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 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?

CloudsAndTrees Thu 03-Jan-13 12:37:36


It seems like common sense to me.

RedHelenB Thu 03-Jan-13 12:39:05

It'll come. people learn at different rates after all & maybe they were nervous. Think you are being a bit judgemental tbh.

Catchingmockingbirds Thu 03-Jan-13 12:39:07

Does it work the other way too, eg if I became a French citizen I'd need to competently speak French?

PandaOnAPushBike Thu 03-Jan-13 12:40:31


Language ability is not a good measure of someone's citizenship.

FredFredGeorge Thu 03-Jan-13 12:40:37

Not everyone who has to undertake the ceremony has to take a UK knowledge or language test. People who are taking up their right to British Citizenship via a British mother (but not a father) who was born overseas in whatever year do not have to take any tests - because they are British. But still have to attend the citizenship ceremony and take the Oath.

So YABU, since you do not know that the individuals weren't already British.

Hammy02 Thu 03-Jan-13 12:40:44

Yes. Of course you should. I wouldn't dream of relocating somewhere unless I could speak the language to at least basic conversational level. How the hell would I be able to work and be of use to the host country if I couldn't?

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 12:41:37

RedHelenB, it wasn't just nerves, some people had no idea how to even begin to read what was on the card, like how I would be if someone asked me to read something in Dutch or Swahili. I understand people learn at different rates but my point is that they should have reached a competent level before being accepted for citizenship.

Feminine Thu 03-Jan-13 12:42:55


This country is still very slack in its requirements for citizenship.

headfairy Thu 03-Jan-13 12:43:50

It does seem logical, however my mother came here 40 years ago from south America not being able to speak a word. She was given a British passport because her mother was born in the UK and they'd registered her birth with the British embassy in Argentina. But she speaks better English than I do now, she's always worked, very successfully at one point owning several hotels and employing 500 staff, and contributed a lot.

I find people who have made the effort to leave their friends and family and move to a country are usually the most motivated to assimilate and that does mean learning the language.

My aunt has a French passport and has never been able to speak French (she was also born in Argentina, to cut a long story short my grandparents forgot to register her birth shock and when they were about to leave to move to the UK my grandfather had to call in a favour from a friend in the French embassy to get her a birth certificate issued and therefore a passport)

Being able to speak English doesn't make you English. I don't think of myself as English at all.

And btw, my FIL is English, stretching back as many generations as he knows. His emails are totally incomprehensible. I don't know if he can read out from the Oath either. But he's a very proud English, only that he left school when he was 14 or 15.

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 12:44:10

'How the hell would I be able to work and be of use to the host country if I couldn't? '

I agree.

'Language ability is not a good measure of someone's citizenship'

English is our common language in this country. Surely not being able to use the main language of a country is an impediment to contributing to society and being an active citizen?

boomting Thu 03-Jan-13 12:44:14


There are certain basic minimums for becoming a citizen of any country, including learning the lingua franca, respecting local customs, and respecting the rule of law.

I may be spending a few weeks later this year working in Germany (just on a fixed term contract! Not applying for citizenship!). Whilst, strictly speaking, I won't even need to speak German, I wouldn't dream of going without brushing up my GCSE German to a level where I can get by - order something in a restaurant, make myself understood and ask for directions, that sort of thing. I don't expect others to speak English to me when I am in a foreign country, although of course it's nice if they can help me when I struggle with their language.

I'm still baffled as to how people spend years being immersed in the English language, and they still can't speak more than a few words of it.

Booyhoo Thu 03-Jan-13 12:45:55

dyselxia, hearing problems, learning difficulties, trouble with languages, nerves infront of other people.

all reasons why some people might struggle. not reasons they shouldnt be british citizens.

think beyond the end of your own nose.

Catchingmockingbirds, no, you don't need to speak French to be French. A friend at university has a French grandmother. His mother sounds kiwi but I'm not sure if she's born in France or NZ. But he applied for a French passport via his mother. He can't fill in the form, or even talk to anyone in the embassy. But the French have no problem with his claim.

He got the French passport for his big OE.

Catchingmockingbirds yes it would. If I want to convert to Swiss citizenship after 12 years of residency, for example, I would need to be competent in one of the 5 accepted languages - German, Swiss German, French, Italian or Romansch.

