Advanced search

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?

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.

LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 03-Jan-13 13:43:01

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.

LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 03-Jan-13 13:44:37

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.

LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 03-Jan-13 14:08:44

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!

LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 03-Jan-13 14:18:34

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.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now