Speaking English as a foreign language


by Rumbold
3rd April, 2010 at 1:26 pm    

Most people agree that speaking the language of the country you are in benefits you. It doesn’t matter so much in certain circumstances, say if an English-speaking engineer went out to Dubai for a year, but in general it gives you a significant advantage: it gives you much greater access to services, the legal system and every day life. Some translations are provided, and while these are useful, they can only cover certain areas. The ability to speak the language is especially important when an individual is amongst the weakest in society, thanks to a lack of education, wealth, connections, and so forth.

It also benefits society as a whole, as it increases interaction, makes teachers’ lives easier and means the state has to spend less money on things like translations. Therefore it makes sense for the government and local councils to provide services in order to achieve this. Which is why it is wrong that one local council is essentially abolishing their service:

The founder of a renowned language service facing massive council funding cuts said she was “very sad” it was being axed after receiving an MBE for her 28 years with the organisation. Rosalind Carter was head of Hounslow Language Service (HLS) for nearly three decades, and it developed a national and international reputation for supporting children and families…

HLS now helps more than 7,000 youngsters from ethnic minorities to develop their English. But Hounslow Council announced last year it would end its £686,000 annual subsidy – axing up to 80 jobs and leaving just a handful of teachers and staff. Mrs Carter, who retired as head of HLS three years ago and now works as a part-time adviser, is among those who could face the axe.

It is not as if Hounslow Council are short of money.


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  1. Tom — on 3rd April, 2010 at 1:37 pm  

    Thanks for picking up on this – note that Hounslow council is Tory minority supported by a residents group (the ICG) who are virulently anti-Labour and led by an ex-NF member (who, to be fair, has consistently renounced his former involvement).

    My son’s at a Hounslow school which inevitably has a substantial non-British minority*, and I’d much prefer a school where no one’s held back because they can’t speak the language, thanks.

    * One to fuse the synapses of Daily Mail readers – it’s not uncommon to see Somali girls in headscarves playing British Bulldog. They don’t hold back, either. Political correctness my arse.

  2. earwicga — on 3rd April, 2010 at 1:53 pm  

    Great post! It’s absolutely disgusting to cut language funding – it totally affects life chances and I would have thought some kind of legal challenge would be successful on race grounds? Here in Wales funding is flowing to teach non-Welsh speaking children the language which is absolutely essential to get most jobs in my part of Wales. The situation is nowhere as good for adults unfornuately.

    As an aside – I lived in Hounslow many years ago and taught (student teaching practice) in nearby Feltham and another place which I can’t remember the name of, and very much enjoyed living there. I also enjoyed services such as the H32 otherwise known as the kamikaze bus route.

  3. Helen — on 3rd April, 2010 at 1:59 pm  

    Boris Johnson has been electioneering in Hounslow several times recently, with Mary Macleod (Tory candidate for Brentford & Isleworth) and Mark “Bins” (check his blog) Bowen (Tory candidate for Feltham and Heston). Oh, and the local Tories also recently hosted *Thatcher*.

  4. KJB — on 3rd April, 2010 at 3:17 pm  

    Given how much Tories and other right-wingers fulminate about people coming to this country and ‘not being able to speak the language,’ this kind of thing is beyond hypocritical.

    Is there no way to shame Hounslow Council over this?

  5. Don — on 3rd April, 2010 at 3:18 pm  

    Spot on, Rumbold. How is it not blazingly obvious that good quality English language teaching is one of the best investments we can make? Everybody wins.

  6. Philip Hunt — on 3rd April, 2010 at 3:47 pm  

    KJB: Given how much Tories and other right-wingers fulminate about people coming to this country and ‘not being able to speak the language,’ this kind of thing is beyond hypocritical.

    Not really — if all people coming here could speak English, there would be no need to teach them it.

  7. earwicga — on 3rd April, 2010 at 4:11 pm  

    Oh yes Philip Hunt – all those flipping asylum seekers should wait until they are proficient in English before daring to step on UK soil. How dare they try to flee from persecution without first reaching your requisite level of English – they should die first!

