Today's lesson is to teach immigrants English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Dec 19 13:09:38 UTC 2006

>>From the Scotsman, Tuesday, 19th December 2006

Mon 18 Dec 2006

Today's lesson is teach immigrants English

IT shouldn't surprise any of us that the public cost of translation
services for immigrants is now standing at around 110 million. That's
divvied up between councils, government departments and the health
service, all of whom appear to believe they are obliged to detail
everything from rubbish collection to immunisation programmes in up to 15
different languages. Now at last some government ministers and many
immigrants too, have recognised this is a pointless exercise and that the
bulk of such funding should go into encouraging English language tuition
rather than interpreters.

In some obvious areas, there will always be a need for translation. At the
point of entry into the UK, immigration officers clearly can't expect a
newcomer to speak fluent or even pidgin English. And the police and courts
are quite rightly obliged to provide translation services for anyone who
wishes them. But it's the discretionary areas which are soaking up most of
the cash, such as council services and benefits, locally-funded workshops
and advice centres. Moving to a new country is hard. Finding a job and
somewhere to stay, getting to grips with local customs and regulations,
enrolling in schools or colleges - no-one can deny that many immigrants
are brave, driven people who will ultimately be a great asset to the UK.

But with all that on their plate, who can blame them for not bothering to
learn the language when there is no incentive to do so and a translator
will be produced at the first bewildered look of incomprehension? It's
like asking who among us would voluntarily pay taxes if it wasn't
compulsory. The Government has promised to make English-speaking a
requirement for immigrants but until it uses its powers to stem the flow
of public money into profligate translation services it is on a hiding to
nothing. The opening up of the EU has changed our attitudes. The word
"immigrant"  is no longer a euphemism for black or Asian people, many of
whom speak perfect English anyway thanks to the legacies of the old
Commonwealth and Empire.

Today's immigrant is Spanish, Australian, Polish, Lithuanian - the list is
endless. But we can learn a lot from the experiences of the Asian
immigrants who flocked to English cities in the fifties, sixties and
seventies, and from the misguided efforts of local authorities to
accommodate their new citizens. I worked in Bradford 20 years ago and
witnessed the dreadful social results of the informal ghettos. Forget
integration with the indigenous white folk - even the Bangladeshis and the
Punjabis wouldn't mix, each living among, shopping and doing all business
with their own people. A typical language problem would emerge when, after
living in West Yorkshire for 40 years, a person finally reached
pensionable age, had to engage with the benefits agency and was asked to
speak English - for the first time!

Leaving people for decades without the basic ability to speak the language
of the country in which they live is not the policy of a caring,
forward-thinking government or local authority. It is the result of
cowardice, political correctness, laziness and too much money to squander
on the inadequate short cut of unlimited interpreters. Equality should
mean equipping immigrants with the talents they need to survive and
prosper. Perpetuating the disadvantage of having to rely on an interpreter
is - whatever the liberal, do-gooding, hand-feeding,
multi-langage-poster-promoters say - downright racist.

 As Christmas Day and New Year's Day fall on a Monday this year, there
will be no more bitching from me until well into 2007. For some, this may
be a blessed relief of course, but regardless, I would like to wish
everyone, friend or foe, a merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New
Year Prostitutes need protection of law AMIDST the tragedy of the Ipswich
murders, one of the most poignant statements from the family of
19-year-old victim Tania Nicol was "she is still someone's daughter". How
sad that her bereaved relatives feel it is necessary to point out there
was more to Tania's young life than her job. And make no mistake, that's
what prostitution is - a job like any other.

The death toll so far is no less horrific than if the victims were
teachers, shop workers or nuns, the only difference being that by the very
nature of their job, working girls on the street are more vulnerable.
Their work is carried out in some degree of secrecy, often in dark remote
places and, most pertinently, where there are no witnesses. If anyone was
in any doubt about the need to legalise prostitution and therefore to be
able to provide security and protection for sex workers, they must surely
now be convinced. Whether that requires licensed brothels, tolerance zones
or a designated Amsterdam-type red-light district in every major city, the
law must allow for it. And if delicate local sensibilities or pious
pseudo-moralists are offended, that's just too bad.

Helen Martin

Last updated: 18-Dec-06 13:55 GMT


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