BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Talking Point  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Should UK immigrants speak English at home?
Asian groups and the Commission for Racial Equality have criticised David Blunkett for suggesting that immigrants should speak English in their own homes.

In an essay in a new book about Britishness, he says it would help people participate in the wider modern culture.

The new row comes just a week after Mr Blunkett handed the highly sensitive job of drawing up a "Britishness" test for immigrants to his favourite academic Professor Sir Bernard Crick.

Sir Bernard will head a committee to draw up a syllabus on "UK society and civic structures" and new arrivals to the UK will have to pass the test if they want to take full British citizenship.

Mr Blunkett's plans for citizenship tests - and his plain speaking approach on immigration and race - have led to accusations of borderline racism from some on the left.

Should people living in Britain speak English at home? Should there be a "Britishness" test?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

If a country is gracious enough to give you a passport at least learn their language

Sam, U.A.E.
Comparisons between British ex-pats and immigrants to Britain are unrealistic. I am an ex-pat and have lived in the Middle East for seven years. I don't have any rights in this country and am not entitled to a U.A.E. passport and I cannot vote or buy property here. Immigrants to Britain have been given British passports and can vote. If a country is gracious enough to give you a passport at least learn their language.
Sam, U.A.E.

It is necessary to learn the language of the country you live in, and every one who wants to function in that community must learn the language. But on the other hand one should not make that a demand for being british. I know many British people that have lived in other European countries for many many years, but can not understand a single word of native languages of the countries.
Jon, London, England

If I moved my family to France, I would definitely speak to my children in French at home as a basic aid to their integration. I would expect a poor reception from my French neighbours if I did otherwise.
Phil, UK

To dictate to me what I should do in my home is offensive and patronising

Pratik Pandya, UK
I am a British Citizen of Asian origin and I have in past wholly agreed with David Blunkett's comments that everybody settled or living in this country should acquire fluency in English. However, for him to dictate to me what I should do in my home is offensive and patronising. Is he also going to suggest that Europeans living and working in this country should also speak English at home? Is David Blunkett picking on Asians because their culture and language is non-western ?
Pratik Pandya, UK

Why is it that when you are white and you go and live in another country you are referred to as an "ex-Pat", but if you are non white you become a an immigrant?
Amarjit, UK

All government documents (both central and local) should be made in English only. I resent having to pay tax to be spent on all these multi language leaflets I get from the local authority. Either speak our language or leave.
Garry, England

I think people should be allowed to speak whatever they wish in their own homes! However, if you live in a country which is not your native one, then you should learn to speak that language; but not in your own home.
Yvonne, England

I find it amazing that we expect immigrants to this country to drop their culture at the drop of a hat; and yet all over the world there are groups of British ex-pats proudly upholding their culture.
Janie, Scotland

But you should be allowed to speak any language you want in your home

Craig, England
Outside the home you should speak the language of the country you are in. But you should be allowed to speak any language you want in your home. For example, you would not see English people who live in Spain speaking Spanish in their homes.
Craig, England

I think David Blunkett should make it compulsory for white UK nationals to learn a foreign language in their own homes! Mind you, a lot of white UK nationals can't even speak English properly these days anyway.
Rich, UK

I think that it is only fair that these 'refugees' and 'asylum seekers' should at least attempt to learn our language since we provide them with shelter and work. Especially when the government can't seem to do that for our own citizens.
Thomas Vanson, UK

If immigrants were living in France, they would be expected to learn and speak French. It goes without saying that practice makes perfect and to learn a language, you need to try and speak it. It makes sense to practice at home if you are all learning the same language and it doesn't mean that you have to completely stop speaking your mother tongue.
Helen, England

Of course immigrants should have to speak English

Samuel, England
Of course immigrants should have to speak English, they shouldn't be allowed in the country if they can't. If they can't speak English they're evidently going to keep themselves to themselves in a ghetto of their own design. Why are we admitting people who don't speak English? All they'll be doing is feathering their own nests at our expense.
Samuel, England

While I agree that immigrants should have a basic working knowledge of English to built upon and that they should have some understanding of our culture; I also think that British citizens should take it upon themselves to learn about their language and customs, as it can only enrich us both.
Brian Hunter, Scotland, UK

If I went to India or Pakistan, for example, to live, to work and to raise my children, I would be a fool not to learn the local language and to try to teach my children the local language at home. It's not a case of leaving your culture behind, it's a case of living and co-operating with the culture you go to.
Scott, UK

I am ashamed to be British

Chris, Wales
Everyday I wake up and I am ashamed to be British with attitudes of xenophobia and racism surrounding me at work and in the media. Blunkett simply represents the shameful majority in Britain. It's not his fault we live in a nation of ignorant peons.
Chris, Wales

A test for Britishness cleverly places the blame of racial problems on the immigrant, rather than on institutional racism, past colonial excesses, unfair foreign policy and unscrupulous arms trade practices.
Arturo, UK

Seems to me that asking people wishing to settle in Britain to speak English is simple common sense, maybe that's just me being too British about it though!
Dan, UK

This is segregation dressed up as fair testing

Col, UK Ex-pat
This is segregation dressed up as fair testing. Someone from a privileged background will have more access to knowledge. Knowledge of Britain, of language, interview skills, examination skills etc and therefore will sail the test. The underprivileged will have a much tougher time. It's means testing of immigrants. The privileged can stay and the poor can push off.
Col, UK Ex-pat

No! As a British businessman, selling UK Products in the Middle East, I want to speak to my son in Arabic as well as in English at home so that he has extra skills to achieve in life. Mr. Blunkett's needs to be reminded, one of the reasons for 9/11 intelligence failure was the US security agencies were short of language skills.
Suhaib Ahmed, UK (Iraqi born)

