Rarely a day goes by where the controversial topic of immigration doesn’t feature on TV, in the newspapers, or even in our conversations down the pub. It’s an issue about which everyone has an opinion. An estimated one million immigrants living in the UK can’t speak English, of which four individuals were the focus of Channel 4’s two-part documentary Why Don’t You Speak English?
In episode one, we were introduced to the four subjects, hailing from Poland, China, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After having lived in the UK for over a year, none of them could say more than a few phrases in English, which had left them jobless, and in some cases homeless. In a quest to kick-start their learning, they all spent a week living with different English families. It was an experience that provided moments of embarrassing hilarity, and also great poignancy as the participants shared stories about what brought them to England. However, their experience didn’t actually appear to help their English skills; though no-one can improve language skills dramatically in just one week. It would have been interesting to see how the immigrants could have taken advantage of their English hosts in order to master grammar and vocabulary, but all we saw was a few half-hearted attempts at repeating pointless words; come on, how often would a Chinese immigrant living in Croydon need to talk about castle moats?
Episode two focused slightly more on the language aspect to point out that without fluent English, the immigrants had little chance of finding a job. Maybe instead of rehashing the same commentary on deprivation and unemployment that we hear every day, the show could have delved a little deeper into why these immigrants haven’t learned English, how detrimental it can be to integration and inclusion, and how they might actually go about becoming fluent. It’s hard to see how this half-hearted attempt at helping them has really helped. As far as we saw, they are still jobless and missing family members who are forced to live thousands of miles away.
While this documentary does provide an insight into the immigrants who came to the UK in search of a better life, the title is somewhat misleading because the question isn’t really answered at all. Instead of revealing a thought-provoking and original angle of modern immigration, Why Don’t You Speak English? was repetitive, dull, and disappointing.
To catch-up and cast your own opinion on Why Don’t You Speak English? head to the 4OD website.