Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bonjour, hola, buongiorno, guten tag...

To return to the subject of language, but in the context of continuing the theme of expats and citizenship, it was interesting to read earlier this month of the UK government's intention to extend the requirements for immigrant workers to the UK to provide proof a certain minimum ability in the English language; apparently only "highly skilled" workers were required to prove that they could speak English adequately but the move now is to include "skilled" workers in this - and perhaps even to go further and require this of "low-skilled" people. We have tended here to describe those living in another country as "expats" and the description "imigrant workers" does give this a rather ruthless economic context, but I suppose that not all expats actually work in their host country. I wonder if that exempts them from language requirements!

Anyway, these new initiatives are apparently supported by the new Prime Minister and it should be said that the UK is not alone in seeking a certain minimum standard in use of the language of the host country - France certainly has such intentions. Provided that this is used with the best of intentions, one can only think that this must help integration in society in the long run. For personal experience, I can demonstrate a reasonable use of French in my expat or immigrant worker status, but I am sure that I was greatly helped when first arriving by having retained a fairly decent amount of French from school days, even if it was rusty.

In this vein, one cannot help wondering if those who support these recent moves were also advocates, in 2004, of changes in teaching policy for English secondary schools; according to a recent BBC article, the teaching of foreign languages became optional then! Well, it seems to have long been thought that the British are not keen to use other languages but it is not surprising to learn now that the numbers studying German have declined by 40% in the last six years - and there is also a drop of 37% in the case of those learning French.

Now if this policy were to be extended to schools internationally, perhaps eventually no country would have immigrant workers! And this blog will become redundant...

2 comments:

Nubia said...

I guess it would depend on the industry you work in. I was an expat in Taiwan and didn't speak any Mandarin at all when I first got there (I was an English teacher, and they preferred teachers who weren't fluent in Mandarin so student's wouldn't "cheat" in class and revert to Chinese). But, I learned Chinese while I was there and honestly, I was very annoyed to meet other expats who refused to learn the local language--it was much needed to survive if you didn't want to constantly ask locals to help translating things.

Will Pow said...

Many thanks, Nubia - that is an interesting twist, an employer who prefers that you do NOT speak the local language!

Of course, you are absolutely right that speaking the local language is convenient for you as well as helping to get you accepted in the host society.

I hope you may be able to offer us more from your expat experiences from time-to-time...