However, if I married a Swiss person, the route would be easier.

OP, how do you know the other people in the group weren't gaining their citizenship through marriage or birthright?

I try my hardest to use the language, but even full immersion doesn't always mean great understanding - especially if it's an accent you aren't used to, or they are nervous in a formal setting.

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 12:51:08

'OP, how do you know the other people in the group weren't gaining their citizenship through marriage or birthright?'

I don't. I still find it bizarre to claim citizenship of a country where you can't speak the main language.

headfairy Thu 03-Jan-13 12:52:13

onelittletoddlingterror My cousin had the opposite situation, because his mother (the aunt I mentioned in my post above) had a French passport he had dual nationality (French/Irish, Irish father) and at the age of 18 had to hastily give up his French nationality as they were calling him up to do military service. They didn't mind the fact that he didn't speak a word of French. He now only has an Irish passport grin

Fakebook Thu 03-Jan-13 12:52:23

It's harder to learn a new language as an adult.

Not everyone needs to do the Life and knowledge of the UK test If their English isn't up to scratch. Some people can complete a city and guilds level 1 English test to become a British citizen. So all those people who weren't understanding, had learnt enough English to be competent. Whether they were confident to put their skills into practice was their problem not yours.

You sound judgey and rude, like you're more worthy of your citizenship hmm.

KRITIQ Thu 03-Jan-13 12:53:05

What One Little Toddling Terror said.

Also, what about having a command of WELSH, particularly in parts of the UK where that is the first language?

Yes binfullofgiblet that's my point in my post. There are a lot of people claiming through ancestry. I'm from NZ and so many of my friends have a claim to some sort of European passport because of a parent or grandparent. Most are British or Irish. (Irish is the one you can claim if one of your grandparent is Irish. British is only via a parent). But some have ancestors from countries that don't speak English. My example above was a French one. I know friends with Dutch, Yugoslav (not sure which country now!), and German parent/grandparents too. Most don't speak these European languages.

It's similar to headfairy's story.

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 12:54:27

'Also, what about having a command of WELSH, particularly in parts of the UK where that is the first language?'

Good point.

KRITIQ Thu 03-Jan-13 12:57:12

Fakebook also makes a good point about learning languages as an adult being more difficult. I'm also a naturalised British citizen. I have the privilege of English as my first language, but I feel no need to look down on others whose English isn't up to some arbitrary standard of competence. Plenty of people are fluent in English but do very little to demonstrate responsibilities of citizenship.

Lottapianos 'I don't. I still find it bizarre to claim citizenship of a country where you can't speak the main language'.

That's probably because you aren't from a country where lots of people claim citizenship via ancestry. But to be fair, most kiwis aren't really interested in settling in Europe either. And claiming that passport doesn't make us feel more 'Irish' or 'English'. We simply stay kiwi. A european passport just give us more freedom on our OEs than working holiday visas. (You don't have to be limited to the UK for a start). For example, a friend's wife got an Irish passport, and the two of them are now working in Sweden.

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 12:58:34

Thanks to those of you who are sharing stories about friends/family members who claimed citizenship through ancestry. It's interesting to hear about, although I still find it strange that competence in the language is not required.

Viviennemary Thu 03-Jan-13 13:00:47

Not really. I know somebody who lives in Greece and apparently said she had absolutely no intention of learning Greek. So it is sensible to speak the language and I myself would make an attempt to learn if I was to go and live abroad. But I don't think it should be compulsory.

javotte Thu 03-Jan-13 13:01:08

I am not allowed a British passport because my (British) father was not married to my (French) mother when I was born. It makes me very angry to see that citizenship is given to people who don't even speak a country's language.

Because if your mother came from one country, and your father from another you should be entitled to dual nationality. It doesn't even mean that they plan to stay here, it could be an entitlement that they have.

And I disagree with the blatant assumption that everyone should speak English. When I go home to Wales my family don't speak any English at all. They don't need to. It's always the tolerance of the Welsh and the huge assumptions of the English that lead to these kinds of statements.

My cousin is headmistress of a Welsh speaking primary school, and has first generation Polish children attending. So they will speak Polish and Welsh before they learn English. They should still be entitled to citizenship, no?