The English language is a very important part of our culture, perhaps more so in England than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Yet, it seems very un-British to suggest anybody should be forced to speak it. But equally no alternative should be given either. A much better and more constructive idea would be to take the money that goes into translating all kinds of esoteric Government documents into Urdu, Gujarati, Arabic etc. and spending it on English language education for new British citizens? And I say this as a multilingual Englishman.
Simon Hoare, Belgium (English)

Surely if Mr Blunkett wanted increased integration of the different ethnic minorities in Britain, then he should promote the use of multilingual leaflets, easier access to translators etc so that we can access services better. Yes learning English is extremely beneficial, but for some people it is difficult to do so. Therefore should they be excluded from the different services that they can access, such as hospitals, benefits, CAB etc?
Henry Lau, UK

There is no suggestion that it should be mandatory or that it should replace the native mother tongue or culture

Prakash, UK
I do not see what the fuss is all about. Mr. Blunkett merely said that it would be beneficial for immigrant families to speak English at home. There is no suggestion that it should be mandatory or that it should replace the native mother tongue or culture. Mr. Blunkett is only expressing his opinion of how he thinks immigrant families can be better integrated. I don't see anything racist in that, and in a democracy opinions are allowed.

Just for the record, we speak three languages at home - Tamil, Hindi and English and our daughter understands all three and converses in Tamil and English. All this hullabaloo from the assorted bunch of politicians just makes me more cynical about politics, and underlines their tendency to indulge in opportunism rather than seriously trying to make a difference.
Prakash, UK

I am English and my wife is Thai. My daughter uses both languages at home. I have a Thai friend who came to this country when she was about 12 yrs old. At home her parents talked to her only in Thai. She is now 19 and can speak perfect English as well as Thai French, German and Spanish. So what is the problem of people using there original language in the privacy of their own homes?
Kevin, UK

If immigrants truly want to be part of their adoptive country (as opposed to those who simply want money), then they will embrace its culture and language. In California, with foreign-born as a major part of the population, the immigrants have demanded that their children be taught English and be taught in that same language and not their own native languages.
Daniel B. Rego, USA

Australia only accept immigrants who are fluent in English and can pass an extensive written test. Students applying to the top schools are required to sit a written test which requires them, among other things, to have an excellent level of English. All tertiary education requires students to have a good level of English to acquire reasonable grades. In our citizenship ceremony new Australians are required to take an oath of allegiance to the country (but not the Queen).
Louise, Sydney, Australia

Strange to read comments that immigrants to the UK should speak English at home. Having spent ten years living in Germany where the immigrants who tried the least to integrate into the local community or to speak the local language were, with very few exceptions, the English!
Chris, UK

Speak whatever tongue you wish in the privacy of your own home - as long as it is your own home! If you can support your family without recourse to benefit from the state OK, if you expect the state to support you, then before your allowed admittance to the country you should show you have the abilities to earn an income, i.e. speak the English language.
Nick, UK

It is not uncommon for our citizens to speak different languages in their homes

Jo, Canada
This topic is one Canadians have visited on many occasions. We are a multicultural society and proud of our diversity. As a bilingual nation, it is not uncommon for our citizens to speak different languages in their homes. Many businesses have taken the initiative to accommodate individuals who have not mastered English or French by employing someone to provide the services in different languages. This acts as a link between the new Canadians and our existing population. New Canadians understand the need to learn one or both of our two official languages in order to succeed.
Jo, Canada

I can't believe that some people are trying to turn this into a race thing. Surely it's merely common sense to have a good understanding of the language and culture of the country you are living in.
Dee, England

I believe that the ability to participate fully in a country's culture and community should be a pre-requisite of citizenship. Participation should be encouraged wherever possible. However, what people choose to do in their own homes - if it breaks no law - is no business of the government's at all.
Jeremy Ball, USA

David Blunkett's suggestion that non-English speaking immigrants to the UK should speak English in their own homes is clearly impractical and unpopular. However I see no reason why people wishing to make a permanent home in this country should not be expected to attain a reasonable standard of spoken, and preferably also written, English.
Linda, England

All immigrants should show respect to their adopted country of residence

Colin, USA, originally Scotland
My kids each day at school in the US need to swear allegiance to the US flag. They are very proud of their British heritage but not so proud that they don't make an effort to integrate into the society that they live. All immigrants should show respect to their adopted country of residence, and make more effort to integrate, whilst not forgetting their own culture.
Colin, USA, originally Scotland

How many languages can Mr Blunkett speak? I speak 4 - English, Czech, Italian and French. Mainly through having learnt them at home with my parents.
Martin, UK

My command of the English language has nothing to do with what we speak at home - my parents and my wife have always communicated in Punjabi with me. Yet we speak in English with the kids, and they speak in Punjabi to us. I find it difficult to understand the sentiments of politicians who seem very good at fanning the flames of controversy yet fail to understand the extents we have to go through to simply be accepted in society.
Tahir Mahmood, England

Another language opens a fresh window on the world

Jag Dhaliwal, Birmingham, UK
Making a conscious effort to speak and have Punjabi spoken is a conscious decision in our house - it would be far easier to speak in English alone. However, bilingualism confers distinct advantages, in my opinion. My experience at school was that many of the most able French and Spanish language students were of Asian origin and I seem to fair much better at pronouncing Welsh words and names than my monoglot friends! Another language opens a fresh window on the world.
Jag Dhaliwal, Birmingham, UK

