Britain Today: Hoodied Looters, Language Tests, and a Cuss Box

London’s burning, again. There was the Great Fire of 1666. There was the Great Tedium, as documented by Joe Strummer and The Clash (“London’s burning with boredom now, London’s burning, Dial 99999”). And now there is the Great Looting Spree, in which the city is vandalized by people often described as “hooded youths”.

No-one in Britain seems satisfied with the state of the nation. There’s finger-pointing galore: at the looters, the police, the Murdoch press, the politicians, the footballer-celebrities. And, of course, at the immigrants.

As of late 2010 the UK requires applicants for some immigrant visas to take a proficiency test in the English language. If you want to settle in Britain, the logic goes, you should learn the language. Cities should not be multilingual mosaics. Everyone should speak the common language.

Try telling that to the 58-year-old Indian husband of Rashida Chapti. Chapti, a naturalized British citizen, was born in India. Her husband still llives there. Before the language requirement came into effect, securing a resident and work visa for her husband would have been virtually automatic, as it is in the many nations that have family reunification immigration policies. But in Britain, Chapti’s husband must now prove that he has a basic command of English.

Chapti’s husband lives in a remote village, more than 100 miles from the nearest city, where he could take English lessons. In any case, she says, he wouldn’t be able to afford the lessons. Chapti is suing the British government under the European Convention of Human Rights.

Also, in Britain, the town of Barnsley has starting fining people for swearing in public. Heck, yeah. Not sure how widely that’s being enforced amid the riots and looting (which, I hasten to add, have not spread to Barnsley).

In Alaska, meanwhile, no-one’s too worried about swearing. (I briefly lived in Alaska, where I learned a great deal about American English expletive usage.) Some Alaskan children are learning a language. But not English, which they already speak.

These kids are the American-born children of  Sudanese refugees. They  are learning their parents’ native Nuer language. Some may end up speaking it at home. Some may use it if they visit their parents’ homeland. Some may never use it outside their Anchorage classroom.

Finally in the pod this week, a conversation with Greg Barker, director of  Koran by Heart.This is the story of three children who take part in a competition to memorize and publicly recite the entire Koran.

Hearing the interview reminded me of an encounter I had a few years ago in Bangladesh. I visited a  madrassa, a religious school.  The school building was essentially a countryside shack.  Inside were a few tiny classrooms, each with a dozen or more students crammed inside.

I talked with several students, including one who told me of his primary educational goal: to memorize the Koran. He recited a lengthy segment of it for me– in Arabic, not his native tongue, Bengali. He’s the student on the far left in the picture below.

I talked to the head of the madrassa. He said that although this was a religious school, most parents who sent their kids here weren’t especially devout. The choice, like in so many parts of the world, was between underfunded, sub-par government schools and religious school like this one.


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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Britain Today: Hoodied Looters, Language Tests, and a Cuss Box

  1. The violence that has broken out in the UK is appalling! Is it a matter of existentialism? Is this violence due to these thugs lacking education, thus being unable to hold down jobs in such an unsettled climate?

    Action should be taken against the law breakers!
    I have briefly stated how I feel that the police have lost control over the youths of today; please take a look – and perhaps drop me a comment – if you have time.

    Thank you!

  2. Yessy

    I think what happened in the UK is terrible. Who is taking control and trying to put an end to it. It’s so easy to blame it on the youths, because we are the ones who rebel the most. I think instead of putting the blame on someone one should stand up and educate people. In my opinion people tend to rebel when he or she is unhappy about something.
    Britain making immigrants take proficiency tests is not such a bad thing. I am enrolled in an intercultural communications class and one thing I’ve learned and discovered is, if one wants to know about a culture they must study the language and to know more about the culture study the language. Proficiency tests are a good idea because how is one suppose to live in an area where one does not understand the language. How will one live, learn, comprehend certain customs of the country and norms. I do believe everyone is entitled to retain their own language and still practice it, but when living in an area where other languages are spoken one should the basics. Effective communication will go a long way.

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