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The latest figures showed that there were around 6 million people who are of non-British nationality living in the UK. The majority of the UK migrant population is situated in London, with around 37% of people born abroad living in that part of the UK. This is compared to around 14% of the UK overall.
Across the rest of the UK, the English areas with the highest proportions of people who were not born in the UK are:
- South East (13.4%)
- West Midlands (13.9%)
- East of England (12.9%)
- East Midlands (12.7%)
The areas with the lowest number of people born abroad are Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North East.
Of course, whether or not a person is a migrant or was born abroad is not reflective of whether they speak English or not. Some countries have a higher likelihood of English being learnt in school, or culturally, so English proficiency is not necessarily guaranteed for a person who moves to the UK from another country. In fact, some communities in the UK may be less likely to speak English even if generation after generation have been born here.
What we do know, based on Census data, is that around 1.3% of the UK population cannot speak English at all, or well. Based on that Census data, the populations most likely to struggle with English proficiency were those from Bangladeshi backgrounds and ‘Other White’ ethnic backgrounds. Gender also played a role in proficiency, with 3 in 5 of Bangladeshi and Pakistani women being unable to speak English well, with women within those communities being 5 times more likely overall than the males within that community to speak no English.
The Census also provided detailed information on each ethnic community and the levels of English proficiency within those communities. Let’s take a quick look:
Percentage of people able to speak English well within each ethnic group:
|White Gypsy Traveller||90.8%|
|Mixed White/ Black Caribbean||98.16%|
|Mixed White/ Black African||14.24%|
|Mixed White/ Asian||7.69%|
Of course, these figures have likely changed since the most recent Census. However, it does provide a rough idea of the differences between different populations of the UK and English speaking proficiency. It’s something that all businesses, public service providers, schools and others have to be aware of to ensure that their products, services or information are accessible to all.
Schools Are Integral
One area that has been helpful in helping non-English speakers improve their English proficiency within the UK is education. Schools with children who speak English as an additional language (EAL pupils) recognise that they have a huge part to play in connecting pupils and their families with various services that they have a right to access. This includes education, where it has been shown that the earlier a child enters the education system, the higher their chance of having great English and achieving their academic potential by the end of school.
Secondary pupils with EAL are more likely to be competent or fluent in English (over 75%) than primary school pupils (around half). Pupils who have been in school for over five years are also more likely to be considered fluent or competent in English (80% or more) compared to pupils who have been studying for less than five years (around 40%).
The school system is integral to helping non-English speaking children to gain a fantastic education and to harness great English skills whilst still being supported in using their native language at home. Schools are making great progress in enhancing their offerings with improvements such as:
- Using foreign language subtitles or voice overs in educational videos or online information videos
- Offering translated versions of school materials and websites
- Arranging interpreter services where appropriate
- Encouraging parents to attend English classes and programmes offered by the school so they feel included and involved in their child’s education
- Encouraging parents of EAL children to attend coffee mornings, meet and greets and to socialise together
- Adding multilingual signage across the school
- Helping parents of EAL children to access various additional helpful services within the community
- Encouraging teachers to learn additional languages
With the help of the school, EAL children and parents can have an enhanced chance of the best possible education experience, great academic achievement, better integration into the local community and act as a supportive body to provide information and connections to various services across the community.
Moving forward, there is no doubt the UK will become richer in culture and language as society becomes more diverse. With this kind of change, it is important that businesses, educational facilities, public services and more embrace the challenge of overcoming language barriers.
Every single person in the UK deserves to have full access to all the services that are available to use for free, or for a fee. The only way to tap into non-English speaking communities is to actively provide multilingual staff, to utilise professional translation services, professional subtitling, to enhance e-learning so it is accessible by non-English speakers, and to think about these populations before doing anything with language as part of a project.
Signage, leaflets, marketing videos, websites – everything can be created in a way that is more accessible to non-English speakers. The result will be a more open and accessible society that is not restricted by language, but rather more rich, diverse and united for it.
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