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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?

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!

VisualiseAHorse Thu 03-Jan-13 13:19:03

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

AnnieLobeseder Thu 03-Jan-13 13:23:49

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.

Binfullofgibletsonthe26th Thu 03-Jan-13 13:28:02

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.

LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 03-Jan-13 13:30:10

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?

LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 03-Jan-13 13:31:00

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.

Binfullofgibletsonthe26th Thu 03-Jan-13 13:33:22

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

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