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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)

OneLittleToddlingTerror Thu 03-Jan-13 12:44:05

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.

OneLittleToddlingTerror Thu 03-Jan-13 12:47:37

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.

Binfullofgibletsonthe26th Thu 03-Jan-13 12:49:20

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?

OneLittleToddlingTerror Thu 03-Jan-13 12:53:43

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.

OneLittleToddlingTerror Thu 03-Jan-13 12:58:00

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.

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