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 13:02:25

'Plenty of people are fluent in English but do very little to demonstrate responsibilities of citizenship''

Yes but it's much harder to take an active part in society in the UK if you don't speak English.

javotte they have fixed that in the 80s iirc. Now you can claim British citizenship on either parent. Not just mothers and married fathers. That'd be seen as very sexist nowadays wink.

MothershipG Thu 03-Jan-13 13:02:48

My brother is about to take a Polish language exam so he can have dual British/Polish Nationality. He has lived in Poland for donkey's years has residency, pays Polish taxes but is not allowed to vote in Polish elections. You have to be a citizen to vote and, apart from other criteria, you have to pass a quite tough Polish exam to be given citizenship. Which all seems quite reasonable to me.

Now, as in people born after the change. It doesn't apply to historical claims.

PoppyAmex Thu 03-Jan-13 13:03:46

Loads of British people with citizenship in Asian countries that can't speak a single world of local language.

Actually, loads of Brits in my country (Portugal) who took citizenship before Schengen and can't speak Portuguese.

Equally, I have Portuguese friends working in Science, Diplomacy and Business in African and Eastern European countries and they get by just fine.

HollyBerryBush Thu 03-Jan-13 13:03:52

The British can be quite arrogant about learning another language on the grounds sweeplingly sterotyping that everyone else speaks English, or at least Americanese - and that's mainly through film and television, plus it is taught in overseas schools from a very young age.

At the moment my son is friends with a Portuguese boy; his parents have been here 15 years and the mother cannot get past 'hello'. I find that amazing for an European. Again, other son is BF with a Sikh boy, M&D born here so perfectly fluent in Sarf Londonese - but the old mum again cannot get past 'hello' and 'nice dog'! grin - given she is alone a lot of the time with the television for company - it does surprise me. She has a good attempt but it is still very pidgeon.

However, The British are just as bad - I'm mindful of those awful Costa Del Sol/Brava enclaves in the 80's and 90's where ex-pat Brits CBA to learn a jot of Spanish either.

InExitCelsisDeo Thu 03-Jan-13 13:04:05

I don't know if you are being unreasonable or not

<sits on fence>

However I do find it strange as English is one of the main world languages and I am always amazed and a little shamefaced by people from the farthest reaches of remote countries who can speak such good English.

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 13:04:16

'I know somebody who lives in Greece and apparently said she had absolutely no intention of learning Greek'

Do you know why this is viviennemary?

FelicityWasSanta Thu 03-Jan-13 13:04:45

This is interesting and I'm not sure what I think <much use as a chocolate tea pot>

But, what about those British citizens who have been born and raised here and yet still can't read English or follow official instructions?

Or is it a case of we'll look after our own illiterates but no anyone else's?

zzzzz Thu 03-Jan-13 13:04:50

No I don't agree.

I don't think being verbal is in anyway connected to citizenship.

MrsTerrysChocolateOrange Thu 03-Jan-13 13:04:51

I have lived and traveled all over the world and have tried to learn enough of the language to get by when travelling and have been fluent when I lived places. The irony is that the people who seem to learn the least are the English British. They are also the ones who judge most when people don't learn English. I knew people in Italy who lived there years and couldn't speak a word. Didn't stop them moaning about immigrants in the UK.

tarantula Thu 03-Jan-13 13:05:12

'what about having a command of WELSH'
Or Scots/Doric or Irish or Scots Gaelic or Ulster as they are all national languages of the UK.

Is there an option I wonder to do your citizenship test etc in these languages? as there really should be IMO

javotte Thu 03-Jan-13 13:06:26

OneLittleToddlingTerror I was told that I cannot claim citizenship because I was born before the law changed.
My younger siblings have successfully applied. angry

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 13:06:44

'Is there an option I wonder to do your citizenship test etc in these languages?'

There definitely is for Welsh, but not the others as far as i know

Fakebook Thu 03-Jan-13 13:09:13

So what do you suggest OP? Those people had already had their English tested. Should they have been refused citizenship for not understanding about keeping a blue card out? hmm

Hulababy Thu 03-Jan-13 13:11:35

I can't imagine ever wanting to live longer term in a country where I couldn't speak the language, well at least enough to go through normal day to day life - a basic working and conversational language of the country you reside in makes sense to me. I would go all out to be learning. If nothing else it makes your own life easier if you are able to converse with those around you - in the shops, post office, at school with teachers, at the doctors, etc.

