David Cameron is taking his pitch from Henry Ford’s Model-T: you can speak any language, as long as it’s English. He has a point but it’s hard to introduce linguistic cleansing if you look at things closely.
Britain is by far the most multicultural and multiethnic nation in the EU and while British Eurosceptics criticise how European laws and directives are always translated into all of the Union’s 28 languages at considerable cost, they blissfully ignore the fact that most official British documents, even UK housing and child benefits applications, are published in over 60 languages including Urdu, Farsi and Arabic.
David Cameron is threatening deportation to those who haven’t learnt English within 32 months. It’s a good thing that the government’s new A2 English requirement for spousal and family-related immigration is unlikely to be duplicated here. If a similar measure was applied to British expats in France, Italy or Spain, there’d be quite an exodus and potential for some distressing situations where families could be separated when some members couldn’t meet the language requirements and others could.
In Spain especially, many Brits have been there for decades and yet still haven’t mastered anything more complicated than Oi matey, una cerveza por favor. But when it comes to officialdom, Italy, France and Spain make no linguistic concessions – official documents and forms are in the language of the country. If you want them translated, then you pay a translator or get help from a friendly native.
UK government policy on the A2 language requirement hasn’t been helped by a Home Office press release on January 20th, 2016. The rather clumsily phrased document outlining the new language proposals even misspelt the word “language”. How embarrassing is that?