Perhaps Mr Blunkett's examination of "Britishness" could start with him remembering that "An Englishman's home is his castle"? Then perhaps he'd keep his nose out of what people do, and what languages they choose to speak, in the privacy of their own homes.
Roy, UK

The problem lies with those worrying about their own identity being somehow threatened by what language is being spoken by strangers behind closed doors. Yes more should be done to include people into the wider society, perhaps including more ESL training. However it should not be assumed that someone can't communicate with you just because they look different to you. That is the danger of legislation like this, it will do more to seperate people than speaking different languages.
Ian Fry, USA

Giving them the skills to ensure that they have proper access to education and the jobs market

Janet, UK
What language people choose to speak at home is not really the issue here. What the issue is, is giving them the skills to ensure that they have proper access to education and the jobs market. If people cannot speak the language of the country where they are living, at a high enough standard then they and their communities cannot access education, the job market etc, and become trapped in isolated communities.
Janet, UK

I have first-hand experience of growing up in the UK whilst speaking in English at home all the time. As a result I have always had a poor command of my ancestral languages - Punjabi and Urdu. If I was to "go back home", I couldn't be successful. I am having a bigger problem with my children in getting them to learn Punjabi/Urdu. Speaking languages other than English at home is the only way forward.
Shahed Chaudhary, England, UK

At home, everybody should speak their language, treasure their heritage and their culture. But in public life they should speak English basically as a respect to the country which provides them with a home. It is our politics which make the newcomers confused - giving them special attention under the name of multicultural settings. We are all supposed to be equal in front of the law and in public life, therefore speak English.
Gerhard, UK

I resent any attempt to dictate what language people must speak in private. I am a native Scots speaker and regard the authoritarian attitudes towards Scots and Gaelic in my country as cultural imperialism. The fact that we do speak English as well as our other languages, our multilingualism, is an important asset. Surely the issue is about any of us, Scots, Welsh, English or immigrant, being prepared to engage and communicate with our neighbours. This is a state of mind, not something which can be achieved by prescription or edict.
Brian Hill, UK

The divide between cultures is widening, not narrowing

Em, Birmingham, England
Living in a community with a very large immigrant population, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the divide between cultures is widening, not narrowing. Muslims have their own schools that only take children from Muslim families - unlike the local Catholic schools that admit children from a very wide variety of cultures. These Muslim children are growing up with little contact with children from white families and are often isolated and bigoted against white Britons.
Em, Birmingham, England

I belong to a Urdu speaking family, at home we do speak Urdu, but it does not mean that we do not understand or cannot read or write English.
A AZ, United Kingdom

By failing to speak English they are widening the gulf between social groups

Ed, UK
When it gets to the point where 'British citizens' require a translator to pass their driving test or in court etc, then there should be some sort of control. By failing to speak English they are widening the gulf between social groups, leading to increased tensions.
Ed, UK

If a immigrant would like to settle in Germany, or America, or Australia they would have to sit a test or read a oath to become a member of that country, In Germany two people in every three of a family group must speak fluent German, in Australia you must have a certain amount of money in your bank account to sustain you whilst setting up home so you don't claim benefit. In the US you have to fill out a mass of paper work but in Great Britain you have just turn up! No wonder we have an immigrant problem!
Matt, UK

English is the native language of England. When shopping etc, those of non-English descent should speak English so that they are not misunderstood. In their own homes, however, they should be able to speak in their native tongue as and when they wish.
Darren, UK

Whatever language you choose to speak in the privacy of your own home is no concern to anyone else

Damian, UK
Whatever language you choose to speak in the privacy of your own home is no concern to anyone else. I do believe though that immigrants entering the UK should be able to speak with at least an acceptable level of English, thus enabling them to find employment, and for their children to be educated in English schools without need for special classes.
Damian, UK

What a person does behind their own front door is their business, but in public, we must all show respect and restraint to all. Or perhaps we should take a leaf out of the USA's book and make everyone, not just immigrants, swear an oath to the flag of the country.
CJW, England

People should be allowed to speak whatever language they wish in their own homes as long as they are capable of speaking English fluently as a resident of the country.
Ben Southall, England

I think Mr Blunkett has slightly overstepped the mark. It is wrong to expect a someone to drop their national language just because they live in this country. However, I think it should be compulsory for non-English speaking immigrants to have English lessons before being granted citizenship.
Paul, England

Surely it is only the British who could find the concept of bilingualism so difficult to grasp

Ben, UK
Surely it is only the British who could find the concept of bilingualism so difficult to grasp. In many parts of the world, bilingualism is common place, and certainly the British Asian students that I teach put the majority of British citizens to shame when it comes to mastery of two or more languages. The speaking of other languages in the home, together with exposure to English, should be positively encouraged and welcomed.
Ben, UK

If a significant population of English speaking residents from the UK migrated to Asia how many would be prepared to learn Hindi, or any other local language? How many others would be prepared to speak the language in their own homes? Some immigrants will assimilate into our multi cultural society more quickly than others depending on their particular background. David Blunkett's misguided comments merely serve to patronise and will not make any difference.
Andrew MacMichael, UK

I don't think anybody commenting here has actually read the essay published by David Blunkett. In it he merely makes the very valid and obvious point that immigrants will most benefit from this society by speaking English, and that this could include speaking English in the home. The media as always has created a controversy where none exists.
Peter, UK

It's absolutely none of the Government's business what language anyone wants to speak in their own home. What with this and the Britishness test I'm starting to wonder when we will be seeing the Ministry of Truth.
Colin Wright, UK

