Native Britons should consider learning immigrant languages such as Urdu and Polish to help integration, a Cambridge academic has said.
Wendy Ayres-Bennett, professor of French philology and linguistics, said immigration is a “two-way street” and that English speakers should learn “community languages” to better connect with their new neighbours.
Cambridge News quotes her as saying: “Considering the issue from the point of view of language learning, we rightly expect immigrants to learn English but, as a nation, we often don’t see the need ourselves to learn another language, and consider it to be something difficult and only for the intellectual elite.
“I would like to see more opportunities for British people to learn some of the community languages of the UK, such as Polish, Punjabi and Urdu, particularly in areas where there are high numbers of those speakers, so that there is some mutual effort in understanding the others’ language and culture.
“Even a basic knowledge would be beneficial, which might be acquired formally or through engaging in joint community projects.”
She added, however, that it was still important for immigrants to learn English, warning that without knowing the national language, immigrants would likely develop “exclusive social networks and alternative labour markets”.
She also said migrants needs not abandon their “home language and culture” while living in Britain:
“For most people, language is at the very heart of their identity. We need to respect and celebrate this and to see English as adding to their multilingual and multicultural identities, rather than trying to force immigrants to suppress or even lose their home language and culture.”
Her claim that immigration is a “two-way street”, and that native Britons should integrate with migrant communities, has been strongly disputed by others.
Speaking to MPs earlier this month, Dame Louise Casey, the government’s top advisor on community integration, specifically said: “I don’t think it’s a two-way street. I think that’s a sound-bite that people like to say.
“I would say if we stick with the road analogy, integration is like you have a bloody big motorway and you have a slip-road of people coming in from the outside.”