Whether it should be compulsory at the time of the ceremony, I don't know. I am not sure how it is practical. But maybe you should have to be beginning to learn, and taking steps to learn through a local course or online course or something? Would that be practical?

I am thinking of it mainly from the fact that learning the language makes your own life easier, rather than others tbh.

OhlimpPricks Thu 03-Jan-13 13:11:35

If someone does not want to learn the language and integrate, then that is their prerogative. However, if they wish to access medical, educational or community information (local authority info) then they should pay for their own interpreter.

My LHA routinely prints leaflets/hospital signs in 20 different languages. My name, on reading reads as Non English, and I am routinely asked if I require an interpreter at medical appointments.

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 13:12:45

Fakebook, I don't know why you're being so arsey. I'm not interested in having a scrap, I just want to hear other people's opinions.

'Those people had already had their English tested'

And no, apparently you don't need to sit the Life in the UK exam if you are claiming citizenship through ancestry.

TheNebulousBoojum Thu 03-Jan-13 13:14:48

I think if you choose to become a citizen of any country, you should be able to speak and read the language well enough to cope with everyday communication before you become a citizen.

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 13:16:09

'I am thinking of it mainly from the fact that learning the language makes your own life easier, rather than others tbh'

It certainly does.

'However, if they wish to access medical, educational or community information (local authority info) then they should pay for their own interpreter'

I see your point with this one. However, as learning the language isnt' something that can happen overnight, and there are huge risks involved with not understanding medical questions or instructions correctly, I wouldn't feel comfortable about withdrawing publicly funded interpreter services. I couldn't bear to think of people not accessing important care because they couldn't afford to pay an interpreter. But I agree that everyone should be working towards becoming competent in English.

Actually the rest of the world speaking English makes it harder to immerse yourself, as a lot of people would rather answer you in English than let you ramble on in indistinguishable pigeon languages.

I have managed to live in Switzerland for 3 years quite successfully with a smattering of Swiss German and my basic German o level. I pay my taxes, fund the social pillars and pay all my healthcare bills on time. I've never been in any trouble, required the police gotten a speeding fine etc. So in some respects I am a model citizen. Our neighbours seem to love us, when my neighbours house flooded due to heavy rain in his swimming pool, we were the first people round there Vaxing the soggy floors at 5am on a Sunday morning.

So I'm interestested to know how people define being part of society? In my head there are all kinds of societies in existence in the UK, and actually there will always be people around to remind you, sadly, that just because you speak English, doesn't necessarily make you "British".

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 13:17:44

'I think if you choose to become a citizen of any country, you should be able to speak and read the language well enough to cope with everyday communication before you become a citizen'

You put it better than I did TheNebulousBoojum smile I only mentioned the UK because it's the country I live in - I agree it should apply to any country.

headfairy Thu 03-Jan-13 13:18:36

Hollyberrybush it most definitely does work both ways, my grandparents eventually retired to Spain and being Argentine (my grandfather) or being able to speak Spanish (my grandmother) meant they effectively worked as translators for hundreds of Brits who moved out there and after many many years didn't speak a word of Spanish. And Spanish is such an easy language to learn compared to English. I'm apprciating just how easy now DS is learning to read. All those complicated irregularities in spelling and pronounciation!

YANBU - you move to a country, you become a citizen of that country, you should speak the language properly. End of.

Fakebook Thu 03-Jan-13 13:19:41

Sorry if you think I'm being arsey, but you seem to have a very one sided view on this and seem to be ignoring people who are challenging your thought.

headfairy Thu 03-Jan-13 13:20:25


Fakebook Thu 03-Jan-13 13:20:33

Oh and for the record, I think YABU.

headfairy Thu 03-Jan-13 13:21:36

visualise what would your definition of being able to speak the language properly? Do you mean they should have a level of competency similar to say GCSE level? (genuinely interested, not just shit stirring grin)

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 13:21:42

'Oh and for the record, I think YABU'

I got that Fakebook, you're pretty one-sided on it yourself. I ignored the rude comments, yes.

Moominsarehippos Thu 03-Jan-13 13:22:03

There are some parts of Italy where you need to be able to speak Italian AND German to a high level to buy a property (not sure what happens to you if you don't).

I personally would be stuffed if I went anywhere else as I am woeful at languages. I would really want to learn though - nothing worse than not being able to make yourself understood of being able to get what you want in a shop because you dont know how to say what you mean. Dad did his miliatary service abroad and learned the language there.

I have met some women in the UK who don't speak English - just a bare few words and they were born here, so supposedly have a British passport. I think that is quite sad really - they just interacted with people from their own country and could only work in the family shops. I also know people who have done it to help with travel/work.

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 13:22:28

'visualise what would your definition of being able to speak the language properly? Do you mean they should have a level of competency similar to say GCSE level?'

I would agree with GCSE level at least.

TheNebulousBoojum Thu 03-Jan-13 13:22:28

I think speaking the language is far more important than taking random British citizenship tests about daft aspects of our culture, government and obscure dates.

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 13:23:24

'I think speaking the language is far more important than taking random British citizenship tests about daft aspects of our culture, government and obscure dates'

Absolutely. I had to learn things like the date the Hugenots arrived in Britain as part of my Life in the UK test which didn't strike me as enormously useful! smile

Having lived abroad for several years, it was awful not being able to speak the local language, read labels or ingredients in supermarkets, ask for help/directions etc, so I learned the local language and now speak it fluently. I had to learn to read a whole new script too. I still don't read it that well but I get by.

My dad moved to France at aged 65 and learned French. It's not that hard if you just put in a bit of effort.

I have little time for people, be they immigrants in Britain or British expats abroad, who CBA to at least get a basic conversational level of the local language. It's lazy and exclusive and says you don't have much regard for your adoptive country.

I think every nation's citizenship test should have a language component. Though of course that would be hard to implement in cases of hereditary citizenship.

TheNebulousBoojum Thu 03-Jan-13 13:24:18

GCSE? That's barely at teenage grunting level.
MFL are very poorly taught as a general rule in this country, there are a few secondaries that achieve good fluency rates, but the majority really don't.

headfairy Thu 03-Jan-13 13:25:26

Lottapianos my mum couldn't have passed GCSE English when she came her with her shiny new British passport aged 20. She has a much better understanding of the English language than me now though. For me not being able to speak the language when you first arrive shouldnt' really be a barrier to coming here and living as a full British citizen. It is perfectly possible for someone to learn once they are here.

peaceandlovebunny Thu 03-Jan-13 13:27:55

citizenship, employment and the right to hold public office should all have a language requirement. for example, it should not be possible to be elected as a local councillor if the council/council tax payers will have to pay for a full time interpreter to work with you.

With regards to medical information, it is scary and I have to take time to translate and understand this information, and I have to pay healthcare insurance - and there are plenty of pitfalls to read into there when it's in your first language. So yes, I pay to have important documents translated. But I think I always would, because even after 10 years of German immersion I wouldn't feel entirely confident with a German medical or legal document.

But actually I have come across lots of English people who don't understand English medical/legal documentation to the level I do with Welsh as a first language. Isn't that why the "Crystal Clear" system was introduced?

So who would define the level of English that should be spoken, and then to be fair, should English people who can't reach that level be judged?

headfairy Thu 03-Jan-13 13:28:04

TheNebulousBoojum Is it even possible to achieve fluency in a language without actually living in the country where the language is spoken? I think you have to be fully immersed in a country to learn the language. My Spanish always improves massively when we go to Spanish speaking countries, I've tried to repeat that at home with audio courses, but there's no replacement for actually being in the country to learn the language.

What about Welsh? wink

None of us begins life able to speak English. I think it would be good if people could learn English, but I accept it's not always going to happen when people are getting citizenship based on parents who're British.

FWIW, I got advised by someone I know that, if you're eligible for citizenship it's a good idea to go for it before the rules change or you may find yourself in a very nasty situation. So it's not always possible to plan ahead. I'm going to get citizenship in DH's country as soon as I can. I don't speak the language. But I am terrified that if he doesn't get citizenship here (which he should, but who knows what the government will do), he could end up unable to stay here, and I would in that situation want to be able to go to his country with him.

SoupDragon Thu 03-Jan-13 13:30:31

YANBU - how can you make an oath you don't understand?

head - I think it is possible, my brother is now fluent in German thanks to his wife and her family, and has never lived in Germany. FWIW.