Can you imagine the uproar if British ex-pats living abroad were forced to abandon their mother tongue? I reserve the right to speak English, Urdu or Klingon in my own home if I so wish, and would defend to the death anybody else's right to do the same. I can't believe we are even having this discussion.
Iain, UK

My parents are German and Italian although I was raised in the UK. In my family we're all tri-lingual but sometimes specific languages lend themselves better to certain situations and so we tend to swap from English to German to Italian even within the same conversation. I'd like to know how Mr Bunkett would intend to monitor how people speak at home. CCTV? Bugs? The whole thing's a joke.
Alex B, UK

Being completely, fluently bi-lingual is one of the greatest gifts any individual can possess. It is a talent most easily acquired by being immersed in two languages from birth. And what better opportunity to do this than being brought up in an "immigrant" family environment in which the family's first language is used, while functioning in the host community in that country's "native" language. Net result- virtually guaranteed bilingualism. And of course the two languages are not mutually exclusive - they intertwine and overlap so that the younger ones who speak both languages help the older ones to acquire language skills.
Richard, Japan

It is at the very least courteous to be able to speak the native language when required

Huw, Macclesfield, England
What anyone speaks at home is irrelevant. However, I think the case for "when in Rome" etc. argues that it is at the very least courteous to be able to speak the native language when required. Not doing so only breeds suspicion, ignorance and ultimately racism. The trouble is that few of us Brits practice that principle abroad so we don't exactly set a good example do we?
Huw, Macclesfield, England

I don't like the term "Britishness" as there is simply no such thing. Any test of Britishness would be biased and subjective. Also how are you going to test someone's tolerance level towards others or their level of loyalty to Britain? On the other hand, I agree a test on the English language as it is simply a fact that English is the official language throughout the United Kingdom. It is reasonable to expect anyone British to speak at least a basic level of English.
Kevin, England

I think the idea of compelling individuals to speak a particular language in their own home a very un-British thing. However, I do understand the need to ensure that those seeking to live and work within the UK should be able to speak the language and have a reasonable (whatever that is) knowledge of the history and culture they are now intending to partake in. Without core skills such as language and cultural awareness it is very difficult to benefit from or offer anything to society at large. And if you intend to offer nothing, what are you doing here in the first place?
James, UK

Being of Indian origin with Bengali parents, I am fluent in Hindi, Bengali, and English. English is my main language for day to day interaction, but I do speak a mixture of Hindi and Bengali at home. I feel it is an asset to have a grasp of something other than plain old English. It provides me with a window to my heritage. This would be something I wouldn't have had if my parents had insisted on speaking only English at home.
Sheela, London, UK

I've heard the argument that people want to hold onto their language and heritage. If it's so important then why come here to live in the first place? To live in this country I think people should have respect for this country, its language, heritage, and tradition.
Nigel, England

He should concentrate on controlling illegal immigration in the first place

Ben, England
It's none of the Home Secretary's business what anyone speaks in the privacy of his own home. He should concentrate on controlling illegal immigration in the first place, not on lecturing those that have already arrived.
Ben, England

Inability to learn the national language fosters segregation from wider society, leading to a proliferation of ghettos. Besides, how can an individual contribute to society (ie. pay taxes) if they can not speak English and therefore cannot work? I think this is a positive move.
Jules, UK

Of course, and all British ex-pats living on the Spanish Costa's or in the Gulf states should be speaking only Spanish or Arabic at home!
Rachel, UK

How can immigrants get work if they don't speak the language of the country?

Jane, England
How can immigrants get work if they don't speak the language of the country? Surely speaking English is the very least we should ask. Otherwise immigrants will simply be a burden on the state and resentment against them will increase. Being over liberal in our views towards immigrants will ultimately work against them.
Jane, England

Another example of a nanny state. Will he next ask the cast of Eastenders to speak English?!
Jim Gleeson, England

Having lived in the UK for almost 28 years we always spoke in our own language, Cantonese, at home, as we feel it is important to maintain our language. Not only was it a natural choice but is important to hold on to our cultural link and heritage.
Wah, UK

We should embrace cultural differences to grow as a nation

P, Wales
I'm not sure that David Blunkett is accepting the wider implications of what he proposes. In the past, Welsh speaking was banned and almost wiped out as a language, certainly welsh culture today, which is rich and vibrant, would not exist if English was the only language spoken in the home. We should embrace cultural differences to grow as a nation, and not become divisive instead.
P, Wales

Why did we let people who couldn't speak English (and other legal UK languages) immigrate in the first place? I don't see job adverts crying out for unskilled, uneducated, non-English speakers!
Rob Read, U.K.

Should immigrants living in Britain speak English in the home? What utter nonsense! What right does Mr Blunkett have to suggest what people can and can't do in their own homes? I'm not an immigrant but I speak Welsh at home. Am I doing wrong? Of course not. I want to preserve my rich cultural heritage. In the same way, immigrants will want to retain their culture in the home. I cannot see why any reasonable person would object to that. Clearly Mr Blunkett isn't a reasonable individual.
Jon, Wales

The language people speak at home should be their own choice; however anyone who moves to a foreign country should expect to be required to learn the language of that country for their everyday business and education. I would welcome financial support for classes where immigrants can learn English.
Karen, England

I would welcome a Britishness test

John Latham, UK
I would welcome a Britishness test, but it should be done on a fair and equal basis. The Welsh and Scottish should be expected to speak English and the English should learn the other languages of our United Kingdom. Then, any immigrants can learn whichever of these languages they want and settle accordingly.
John Latham, UK

The measurement of Britishness or any nationality should be based on the willingness of individuals to learn the language and have a basic grasp of that nation's culture.
Hazel, UK

All the best schools in Australia require applicants to sit an exam which, among other things, tests children on their level of English. Only students with a good grasp of the English language make it into the best schools.
Jacqui, Australia

How absurd! Being a part of a country or culture should be determined by one's ability to contribute positively to society.
Suhail Bhatia, India.

