Must We Immigrants Always Speak English?

The Evening Standard (London, England), February 23, 2006 | Go to article overview

Must We Immigrants Always Speak English?


Byline: YASMIN ALIBHAI BROWN

WHITE Hart Lane Secondary School in Tottenham has pupils with 65 home languages between them, including Flemish, Turkish, Yoruba and Dutch Creole.

Three years ago, the nowdeparted head, David Daniels, decided GCSE subjects should be taught in some home languages as well as English. He believed standards would improve. It didn't happen.

The new head, Joan McVittie, wants to scrap the scheme because she believes proficiency in English is what will give the children the best life chances.

I agree with her. Immigrants who learn English well and fast do vastly better than those who don't. It is scandalous that call-centre workers in India speak English more fluently than British-born Somalis.

Many such schools in the capital are global villages - diverse and torrid, exhilarating and exacting. London draws people who have been through revolutions, wars, untold cruelties and upheavals. Artists, political dissenters, entrepreneurs, economic desperadoes, the poorest and richest from far-flung places, make the city what it is. Their experiences are as priceless as the artefacts in the British Museum.

Ancestral connections and back stories are important for self understanding - look at the popularity of TV genealogical journeys. However, the children of these migrants need to look to the future. Educators must nurture their modern British identities and the national lingua franca, which is still the dominant mode of international communication in science, the arts, trade and technology. …

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