But people vary in their abilities to learn a language.

SoupDragon Thu 03-Jan-13 13:31:34

I don't think you need to be fluent but I do think there should be a basic level of competency.

Welsh is fully covered on here LRD!

What country are you referring to, can I ask? <<nosey cah emoticon>>

And I agree, where in the heck would I have learnt Swiss German, apart from here, it's not even a written language, immersion is the only way. But as I don't intend to marry a Swiss National I have 9 more years to brush up, if they'll have me!

TrazzleMISTLEtoes Thu 03-Jan-13 13:33:55

Perhaps they struggle to read. People born abroad may well come from a very difficult background and may not have benefitted from an education. Learning to read English is not easy since half of it is not pronounced how its spelt.

Yes, they could have practised but you don't know their individual circumstances. Also, some people are exempt from the Citizenship test requirement.

SmileyPenguin Thu 03-Jan-13 13:33:57

Yanbu. It's pathetic that decent competence at the language isn't a requirement. But let the human rights activists and left wingers dictate and this is what you get...

TheNebulousBoojum Thu 03-Jan-13 13:33:57

I agree, but why do you think that so many people who aren't native English speakers have a better grasp of English than English speakers learning a different language? I'm not meaning grammatically accurate, or unaccented, but a reasonable level of communication.
I think how we teach MFL needs to be looked at, in comparison to how the Germans, Japanese, Dutch etc learn English for example. I know very little about the subject. smile

TheNebulousBoojum Thu 03-Jan-13 13:35:00

'But let the human rights activists and left wingers dictate and this is what you get'

I'm both of those. confused

TheNebulousBoojum Thu 03-Jan-13 13:37:59

You can be a resident for years though, this discussion is about those who want citizenship. And I think the same about expats and anyone choosing to make their permanent residence in a country, so definitely not just a rule for Britain.

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 13:38:09

'But let the human rights activists and left wingers dictate and this is what you get... '

I'm a left winger myself smile

'I think how we teach MFL needs to be looked at, in comparison to how the Germans, Japanese, Dutch etc learn English for example'

I agree. It's pretty mortifying that in so many other countries, it seems most local people speak English to some degree and most signs in cities are in English as well as the local language. Like other posters, I always try to learn some basic conversation in the local language, as I feel it's just politeness and I wouldn't want local folk to feel that they are expected to use English with Brits.

CaptChaos Thu 03-Jan-13 13:42:15


Wherever you wish to gain citizenship, it should be a pre-requisite that you at least have a reasonable grasp of the language. I find it odd that anyone would willingly swear an oath that they did not understand.

I agree that for some people, learning a new language (especially one which is an utter bitch to learn, like English) becomes more difficult as they get older, but it isn't impossible, and should at least be attempted.

bin - yep, seen that now, I did the criminal thing of posting before I read it all. blush I just knew I'd forget what I wanted to say.

I'm talking about the UK and Russia. I don't speak Russian, but if DH doesn't get visa/leave to remain (which looked likely at one point, much less so now, thank goodness!), I would of course want to be able to go with him. It's not especially an issue now, as Russia has a declining birthrate and is therefore pretty ok with English-speaking people coming into the country.

But I was advised by a much older friend who also has a husband from another country, that you should never gamble on immigration laws remaining the same - if you get the chance of citizenship, take it! Because you don't want to find that the law changes, and you're suddenly stranded with the two of you in different countries and unable to live together in either.

I think this is increasingly common given the way the modern world works.

trazzle - true! I know someone who tutors people with reading difficulties and she's taught someone whose own mother tongue did not even have a written form when he was little (he's elderly). It's amazing. But it must make learning so much harder.

Btw - re. swearing an oath you don't understand - would you not simply get it translated? confused

Surely people don't swear the oath without understanding it, they just have to have it put into their own language, as with, say, someone who uses BSL.

And learning a Cyrillic language. Gulp.

Hope it works out for you LRD. I hear what you're saying, most countries constantly seem to be in the midst of reviewing their citizenship laws, it's a very confusing minefield.

Apart from Switzerland, where they propose relaxation and it just gets voted out every time!