To Suhail Batia of India: The measure of someones nationality is not just their contribution to society, but their allegiance to it. Would they defend it. Would the fight to defend the British Realm. Would they swear allegiance to Queen and country. If they are not prepared to do these things then the size of their bank balance, in my view, is irrelevant.

They might employ 10 or 100 people, but if they support an opposing country in a war, then they should be ousted. But is that too late. Should we be taking steps now to prevent that happening later. The USA does. Every student swears allegiance to the flag every morning, regardless of their place of birth. I believe Mr Blunkett's remarks are a step in the right direction.
Bryan, England(and proud of it)

It's about time we allowed the poor of the world to come to our country and share our wealth

Anon, Wales
Did British colonials have to take tests to prove how Indian or African they were when the empire was at its peak? No. Did the lords of the empire worry about ethnic cultures, tribal diversity or national boundaries when they carved up the world for their own personal gain? No. It's about time we accepted responsibility for these horrible failures from our past, and allowed the poor of the world to come to our country and share our wealth.
Anon, Wales

I'm an immigrant from the US. Since we're already fluent in English and studied European history in school (it is deeply intertwined with our own, after all) can we be exempted from the test? No? Where do you draw the line, then? Is it foreign languages, accents, vocabulary, or different cultures that scare some people or merely a lack of knowledge of football, cricket, and Coronation Street?
Anonymous American, England (USA)

I see 'Britishness' as marked by tolerance, courtesy and love of liberty. I think a syllabus that teaches new Britons the best about Britain can only be good. Britain could do without intolerant and bigoted, immigrants while welcoming those who will enrich British society with their cultural heritage.
Rob Scovell, New Zealand

There's no such thing as culture

Emily, UK
We did citizenship at school. It's pointless and stupid; a load of indoctrination. I think anyone should be allowed into the country. There's no such thing as culture - it's just things that people happen to have in common. You shouldn't stereotype people because of where they come from.
Emily, UK

I was born in England of British parents. My two children were born in France and their father is an Iranian refugee. They both have British passports only. Their written English is not up to par compared with their "100% English" cousins. They do not qualify for French nationality and their father doesn't dare show his face at the Iranian embassy to get them Iranian passports. I couldn't care less which nationality any of us are so long as we can travel freely. But no way should any of us be subjected to tests to see if we "deserve" our birthright.
Kay, France

My daughters speak Welsh and would fail any English test

Lisa, Wales
My family have always lived in Britain as far as we know. However, my daughters currently speak mainly Welsh and will start learning English in the upper classes of primary school. They would therefore fail any English language test.
Lisa, Wales

My impression of Englishness is: people who are extremely polite, courteous and reserved; who try their best to be helpful and considerate, and who are quietly (and rightly) appalled by those without these sterling traits. I have the highest regard for our "mother country" and its inhabitants. I fully realise you consider Americans lacking in those sterling traits and some are. Nevertheless, it always hurts my feelings when I read how many of you seem to hate Americans, when so many of us have absolutely the highest regard for you.

To CA, USA: I do not believe many in the UK hate Americans. A tiny minority on the far-left or religious bigots maybe. "Most people" in the UK have a high regard for "most" Americans.
Simon, England

When most of the people here talk about Britishness what they really mean is Englishness. I live in Wales and we have our own language and our institutions and it would be nice if some of the English who move in bothered to learn about our culture before moaning about people not learning what Britishness is.
Anonymous, Wales

It is impossible to test people for Britishness or any other new nationality. I believe people are citizen by birth or where they grow up. Adopting a new nationality is an unnatural process. We are all citizens of same one world.
AK Panhwar, USA

It's an ideological conception

Jenny Reddaway, UK
We can't test for Britishness; it's an ideological conception which varies accordingly to the individual. What we can and should require is that we give an oath of allegiance to our country and swear to uphold its laws.
Jenny Reddaway, UK

The reason an immigration test makes more sense in the US is that there is a written constitution which defines what Americans believe in. This is the necessary first step if we want to do likewise in the UK.
Geoff, UK

At the moment it seems that to be truly British you need to unquestioningly pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States.
Wendy, UK

I think it is totally acceptable

S. Donnelly, US
I think it is totally acceptable. If you are a woman and wanted to live in Saudi Arabia you would be required to wear a shield over your face, you would not be allowed to drive, men would not shake your hand, etc. Why is that OK for them, yet we can't even require them to take a simple test?
S. Donnelly, US

As a naturalised British citizen I've done my best to fit in and contribute to the wellbeing of my adopted country. I am grateful for many things the UK has offered me, but I must say, many so-called native Britons make it one hell of job for the likes of us to feel British. S. Donnelly's Saudi example above, seems a way to display her superiority over the Muslim British (a reflection of sense of inferiority, no doubt!) My Britishness is to contribute positively and constructively to my new country, while dismissing the pathetic vanity shown by those who are re-living the British Raj!
S. Ahmed, UK

I think due to international instability, there should be a test to ensure some form of allegiance to the country you are living in. Most South Africans leave to do a short lucrative stint in the UK, and then skip the country before the end of the financial year to avoid paying tax. I think if you move to a country, your responsibility and loyalty must be with that particular country, otherwise you should not be living there abusing its resources.
Jason M, South Africa

How obnoxious

Annie, England
How obnoxious. Thousands of British ex-pats live in Spain and France (not to mention everywhere else) and don't bother to learn one iota of the local language.
Annie, England

