A team led by Professor Roy Carr-Hill, of London University's Institute of Education, tested 1,200 adults. Alan Wells, director of the Basic Skills Agency, which commissioned the report, said the study had been difficult as many people, especially refugees, feared surveys.
The native tongues of those tested were Bengali, Gujerati, Punjabi, Chinese, Serbo-Croat, Kurdish, Somali and Tamil. Twenty tasks, including filling in forms, tested functional literacy in English.
Only 5 per cent of the sample were judged able to go on to further training or study in English with confidence. However, there were major differences between groups, with 41 per cent of Chinese speakers reaching survival level compared with 14 per cent of Bengalis.
Only a fifth of those in the sample with five or more years of full-time education in this country failed to reach survival level, however.
Lost Opportunities: the language skills of linguistic minorities in England and Wales, summary, free from the BSA, Commonwealth House, 1-19 New Oxford Street,London WC1A 1NU. Main report, Pounds 6.