My colleague has just moved to Moscow - it's eye wateringly expensive. sad

Lottapianos Thu 03-Jan-13 13:56:48

Good luck LRD smile

Absy Thu 03-Jan-13 13:58:31

I think there should be a requirement to have a basic level of english - it has a very low entry point, that is, to get by in English you don't need to have an extensive vocabulary, but to gain fluency is very difficult. Not being able to read labels, ask for help or directions, communicate on a daily basis must be incredibly difficult and incredibly isolating. There was a recent Economist article on the employment rates of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, and that since the introduction in 2005 of the requirement to have a basic level of English, their levels of employement have increased (in a good way).

to acquire French citizenship through marriage, you have to have a decent level of spoken and written French, and have been married for 5 years

RedToothbrush Thu 03-Jan-13 14:00:04


When my grandfather remarried, his wife became a British citizen. She barely spoke a word of English. They lived abroad for most of their marriage, but not all. There were legal and practical reasons why she became a British Citizen, rather than because she wanted to 'abuse the state' in anyway.

I bet no one would have questioned this for a second though, due to his profession and her nationality of birth.

He was a pilot, and she was German.

My grandfather, despite living in Germany for many years, only ever learnt the basics of the language too. They were married for over a decade before my grandfather died aged just over 70.

Despite not having a common language it certainly wasn't a problem for them, their entire married life. You couldn't argue she married him for money as she had a very successful career of her own. It wasn't for children (she never had any). It was very clearly for love.

I think it made it easier for things like travel (if you needed an embassy, you only had to contact one, which given his profession was pretty useful).

I think that its beneficial to learn English, and that it should be encouraged, and be a requirement if people want to work here in certain professions such as medicine, which has implications for public safety, that they have a certain level of English - which isn't actually the case for EU nationals (I think they have only just introduced this in medicine thanks to a german doctor killing a patient due to his lack of English). But beyond that, I don't think it should be compulsory.

Compulsory means that there will always be a human element that is neglected, and that people will be caught out by that pesky thing called love.

People tend to have a problem with this as they automatically assume, that people this applies to are people who come from places that are somehow 'lesser' than the UK and it tends to be thought of in turns of arranged marriages or a dodgy marriage. I find that somewhat stereotyped and discriminatory.

Moominsarehippos Thu 03-Jan-13 14:02:37

Red - that sounds very romantic! How did they communicate though? My friend's parents were similar - he met her after the war in Japan and she came back over here. Her English wasn't great and his Japananese was basic to say the least.

CaptChaos Thu 03-Jan-13 14:03:34

LRD sorry, the gist I got from the OP was that people were having difficulties swearing their Oaths of Affirmation, which implied to me that they were swearing an oath which they didn't (at the time of swearing it) understand.

Perhaps when they had had the Oath sent out to them previously it had been in their own language, and not made clear that they would be expected to do the swearing in English on the day?

Good luck LRD. I do find it horrid our anti-immigration stance seperates genuine couples like you and your DH. Same I feel about elderly parents joining their children. I read this article on the elderly parent issue on the bbc,
There were only 1350 adult dependent relatives aged 65 or over granted visas in 2010. What's wrong to be a bit more compassionate? (They say the number will drop down to 10-20 under the new rule). I know they need to be seen as doing something, but honestly, 1350 is a drop in a bucket.

Red so well said. I really think this is so true

'Compulsory means that there will always be a human element that is neglected, and that people will be caught out by that pesky thing called love.'

It's the human element that gets neglected now under the need to meet targets.

Oh, wow, thanks all - I wasn't actually posting to fish for good wishes (though it is nice), just to illustrate why someone might be taking a citizenship oath but not yet up to speed with the language.

I do think they should then learn it asap when living here - but it should be possible to do that, and to encourage people rather than penalizing them.

capt - oh, sorry, I'm with you now. Or perhaps they were just a bit flustered? Even if you understand something it can be hard to say it in another language, I think.

Btw, I know a couple a bit like red's example. My mate is married to a man from the Phillipines. His English is much better now but was pretty basic as I understand it, and she doesn't speak his much at all. It's strange, isn't it?!

What I mean is I really believe the genuine cases of family reunions cannot have been the cause of the massive immigration numbers we have.

I am clueless about the oath, it all sounds a bit "Star, spangled banner" to me.

What did you have to swear, op?

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.

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 ...)

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.

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!

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

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).

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.

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.

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?

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

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

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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?)

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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 16:30:39

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

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.

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.

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