Be like the majority of countries and ensure that immigrants come here with a certain amount of money, so that they can support themselves and their family members.
SC, England

All Britons are racially mixed - descended from Anglo Saxons, Celts, Vikings, Romans, Picts, Gauls, Hugenots, Danes and others. Within the last century people have come from further a field, but for no different reasons than the people who have migrated to Britain throughout history. This is what we should teach everyone in Britain. Then we will accept immigrants more, as we realise there's no 'pure' Britons.
Colin, UK

I think the whole population should have to take the Britishness test. I think the ensuing results will show what a completely backward nation we really are.
Simon Atkinson, UK

It can only help us move towards a harmonious society

Michael Pearce, UK
I think there should be a test, many countries do it, and it's not unreasonable. Requiring people to speak English will only help us to understand the immigrants own culture. It can only help us and them move towards a harmonious society.
Michael Pearce, UK

I can tell you who would fail the test. Tony Blair PM!
Mark D, England

If I wanted to emigrate to virtually any other country I would be expected to meet certain standards or pass a test. This should definitely happen here if you want to stay in Britain.
Helen, UK

Surely a start would be to only print immigration applications in English. This would not only save a lot of money and resources wasted by duplication, but it would make sure that the applicant had at least a grasp of the language.
Wayne, England

We are the mugs of the world when it comes to asylum seekers

Andrew, Scotland
I think being able to speak English is a very important part of being British, that is the ability to bring something to the country rather than just arrive and take advantage of the benefits system we have. We are the mugs of the world when it comes to asylum seekers and fakes.
Andrew, Scotland

Why should we ask those who arrive in this country to pass a test that many "indigenous" Brits would fail? I personally could never bring myself to pledge allegiance to the Crown (I want a republic) or to the Church (I'm an atheist). The whole concept of a test strikes me as fundamentally "un-British"!
John, England

I think it is arrogant to suggest that you should have to learn to be more British

John, South Africa
I am a South African living in London and I am proud of my own heritage. I would never take a test to become British as I have no desire to be British. I think it is arrogant for anyone to suggest that you should have to learn to be more British. I would like to quote something I have heard, which says "Patriotism is the last hiding place of the scoundrel".
John, South Africa

They'd obviously need to be up to speed with the plot of Eastenders, love football and think the Queen is great.
Gary, UK

It should test whether someone is tolerant, compassionate, considers the implications of their actions upon others and whether they are likely to be willing to contribute to a happy, harmonious society. Mind you, given those criteria, we'll probably have to deport a load of people actually born here.
Steve, Notts, UK

What is Britishness anymore? We have developed into a multicultural race and society. I think that defines the British; a country that is willing to learn and accept other people for what they are.
Andy, UK

Ensure they can speak and write the language

Rick, UK
I agree with earlier comments, ensure they can speak and write the language and make them adopt it as their first language. Also ensure they get a job within 6 months of being here and reduce their benefits accordingly.
Rick, UK

A genetic requirement to fight after 10 pints of lukewarm lager, and enjoying depressing soap operas with miserable plot lines!

Basic grasp of a British language, history and culture. Respect for British values such as democracy, freedom of speech and the equality of women and minorities.
Chris, England

Anybody permanently settled in the UK should speak English

Emma, UK
For the case of this argument, I don't think it would be too much to ask that anybody permanently settled in the UK should be able speak English. The amount of people who have lived here for 20 or 30 years and still don't speak the language is ridiculous.
Emma, UK

A lot is made of having to know how to speak English. I don't know what language the kids around my estate are talking. Its based around grunts and shouts and is punctuated by obscenities. Is this a form of English? If so do they qualify as being British?
Andy, UK

A fairly accurate test would be to see how long a person is willing to stand patiently in a queue, while meeting with indifferent levels of service in an attempt to get a train ticket for an execrable transport service. Or perhaps another happy fool who believes that the NHS is still the envy of the world!
Christina Villegas, UK

If the test for Britishness as some pointed out includes knowledge of UK society and civic structures, swearing allegiance to the Queen and being able to speak English reasonable well, then my Kenyan mother (who can sing and knows all the words to the British national anthem) and most older generation Kenyans who grew up under colonialism and were educated in British missionary school and universities would a qualify - is the British government then going to grant them citizenship?
Ana, Kenyan living in US

A mere test is the least one could expect in order to prove commitment

Sue, England
I see nothing untoward about taking a Britishness test. I was born here, live, work and have a family here. We are English (British). If immigrants desire to come to this country then it should be a condition on their application, to be tested for their commitment to this tolerant country. Indeed if the UK way of life is so attractive to immigrants in the first place, then why try and change its culture? If one wants to live here then one must accept our culture, defend our country and bide by our rules and a mere test is the least one could expect in order to prove commitment.
Sue, England

I hate the term British. I'm English and proud of it. The Welsh and Scots are allowed to have a separate identity, but the English are constantly taken to task for claiming their heritage and flying their flag for fear of causing racial tension. I would never, ever take a test to prove I'm British, and I wouldn't expect anyone else to. However, as each country within the British Isles has its own ancestral culture then why not have a number of different cultural lessons with an exam at the end of them. These tests should only be available in English, Welsh and Gaelic, the home languages in each country of the British Isles!
Bob Knox, England

Well said Bob Knox. I'm English not British. Anyone wishing to live in this country should abide by its laws and learn its language and culture. Our government is useless and panders to every human rights or freedom group. England can be a multicultural society with churches, mosques and synagogues, but everyone who wishes to live in England should take an oath of allegiance to England.
Mike C, England

