent releases from the remaining band members, or something like that. smile

I wonder though, is there also something in all this about feeling you want to "prove" your credentials as a new citizen in a way, (and perhaps even indirectly setting yourself apart a bit from those new citizens whom you don't think cut the mustard quite so well is one way to do that?)

Paiviaso Thu 03-Jan-13 14:51:58

YANBU. I think if you are applying to become a naturalised citizen, you should speak enough of the native language to be able to participate in the society you live in. The UK border agency says this is a requirement, so I think it's interesting that the people at your ceremony were so poor at English. What does the language test consist of OP?

I had to take an (extremely brief) English language test when I became an American citizen, and I found it amusing that my English was better than the person testing me (I'm a native speaker and the person testing me had a very heavy foreign accent). That test consisted of reading out one English sentence, and I think I had to answer a simple question.

I am a British citizen through decent. We don't have to prove anything except our heritage. But since one parent must be British-born to claim this, I would have thought most children who are citizens by decent would speak English. I realise there are probably cases were the parents never speak English to the children but surely it's a bit rare to completely abandon your native language, especially when it's an extremely useful one as English is internationally.

Latara Thu 03-Jan-13 14:46:57

YABU; it takes time to learn a new language competently as friends of mine have found - especially when you are older. Some people need more time - but it shouldn't IMO stop them becoming British if they wish to.

Delalakis Thu 03-Jan-13 14:45:33

YABU. The point of the oath is what it signifies, not what language it is in. If you qualify for British citizenship, and are prepared to swear the oath and mean it, that is all that is required.

Would you claim that people who only speak Welsh aren't British?

RedToothbrush Thu 03-Jan-13 14:42:29

Its probably also worth pointing out that when my grandfather remarried, it was still the height of the cold war and that my step-grandmothers' family had been trapped in East Germany whilst she was in the West. And I'm sure that would have been part of their thinking when she got citizenship. There was no way they could ever have predicted the course of history in the end, but it would have been perfectly understandable why they might think like that.

I also think they were able to visit family in East Berlin before the wall fell - I'm not sure, but I think they were only able to do this on the basis of being British rather than West German citizens - though I'm not 100% sure of this.

So I have a lot of sympathy and a lot of consideration of why having legal protection might be a very important part of the thought process.

There's also odd ones like wanting to make sure any children are definitely British citizens (and to avoid situations where a child ends up with dual nationality and is required to do national service in a country they have never lived).

The example of Hong Kong is another interesting case too.

TrazzleMISTLEtoes Thu 03-Jan-13 14:40:05

Onelittle I see what you say about the elderly dependent relatives, but honestly you have no idea of the volumes of people who seek advice on how to get elderly dependent relatives across. The vast majority don't qualify under the old rules but if they did, I would imagine that it would become a small, but not insignificant burden on the state as they are generally too old to work and pay taxes but suffer from poor health.

Whoever complained about left-wingers... I'm right wing but as pro-immigration as you like.

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 14:28:09

You have to do Queenie, but you don't have to swear to God! smile

Gosh I know a lot of British born folks who would never swear to that! grin

So is it a choice of God or the Queen, or you have to do Queenie, but you don't have to do god?

As she is Head of the Church, there isn't really a religious get out clause is there?

RedToothbrush Thu 03-Jan-13 14:21:47

TheNebulousBoojum Thu 03-Jan-13 14:11:28
The human element can also encompass the loneliness and isolation of someone living in a country where they do't speak the language. Not to mention the women who may be trapped in unhappy family situations because they don't know how to access help or even how to ask for it.

I actually think thats something of another, though related issue. One of differing cultures and allowing woman to venture outside the house rather than the ability to speak another language.

I think if you live somewhere abroad and are able to venture outside the house or even just watch television, then you will pick up on the language slowly.

You need to therefore challenge cultural clashes rather than make changes to citizenship rules.

Red I can also understand a lot more German than I let on to colleagues speak.

But again that has come from immersion. I also find that with German the accent is everything, and that the majority of people i deal with have real trouble understanding bad German pronunciation in a different accent.

Whereas I can understand my Polish colleague, for example, speaking English in his thick Polish accent.

Moominsarehippos Thu 03-Jan-13 14:19:43

Even I managed to do a bit of Russian (about first year language degree level) before I thought 'sod this, will I ever actually need this?' and I am very bad at languages (but was a lot younger then).

Crikey. That's rather sonorous, isn't it? I like it!

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 14:15:30

Here you go Binfull:

'I (your full name) do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that on becoming a British Citizen I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors according to law'

That's the affirmation, you can also take the Oath which involves swearing to God. You didn't have to raise your right hand or anything!

RedToothbrush Thu 03-Jan-13 14:14:07

They gestured a lot, and seemed just to 'get' each other. It was strange to watch at times. I think they both understood a lot more of each others languages than they could actually speak though.

Certainly from my own experience, I know that I could (can) understand more German than I can speak. My German is exceptionally poor and I genuinely couldn't hold anything approaching a conversation, but I can read and work out German given time, and I understand a fair amount of spoken German from the odd word and body language. To the point, that when I went backpacking, I used to pick up on girls in hostels speaking about me in German and I would make a point of saying how rude they were being (in English, knowing they spoke fluent english). Cue much embarrassment.

I also always remember when my step-grandmother rang when I was 16, to tell us that my grandfather had died. My mum was out at the time, and my step-grandmother was dreadfully upset, but somehow I managed to understand and work out what she was saying and to convey it to my mum.

And when I've been abroad, I've managed fine in being understood in countries where we've not spoken the local language and they haven't spoken English. Its been more difficult, but it wasn't impossible.

The is a lot more to communication, than simply language and I think its too easy and simplistic to assume that it does.

Absy Thu 03-Jan-13 14:11:53

The Cyrillic Alphabet isn't so hard, once you're used to it. The real bugger is the Grammar. FARKING HELL. Six cases, all the verb stuff ...

(not to scare you or anything ...)

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