Wednesday, September 12, 2007

English lessons for immigrants

The Immigrant Council of Ireland believes immigrants need English lessons otherwise immigrants will face "social isolation and marginalisation"; immigrants will have trouble getting access to "basic services such as the health system, education and housing". That sounds reasonable to me. Immigrants should learn English and a few hours a week in a classroom will help them on their way. Good idea.

However, it's wrong for the government to fund (or even worse, provide) such classes. Anyone who has come here to work has come of their own free will and if they feel they need English classes to enhance the quality of their life here, then they should pay for such classes themselves.

The taxpayer should not be expected to pay for such classes, otherwise why shouldn't all adult education be funded by the taxpayer. What makes an English class for an immigrant engineer more important than an engineering class for a native? There are all sorts of benefits with regards to health, housing and education available to those who have studied various subjects, not just English.

Also, the immigrant will benefit because he will be in class with others equally determined to learn and he will have the leverage to demand an excellent service. Such leverage is non-existent when the state gets involved. When the state provides, you takes what you gets.

And, what about this little twist? I came to this country already knowing English, but maybe now I feel a need learn the native tongue. I can't help my kids with their homework, can't avail of the state-funded television and radio services in Irish, etc. I can't join the Guards, be a teacher or become a barrister. Why shouldn't the state provide for me to learn the Irish language? What would be the constitutional position of funding only lessons in the second language of the nation? Just a thought.