Being British is believing in fair play, looking out for the underdog, being tolerant towards others and being proud of our heritage, history and traditions. From the days of the Empire there are many people of all races, creeds and colours who pass that test more than some of our home grown football hooligans. Being British is a state of mind. Unfortunately Tony Blair is willing to give all that up over Gibraltar or is looking to the future so that Britain can become the 51st State.
J.H. Dicker, HK British

True Britishness is a person that will fight for England

Enrique, Belize, Central America
True Britishness is only guaranteed with a person that has lived for more than five years in the country, and will serve Her Majesty the Queen and fight for England.
Enrique, Belize, Central America

The Brits need all the testing they can get.
David, US

Re: the comment of David, US...huh? The "Brits" need testing? Whatever are you jabbering about? You are the one in need of a serious evaluation; your statement makes no sense, is hostile for no reason, and is simply rude beyond measure. Get a grip and get a life.
Alan, US

My father is Welsh, my mother is English and her mother is of Irish parents but was born and bred in Scotland. You would think that you can't get more British than that. But my brother and I constantly get asked by those who don't know us if we are of Eastern or Oriental descent!
Hannah, UK

For this to be fair all current UK residents should take the oath and classes too

Eddie, UK
I am all for the US style oath of allegiance and a series of classes on British geography and culture for all immigrants. In order for this to be fair all current UK residents should take the oath and classes too. Unfortunately I fear that the first time fail rate would destroy the government's education figures so Tony will never allow it.
Eddie, UK

Britons cannot be patriotic, its way of life has changed to accommodate migrants' beliefs; it's time to fight back and stand up for your country. People who wish to live in Britain should take a test to understand that to live there they have to accept the laws of the land and its history. It's a bit off when Britain can't be Britain anymore.
Cathy Jones, Australia ex pat

How would they pass the test if they don't have a stiff upper lip? I hope that wouldn't be a requirement. All you need is for a new citizen to take a pledge that he/she will honour and defend the country, obey the laws of the land and live in harmony with all the people regardless of race, language, colour and religion. Allegiance to the USA via the UK should not be made a requirement.
John Henry, Singapore

This is clearly a terrible idea. It is impossible to think of any "Britishness test" that does not sound ridiculous. If this plan is put into action, I suggest immigrants answer questions about Inspector Morse and Lovejoy.
Jody, UK

Why don't we establish a ministry of ideological purity while we're at it?

C Wright, UK
What a good idea, why don't we establish a ministry of ideological purity while we're at it? It seems we've decided to start the new century with a new brand of friendly fascism. What I would like to know is whether Mr Blunkett means to apply this test to refugees as well as other immigrants?
C Wright, UK

Britishness has to include allegiance to the Queen, upholding the rule of law, respect for fellow citizen and their rights and being charitable to the unfortunate and poor. No need for cricket test of Norman Tebbitt.
Vijay K Vijayaratnam, United Kingdom

I wonder whether any Britishness test would be waived for the right fee? Currently, one of the ways you can stay in Britain indefinitely is to have a large bank balance.
Paul, UK

Rights are a privilege and you have to earn them

Gavin Pearson, English in Detroit, USA
There are many people who enter a country and insist they have rights, but rights are a privilege and you have to earn them. To earn the right to vote in Britain conforming to the law, speaking reasonably fluent English, Welsh or Gaelic (the three languages of the UK), and having a basic grasp of how Britain runs is reasonable.
Gavin Pearson, English in Detroit, USA

Any Englishman who hasn't read Francis Bacon should be exiled

Glen Claston, US

Gavin Pearson: It's been nice having you but you need to go home now. You've failed the US test! The difference between rights and privileges is that rights do not have to be earned, they are something granted to all humanity. Insinuating that a right should be revokable by law is to misunderstand the nature of democratic government. Patriotism has nothing to do with rights or privileges. It is often more patriotic to ask difficult questions.

Your Francis Bacon was a voice of reason during times of great trouble that was well read by our founding fathers, and still embodies many of the ideas of rights and privileges used in modern governments. I think any Englishman who hasn't read or understood Francis Bacon should be exiled to Detroit!
Glen Claston, US

To Gavin Pearson in Detroit: I would include British Sign Language in your list of commonly used native languages.
Chris Q, Bradford England

Hmmm, how about the ability to order a Chinese or Indian takeaway?
Christopher Laird, Japan

Why not make all new UK citizens renounce all other nationalities held (and handing in any passports) and swear allegiance to the Crown etc..?
Martin, UK

Do I have to take the test?

Gary, England
Britain doesn't exist; ask the Scots, Welsh or most of N.I. if they consider themselves British. I consider myself to be English, but my family came here from Norway 2000 years ago. Do I have to take the test?
Gary, England

Australia's ceremony for new citizens requires them to learn the national anthem, which makes them the only people in the whole country who actually know all the words.
Louise, Sydney, Australia

People should be able to speak English - for their own sake; to mix with the community. They most certainly should be taught that their religion will not exempt them from the laws of England. Apart from that it may be that some will bring different crafts to the market - this could be a positive move. I also think a health check would be a good idea.

Britishness is difficult to define because there are four nations with different cultures and languages. Great Britain was a great and far-sighted achievement but I think its time is up.
Ian MacKenzie, Canada

The significance of major holidays

Fatimah Begum, UK
First and foremost, the ability to speak, read and write English to some level; perhaps year 7 or 8. That certainly isn't too much to ask. Then a basic understanding of the basic structure of the government and the legal system as well as the basic rights and responsibilities of every citizen. Perhaps smaller points, such as the significance of major holidays, certain historic landmarks etc.
Fatimah Begum, UK

Given the PM's own position, one will presumably have to swear absolute and unquestioning allegiance to George W Bush and all his heirs and successors.
Stuart Whatling, UK

Simple, if you always look miserable and find it virtually impossible to smile and be courteous to others, then you will probably pass the "Britishness" test.

