Encourage don't disparage on the road to integration

By Gabrielle Pickard
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, April 19, 2011
Adjust font size:

"You must speak Spanish!" were the words of the exasperated Spanish doctor, whose English was admittedly poor. On the receiving end were Mr and Mrs Orme, a couple in their seventies, who like many other elderly English people have retired in Spain. They sat nervously on the hospital bed, worrying not only about the gallstone operation Mrs Orme was about to undergo, but because they were wishing they had "broke the Spanish books out" a bit more.

Scenes like this are common in many towns and villages across Spain. For the past six years I have been accompanying expats on trips to the doctor, dentist or the lawyer, trying to "bridge the gap" between the locals and the expat community. All too often I have walked out of an office feeling like a contender on the X-Factor who has just been given a unanimous "thumbs down" by the judges. It is assumed that anybody who lives in a foreign country should learn the local language. But for many people that is easier said than done.

In a recent speech, the British Prime Minister David Cameron warned that immigrants unable to speak English and unwilling to integrate have created a "kind of discomfort and disjointedness" that has disrupted communities across the UK.

"When there have been significant numbers of new people arriving in neighbourhoods, perhaps not able to speak the same language as those living there, on occasions not really wanting or even willing to integrate, that has created a kind of disjointedness in some neighbourhoods," said the British Prime Minister.

But in my experience of living in rural Spain where there has been a steady influx of immigrants over the past decade, the immigrants' inability to "pick up the native language" is often misinterpreted as unwillingness to integrate. In reality, this could not be further from the truth. They yearn to speak the local language; after all it would improve their chances of employment, give them a wider circle of friends and generally make everyday life easier. But becoming competent in a second language is, for many, an extremely difficult skill to master.

1   2   Next  

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from China.org.cnMobileRSSNewsletter