  8. Shatterface — on 3rd April, 2010 at 4:38 pm  

    Education is a basic human right.

  9. KJB — on 3rd April, 2010 at 4:51 pm  

    Not really — if all people coming here could speak English, there would be no need to teach them it.

    I am blinded, blinded, I say, by the stunning display of intelligence here.

    I mean – Philip Hunt believes that ‘speaking English’ is all that asylum seekers and immigrants need to get by. You know, Philip, that’s a common belief of your dreaded bogeyman, the illegal economic migrant. Hence why Southall has loads of illegal Punjabis who don’t understand English grammar properly, can’t read it and certainly don’t have a grasp of English idioms – and who are probably not going to be coming into contact with skilled native speakers for a very long time.

    Language teaching is a way for people to gain an instinctive awareness of culture (so crucial to integration!) and to meet native speakers in a way that might not be otherwise possible. Let me use another example from personal experience: I have a French friend who is fluent in Punjabi and French, and who speaks fairly good English. However, he lives in Southall, and in an area where it’s pretty much impossible to meet really proficient native speakers of English. He’s too old to go to school, and has had to take on any low-paid menial labour he can to help earn some money for his family.

    He’s highly intelligent, but doesn’t enjoy reading literature and his family don’t have a TV. I constantly encourage him to speak English with me, but as I am the only person fluent in what he sees as his main mother-tongue, French, he prefers French with me. He’s had no choice, really, but to enrol in a free English class as there is no other way to develop his English.

    Given that there are many European migrants as well as non-European who have the barest knowledge of English, as well as ‘native’ English people whose English (grammar, writing, vocab. etc) is far worse than my parents’, Tories should be championing English teaching all the way. Aren’t they supposed to be into the ‘preservation of our culture’ and all that? Like I said: beyond hypocritical, really.

    P.S.: earwicga’s and Shatterface’s comments are made of win.

  10. Sunny — on 3rd April, 2010 at 5:17 pm  

    They’ve been doing this in East London too for ages. Its absolutely idiotic that ppl complain abt immigrants not learning English and then deny them the services to do so.

  11. persephone — on 3rd April, 2010 at 5:29 pm  

    This may be in reaction to cuts being made on those aspects where boroughs are spending disproportionately higher than ‘average’ – by that I mean that Hounslow Borough, being located near Heathrow, bears the brunt of funding such services and other ‘immigrant/asylum’ related services than other boroughs.

    Plus these aspects are cut first as they may not be seen as ‘core’ or benefitting the majority populace.

  12. Matilda Stevens — on 3rd April, 2010 at 6:39 pm  

    My friend moved to Spain and has to pay for her own language lessons. Translations are not provided in any language.

    We are a soft touch and its costing the taxpayer money!!!

  13. Don — on 3rd April, 2010 at 6:55 pm  

    Matilda!!!

    Why did your friend move to Spain???

    Why would it benefit Spain to pay for your friend’s lessons???

    Brit ex-pats in Spain are not the same as immigrants to UK, Not comparable!!!

  14. Stanislaw — on 3rd April, 2010 at 11:48 pm  

    @ KJB

    “”Not really — if all people coming here could speak English, there would be no need to teach them it.”

    I am blinded, blinded, I say, by the stunning display of intelligence here.

    I mean – Philip Hunt believes that ’speaking English’ is all that asylum seekers and immigrants need to get by.”

    His comment indicates nothing of the kind. Evidently you are in need of English language lessons yourself.

    @ Don

    “Why would it benefit Spain to pay for your friend’s lessons???

    Brit ex-pats in Spain are not the same as immigrants to UK, Not comparable!!!”

    Why not comparable?

  15. KJB — on 3rd April, 2010 at 11:57 pm  

    Why not comparable?

    That should be either:

    Why ‘Not comparable’?

    or

    Why are they not comparable?

    Let me just repeat what you said back to you: Evidently you are in need of English language lessons yourself.