This test will not solve the problem

Paul Haire, UK
This is an unnecessary waste of taxpayers' money. The only damage people who don't speak English or know about British culture do is to themselves. This test will not solve the problem. You can't force people to do something which they are not interested in. Surely they bring something to British society by their difference from us.
Paul Haire, UK

Just get people to attempt to form an orderly queue. It's a sure way of telling us apart from anyone else in the world in my experience! Anyone who can manage not to push in and wait for hours without complaining should be welcomed with open arms. Maybe also we could time people to see for how long they could talk about the weather.
Jon Cooper, UK

The United States, a nation of immigrants, has a citizenship test for new arrivals, so there is no reason why we shouldn't too. It tests a basic knowledge of US geography, history, political system, money, language and law - all the everyday things one needs to be a productive member of society.
Guy Hammond, England

I think it should start with understanding our culture, for example, the postman, the milkman, the corner shop and other things that are British. Then ask about our work ethics and traditional past times. The most important thing is to test them on their culture versus ours, divorce, drinking and adultery are not accepted in some religions but in Britain they are part of everyday life now!
Simon Doderer, England

A Britishness test is plainly unworkable

Rob Sears, UK
A Britishness test is plainly unworkable - either it will be absurdly minimal (What is the capital city? Do you swear allegiance to the Queen?) or it will be one the majority of the "indigenous" population will be unable to pass. An anti-Britishness test on the other hand, which bars those whose interests pose a real danger to the nation, seems like a good idea.
Rob Sears, UK

What a load of rubbish! When Norman Tebbitt suggested a similar thing 20 years ago, he was derided. Now, with the scaremongering and media frenzy regarding immigration, it is being seriously considered again. Another knee-jerk reaction in an attempt to appease middle Britain.
Steve Hodgson, Leeds, UK

Can't be good at cricket

Richard N, UK
Favourite food has to be curry, can't be good at cricket (or any other sport for that matter), have to succumb to media-driven frenzies of sentimentality, and have to aspire to retiring to a cottage in France or Spain.
Richard N, UK

I see no problem in offering education to newly arrived immigrants about the societal and civic structures that exist within the UK but introducing a 'test' to ensure good citizenship is possibly the most ridiculous idea that the bigoted minister in question has come up with so far!
Alan DeBrun, UK

Here are my question suggestions: 1) Do you enjoy watching moronic gameshows or reality TV?
2) Is your idea of a good night out 12 pints of larger and a fight?
3) Are you an ill-educated idiot working in a menial job who despises anyone who has managed to achieve something with their life?
Anyone who answers yes to all three questions is probably British already!
Tom, UK

Any immigrant should be required to sign an agreement accepting the laws of the land

Roy Richards, UK
Any immigrant, of whatever colour or creed, should be required to sign an agreement that they agree and accept the laws of the land and that they will not seek to subvert those laws by use of the religion or customs of their previous homeland. They would also have to agree to learn English.
Roy Richards, UK

Any testing or promoting of British culture and history should be a mandatory subject, not only for potential citizens but also incumbent holders of that privilege. All should be encouraged/obliged to take a test, as without knowing where we have come from, how do we know where we are going or avoid repeating the mistakes of the past?
Neil , England

I live in Britain, was born in Britain, and my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are British, but I don't have a clue what "Britishness" is.
Shaun, UK

If you can't stand milk in your tea, you are not British.
Mark, USA

There is no simple way of establishing "Britishness" whatever that might be. GB contains many diverse views, religions, colours and is often the better for it. How about this one: "Are you prepared to be tolerant of all of the opinions expressed within the UK, even the ones you disagree with?"
Trevor H, UK

Would I pass? I hope not!
Leigh, USA (UK orig)

This is pathetic and divisive. There are millions of people born here who wouldn't pass a test on "UK society and civic structures". Would the government take away their citizenship or subject status?
John Grygielewicz, London, UK

I think we'd be better served to demand a basic comprehension of the systems, institutions, laws and customs of British society in general, and an adequate command of the English language. That way we can be sure that prospective immigrants are sensitive and respectful of the culture they have chosen to become part of.
Paul Barrows, Britain

The US and Canada have very strict citizenship tests

Fraser Heath, Aberdeen
The US and Canada have very strict citizenship tests that few Americans/Canadians would pass also. They want to ensure that only the people who truly want to become citizens make it. As it is, we're currently letting in people who hate the British way of life.
Fraser Heath, Aberdeen, UK

For those who point to American and Canadian examples as role models for Britain: our citizenship and language tests are ridiculous, degrading, highly subjective, and prove absolutely nothing about a person's ability to contribute to society. Does anyone actually believe that a bunch of so-called experts can define what constitutes British, American or Canadian culture?
Myriam, Canada

It's silly. Imagine Germanness tests in Germany to make sure you understand German culture. However, new British citizens should have to go through formalities to make it crystal clear that when you join the club you have to play by its rules.
Simon, Belgium

How can we ask our immigrants to know and respect our culture when increasingly we raise our own children to be ignorant of such social skills? Any kind of test they want to place on immigrants is welcomed by me but I think we should consider the wider changes taking place in our 'culture' that are of our own collective making.
Phillip Holley, UK

See also:

10 Sep 02 | Politics
Links to more Talking Point stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Talking Point stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |