Speaking in tongues

16th February 2007 at 00:00
A lack of English should not act as a barrier to employment and new and settled ethnic minorities should be valued

the scottish Executive seems to be taking more of a carrot than stick approach to encouraging immigrants to Scotland to learn English.

In contrast to threats by the Westminster Government to stop benefit payments to unemployed people who cannot speak English, the executive's new strategy for Scotland's languages talks in glowing terms of the "important and valuable contribution" made by new and settled minority ethnic communities.

It stresses the need to "enable" speakers of other languages to contribute to the best of their potential: "It is essential that a lack of English does not act as a barrier to employment. The private sector has a role to play in tackling this and to ensure that language does not limit employment opportunities and contribute to inequality."

Jim Murphy, the Welfare Minister in England, announced earlier this week, however, that from April, unemployed people who could not speak English would have to show they were learning the language or face losing benefits.

He said about 15 per cent of members of ethnic minorities cited language difficulties as a barrier to work, while pound;4.5 million was being spent on translators in jobcentres.

An executive spokesman said he could not comment on matters relating to benefits as employment and benefits policies were reserved matters for Westminster.

However, the executive was due to publish an adult Esol (English for speakers of other languages) strategy for Scotland in the near future. The strategy aimed to provide a blueprint to upgrade the quality and quantity of publicly funded Esol provision across the college, community learning and development, and voluntary sectors. He added:"We welcome any initiatives to enhance high quality Esol provision in Scotland."

The executive's new strategy for Scotland's languages, put out for consultation last week, emphasises the need to equip all Scots with fluent English language skills, as well as promoting linguistic diversity and multilingualism, including British Sign Language (BSL) and ethnic community languages. The document also proposes the protection and promotion of the Gaelic language, as well as a pledge that the Scots language will be treated with pride and respect.

"We are aware that there are many people in Scotland who do not regard Scots as a separate language," says the executive. "Scots, however, was once recognised as a language of government, business, academia and everyday life in Scotland.

"Scots, like English, German, Dutch, Norwegian and Danish is a Germanic language. It is important for the confidence of Scots speakers that we recognise and respect it as a distinct language. We should not assume that speaking Scots is an indication of poor competence in English."

It also points out that while 56 per cent of citizens in EU member states are able to converse in a language additional to their own first language, and 28 per cent can converse in two additional languages, in the UK 62 per cent of people admit they do not know any language other than their first language.

"This means that, as well as missing out on the personal and societal attributes that can develop from language learning, Scottish young people could be at a disadvantage compared to their bilingual counterparts in today's global economy," warns the report.

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