    Then again, you’re yet another of our tragic trolls, so I won’t ask too much of you.

  16. halima — on 4th April, 2010 at 3:58 am  

    “Spot on, Rumbold. How is it not blazingly obvious that good quality English language teaching is one of the best investments we can make? Everybody wins.”

    I was going to add education too, as someone above has done.

    It amazes me how we talk about skilling a country and wanting to grow talent – and yet make the supply of skills dependent on whether people can afford to pay for it. No country I know has grown without making a substantial investment in education 25 years ahead of its economic growth – look at the experience of Asian tigers. Yet these days we talk about trade offs – can’t do everything, must drop some services, and yet in the long-term without education and core language skills we suffer – and the world suffers.

    Worse, it further blames people who don’t speak English for not ‘integrating’ ( that god awful word I hate) and then cuts funding s that these people don’t have the resources and are stigmatised.

    I live in Beijing, and am desperately trying to learn Chinese and I’m not stupid or anything but it is going to take a long time. For anyone to suggest I have no interest to learn about China, or be in China is wrong on so many counts. Give learners of English a chance – they already speak so much more than English speakers who are trying to learn other foreign languages.

  17. Vikrant — on 5th April, 2010 at 5:07 am  

    “Spot on, Rumbold. How is it not blazingly obvious that good quality English language teaching is one of the best investments we can make? Everybody wins.”

    Yes. But why should the taxpayers subsidise it?

  18. halima — on 5th April, 2010 at 5:56 am  

    You can ask this question of any public good – why should tax payers subsidize it?

    Everyone knows education and the language skills is included here, contributes to long-term economic growth – otherwise if you let foreigners in, and poorer foreigners in, what’s the point of denying them the ability to learn English? Small investment now will have long-term dividends for the future of the British economy. Unless you’re happy with poor immigrants who can’t afford to pay for English lessons but still have right to live here, and therefore expect that they just never learn English … What good is that for anyone?

    The whole world includes the learning of English in their school system (probably) on the assumption that it’s the global business language ( soon to be replaced by Chinese of course in the future) , so if the world is happy enough to pay for the lessons for its citizens, why wouldn’t we pay for English lessons for poor immigrants in the UK – presumably the birthplace of English? Seems a bit odd to me , unless we are saying, well, we’ll pay for our own, but not these foreigners…

  19. persephone — on 5th April, 2010 at 10:57 am  

    “we’ll pay for our own, but not these foreigners…”

    It is exactly that sentiment that is driving the cost cuts

  20. Rumbold — on 5th April, 2010 at 3:29 pm  

    Vikrant:

    From a purely business point of view, it is more efficient to subsidise teaching. Teachers who have children who can’t speak English have to devote more of their time to those children, which impacts on the rest of the class.

  21. Abu Faris — on 5th April, 2010 at 3:50 pm  

    “Teachers who have children who can’t speak English have to devote more of their time to those children, which impacts on the rest of the class.”

    Actually this is not so. A class teacher will, in any class, differentiate by ability and task. Having EAL status children in the class should not negatively effect the teacher’s workload, nor the achievement of the other learners.

    My last four Year 6 classes have been nearly 100% EAL status children. We have achieved SATS results for English close to the national average.

  22. earwicga — on 5th April, 2010 at 4:00 pm  

    Abu Faris – were you the only teacher in these Year 6 classes?

  23. Stanislaw — on 5th April, 2010 at 4:03 pm  

    KJB

    “Let me just repeat what you said back to you: Evidently you are in need of English language lessons yourself.”

    What I wrote was perfectly idiomatic English. And I wasn’t correcting your usage, I was criticising your faulty comprehension.

    As to your ‘troll’ accusation, I don’t spam this board, I rarely post here and I argue my points. The fact that you don’t agree with what I say does not make me a troll.

  24. Don — on 5th April, 2010 at 4:58 pm  

    I agree with Abu Faris. I teach KS4 and see eight classes during a week, each of which has about 25-30% of pupils with EAL status. It really isn’t a problem if you are properly trained and resourced.

    The need for language training is greatest among adults, and I would suggest among adult females in particular. Not only does a good facility with the language improve economic prospects it also provides unmediated access to information on rights and the law.

    Someone attending a language course will invariably come into contact with people they would otherwise never get to know, will in time become more comfortable with the surroundings of an adult education venue and may even find other courses they might choose to take.

    It is an investment, both economic and social, rather than a cost.

    BTW, Hi Vikrant. Good to hear from you. How are things with you?

    Stanislaw,

    Sorry about not getting back to you earlier. I would say they are not comparable because about 10% of Brit ex-pats in Spain are retired, about 20% are part-time resident (i.e. holiday homes)and most of the rest have either chosen to set up businesses catering mainly to the Brit tourist/ex-pat market or are employed by such operations. Relatively few, I suspect (sorry, no stats) expect to become Spanish either legally or socially. There are no Brit asylum seekers or refugees, I doubt that there are many spouses brought into an utterly unfamiliar environment and living in isolation, and any monolingual Brit competing on the open labour market with spanish workers would be a bloody fool.

    Also, if you plan on moving to Spain you have ample opportunity to test the water and can take a good quality spanish language course pretty much anywhere in the UK for pocket change. There are agencies to turn to if things get sticky and a cushioned landing if your plan doesn’t work and you decide to go home.

    So not really comparable.

  25. Stanislaw — on 5th April, 2010 at 6:16 pm  

    Don,

    thanks for your reply. You make some fair points, though I take issue with the following:

    “I doubt that there are many spouses brought into an utterly unfamiliar environment and living in isolation,”

    Whereas we know there are many such spouses in Britain, but it appears to be believed that it’s the responsibility of the British taxpayer to pay for such people, rather than that it’s not good a good practice for those involved or for British social cohesion, or that the repsonsibility lies with the nation of origin or the people who are migrating. Effectively the British taxpayer must pay to rectify the problems caused by the indifference or inability of others.

    “and any monolingual Brit competing on the open labour market with spanish workers would be a bloody fool.”

    True, but the same could be said of any non-English speaker in Britain. Why is one a fool and the other entitled?

    “Also, if you plan on moving to Spain you have ample opportunity to test the water and can take a good quality spanish language course pretty much anywhere in the UK for pocket change. There are agencies to turn to if things get sticky and a cushioned landing if your plan doesn’t work and you decide to go home.”

    True. It appears that either no such plans are available for many of those migrating to Britain, which tends to mean Britain is stuck with them even if they can’t or won’t adapt. I don’t think that’s a reasonable expectation to make of Britain, because it seems as if the responsibility is saddled on the host, not on those who have chosen to move to Britain without proper preparation (intentionally or not).

    I except refugees from those I am referring to, as I do believe we have a moral responsibilty towards them. I also agree with the general view that in practice it is better that non-native speakers have the opportunity to learn English than not. For practical reasons I think cost cutting should be avoided.

    What I don’t agree with is the general tone of comments on the thread that the problem self-evidently ought to be seen as morally or financially mainly the responsibility of Britain itself rather, than of people choosing to move to Britain.

    The overriding principle with migrants to Spain and Britain is the same, namely that in each case the host nation would be expected to pay for the language learning of people who have come from another country. It’s not self-evidently clear that there is any moral obligation in either case (again, I except refugees).

  26. persephone — on 5th April, 2010 at 6:25 pm  

    I kinda agree with the questioning as to why the taxpayer should have to pay where, in the case of a planned overseas marriage, the incoming spouse possesses little or no English. Either of the spouses should fund the English training as they have chosen & planned this path.

  27. Ravi Naik — on 5th April, 2010 at 6:29 pm  

    Perhaps a compromise here is that people who cannot afford English lessons could have them for free?

  28. persephone — on 5th April, 2010 at 6:42 pm  

    @ 27. Hmmm. At first blush I would say no. If the incoming spouse has the resources to purchase a flight ticket & get married etc then they (or their British spouses) have to fund their personal choices. I do not see why a British taxpayer has to pay for the privilege of the numbers of asians who proactively choose to go abroad to seek a spouse w/t dealing with the consequences.

    Asylum seekers are an entirely different matter.

  29. Don — on 5th April, 2010 at 6:50 pm  

    it’s not good a good practice

    Agreed, but once stuck with it we should take practical measures to deal with it. It’s not a huge expense and has serious beneficial results.

    True, but the same could be said of any non-English speaker in Britain. Why is one a fool and the other entitled?

    Because one has access to reliable information about the current demand and the other doesn’t. And I didn’t say entitled.

    Good English language training is not wildly expensive, it gets good results and benefits everyone.

    Also, a non-English speaker in Britain is generally expected to work like a bastard for a fraction of the wage a Brit would expect. A Brit in Spain would just go home if that were the case.

  30. Don — on 5th April, 2010 at 6:54 pm  

    persephone,

    I agree. Sponsoring somebody into the country should entail a serious commitment to their acclimatisation.

  31. Rumbold — on 5th April, 2010 at 6:59 pm  

    Abu Faris and Don:

    Well, I can’t argue with you as I am not a teacher, but surely children who can’t understand what you are saying present an extra problem?

  32. Don — on 5th April, 2010 at 7:38 pm  

    Rumbold,

    It’s not a problem if you don’t see it as a problem. Which sounds a bit hippy, but you just plan and look for desired outcomes, as you would with any class. What do I want this kid to achieve over the next twelve weeks? How do we make that happen? It’s the job, it’s not a problem.

    Cut class sizes and get off our backs about new initiatives, that would help.

    (But thank you, Labour government for the really rather excellent new building you are putting us into. Damn PFI, but it’s going to be a very nice building even so and fair does on the budget increases.)

    But language issues? We’re teachers, we can deal with that.

    OK, I’m coming to this as a special needs teacher with maybe a slightly different way of approaching communication. But back when I was in mainstream urban secondary and from friends still there, it really is not a major issue.

    Stories of schools with umpteen first languages and none of ‘em English are generally negative and woe, woe and thrice woe in the press. But they just don’t reflect how education actually works.

  33. Rumbold — on 5th April, 2010 at 7:51 pm  

    Don:

    I agree that the best thing any government could do for teachers is to stop changing things round all the time. The bureaucracy is immense. And schools need to be more wiling to back teachers against parents/children.

    To give an example of what I am trying to ask, how would you deal with, say, a child who couldn’t speak English if the lesson that day involved reading the class a story, and the children were then expected to answer questions on it (presuming a class size of twenty five, with five children who lacked the English skills to follow the story)?

  34. Don — on 5th April, 2010 at 8:06 pm  

    Rumbold,

    That would be a lesson plan. Do you really want me to post one? They are quite boring to non-teachers.

  35. Rumbold — on 5th April, 2010 at 8:23 pm  

    Don:

    I suppose all I am trying to say is that having a class with children who all understand English makes teachers’ lives easier (not that they are unable to cope if this is not the case, merely that it requires more adjustment). Which is why I support English-language lessons for children.

  36. KJB — on 5th April, 2010 at 8:48 pm  

    And I wasn’t correcting your usage, I was criticising your faulty comprehension.

    I must correct your faulty comprehension in that case. I was mocking you. Saying that I need lessons in English language because I mocked the hypocrisy of Philip Hunt made you a pretty deserving target.

    The fact that you don’t agree with what I say does not make me a troll.

    Nooo – it doesn’t. Interesting that you say that, given that I didn’t actually know what your opinions on this issue were at the time, though.

    I’m sure you are capable of proper comments (as evident above) and SHOCK HORROR, I can live with a difference of opinion, but I have seen you troll on here before, so I’m afraid we’re just going to have to agree to disagree. :-D

  37. Abu Faris — on 7th April, 2010 at 1:32 pm  

    Earwicga

    Yes, I was (and am) the only teacher in those classes. In fact, I do not have access to a classroom assistant, either.

