CBC Forum

Your thoughts on the U.K.'s approach to language and immigration

British Prime Minister David Cameron is pledging to fund English-language classes for female immigrants, with a focus on Muslims, while warning they could be deported if they fail to reach certain standards. What did Cameron get right or wrong in his announcement? And are there lessons for Canada in it?

U.K. focuses on Muslim women for English-language instruction — with a threat of deportation

British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks with women attending an English-language class. Some migrants to Britain who cannot pass an English test within two and a half years of arriving may not be allowed to stay, Cameron said in a move aimed at fostering greater integration of Muslim women. (Oli Scarff/Reuters)

British Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge to fund English-language classes for female immigrants — and warning they could be deported if they fail to reach certain standards — raises a host of questions.

Coupling the funding (about $41.5 million) with a threat drew criticism from many people including members of Cameron's own party, especially since he singled out Muslim women as having a particular problem learning English.

Cameron suggested the English-language classes for Muslim women could help stop radicalization, but his critics accused him of stigmatizing Muslims.

What did Cameron get right and what did he get wrong in his announcement? And are there lessons for Canada in it?

The government of Canada website says permanent residents are eligible for language classes at no cost. To get Canadian citizenship, people aged 15 to 64 must show they have adequate English or French to understand and communicate with people.

Here are some of the thoughts shared on the latest CBC Forum — a live, hosted discussion where readers can discuss stories of national interest and the issues that arise from them. 

(Note that usernames are not necessarily the commenters' names. Some comments have been edited for length, to correct spelling and to conform to CBC style. Click on the username to read the original comment.)

Some readers had problems with Cameron's approach.

"David Cameron did not seem to provide any evidence to support his announcement — a definite problem. All newcomers should have access to English- (or French-) language education. Perhaps the cost should be based on ability to pay. To threaten deportation is just wrong." — EOttawa

"​​Canada should provide language training to all refugees who need it. U.K. Cameron's approach further alienates some when this is not the intent." — charles.beale@sympatico.ca

"As someone who has worked in the Canadian immigrant settlement language training sector for many years as a teacher and materials developer, I think Europe should be studying our system, not the other way 'round. The U.K. continues to refer to newcomers as "migrants," like birds that fly south every fall; they are always on their way to somewhere else. There's nothing for Canada to learn from Cameron or the U.K., but Trudeau 2.0 should find some resources for the sector as the Tories starved it for years, particularly in Ontario." — ChillBeef

As for Canada, many readers talked about language skills as a key to integration for newcomers.

"Of course Canada should push integration — and note I did not say assimilation, but if immigrants of any kind cannot work and function, because we let them in speaking neither English nor French, well, you end up with ghettoization and chronic unemployment." — Sirdaav

"If a person is immigrating to Canada, as opposed to being a refugee, they should be required to already be able to speak either English or French. For refugees one of the conditions of acceptance should be the undertaking of a commitment to learn one of our official languages within two years of arrival." — OdysseusCA

"The best way to free these women from a patriarchal culture/religion is to give them a voice. They are much better equipped to live in the 21st century if they can speak the language of the land they live in. Education is progress." — Refraction

"Language is one of the principal bonds that hold a nation together, just ask any Québécois. Immigrants should have full and free access to language instruction with incentives to embrace English or French." — Brian

​Some readers noted the difficulties immigrants face and asked for patience and understanding.

"Immigrants have enough issues when they arrive. They will learn English or French when they can. Some will never learn. So what? Make the transition as easy as possible. They have a hard hill to climb." — James Young

"Not all learners acquire language skill at the same rate.... Perhaps we can convince ourselves that it's OK to demand an effort to learn a language, but it's simply wrong to rip someone away from their family — from their life — because they can't learn fast enough or because they can't achieve a certain result on one test." — gaunt428

"Walk a day in their shoes.… It's easy to declare that someone must learn one of the two languages or they shall be flung out on their ear, but if you have never lived in a different language and culture, I suggest you not be too quick to condemn. Firstly, because learning a new language within a specific time is not something that can realistically be expected of some people either because of age, ability or previous experiences. Secondly, it is unthinkable that we would demand a family member be torn away and deported simply because they can't learn a language quickly enough to please us." — Mary McKim

You can read the full discussion in the live blog.

Can't see the blog? Click here. 

With files from Reuters