    I presently work overseas (as an Assistant Head in charge of curriculum and assessment); but my career in UK has been exclusively in inner-city schools (mostly in London).

    Don’s points are excellent! Greetings fellow chalk-face worker.

  38. Abu Faris — on 7th April, 2010 at 1:38 pm  

    Rumbold

    “I suppose all I am trying to say is that having a class with children who all understand English makes teachers’ lives easier (not that they are unable to cope if this is not the case, merely that it requires more adjustment).”

    I once taught a class of English as first language children who were utterly disengaged with their learning, were entirely off-task; indeed were possibly one of the worst-behaved, underachieving group of children I have ever taught. Oddly, I was actually very fond of them (it rather helps) and I have some skills in behaviour management. My point is that their language skills were not the main issue in the problems they (or I as their teacher) faced.

    “Which is why I support English-language lessons for children.”

    I think you need to look at the Frameworks for Literacy. The Primary Framework confirms the emphasis on the teaching of word and sentence level (grammar level) of the earlier Literacy Hour and embeds these critical components of the teaching of English to EAL and non-EAL children in a more cohesive manner.

    Incidentally, many Primary Schools *do* maintain extra support for EAL-status children both formally (in terms of timetable) and informally. However, the emphasis continues to rightly be on the teaching of Primary phase children in inclusive, whole-class environments.

  39. Stanislaw — on 7th April, 2010 at 2:46 pm  

    “Saying that I need lessons in English language because I mocked the hypocrisy of Philip Hunt made you a pretty deserving target.”

    Your ‘mockery’ of Philip Hunt was a misrepresentation of what he said. He said

    “if all people coming here could speak English, there would be no need to teach them it.”

    Which is self-evidently logically correct. You then misrepresented this thus:

    “Philip Hunt believes that ’speaking English’ is all that asylum seekers and immigrants need to get by”.

    He had given no indication of any such belief in what you quoted. You misrepresented him, either because you are dishonest or because of your faulty comprehension. Assuming you to be sincere and not dishonest, I reasoned it was faulty comprehension.

    “I have seen you troll on here before, so I’m afraid we’re just going to have to agree to disagree. :-D

    I have not trolled on here ever, so I’m afraid you’re going to have to take that self-righteous carrot out of your pompous arse. :-D

  40. KJB — on 12th April, 2010 at 12:17 am  

    I have not trolled on here ever, so I’m afraid you’re going to have to take that self-righteous carrot out of your pompous arse.

    Ooh, temper! It sounds like someone else’s arse is the one with the carrot in it… And it’s never good to call someone else ‘self-righteous’ when you have claimed to know what other people on a thread are thinking:

    What I don’t agree with is the general tone of comments on the thread that the problem self-evidently ought to be seen as morally or financially mainly the responsibility of Britain itself rather, than of people choosing to move to Britain.

    Where was that unequivocally stated? Or did you just see what you wanted to see?

    OK – I apologise for calling you a troll. That may have been short-sighted of me.

    I maintain nonetheless that it is hypocritical for the likes of PH to complain about people not speaking English ‘properly’ and then have a problem with them trying to access English language learning in this country. Neither he nor you have addressed the point I made @ 9; it is utterly disingenuous to ignore that learning to speak a language (English particularly) is about more than ‘speaking’ (grammar, idioms, social interaction). There’s no ‘faulty comprehension’ involved there!

    And no, I do not think that the government necessarily has any ‘moral obligation’ to provide English education, as you have inferred above. However, this thread is about services in Hounslow – a borough in which I am resident, are you? – and which has plenty of residents who will not necessarily speak English as their first language (and always has many more passing through, not least due to our proximity to Heathrow and Southall). In areas like mine, I don’t see how cutting back language learning services can ever have good results – and as Rumbold illustrated, the money could’ve been saved elsewhere.

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