Express complains about bilingual children, as language stands in for race

Promoting fear of 'becoming a minority' is racist demagogy, full stop


Daily Express front page ‘special investigation’ booms:


Classrooms where English is starting to die out

“A decades-long open door policy on immigration has led to English-speaking pupils becoming a minority in hundreds of classrooms.”

Express 24 7 15

There are two main problems with the story, both closely related.

The first is to do with what is actually happening at UK schools, about which the Express misleads its readers. The second is the story’s surreptitious racism.

For starters, most if not all children in British schools speak English. Whether it is their first or second language is irrelevant. As readers will know, many people who learn English as a second language speak it better than people for whom it is their first. It largely depends on the quality of their education.

So what the Express is really complaining about is that a minority of children in Britain (but a majority in a handful of schools) can speak more than one language.

If the ‘first language’ (and how does one determine ‘first’ and ‘second’ anyway?) in question was French rather than Bengali, would the Express mind so much?

To explore these points further, here’s a quote in the story from the paper’s own columnist, former Tory MP Anne Widdecombe:

“Whatever people speak when they arrive here doesn’t matter, lessons must always be taught in English – that’s just plain common sense.”

In point of fact, schools in Britain are required to teach in English. There is no evidence in the story of this not being the case in any schools. Instead the story uses phrases like ‘Punjabi is spoken’ in a way that could imply lessons are being conducted in Punjabi, with British kids unable to understand.

This implication or suggestion could certainly be picked up by readers – it worked well enough on Anne Widdecombe.

Ah, but wait – aren’t they all ‘British kids’?

The vast majority of pupils in UK schools were born in this country. So phrases like ‘when they arrive here’ give the game away.

Read the first line of the story again: ‘A decades-long open door policy on immigration has led to English-speaking pupils becoming a minority in hundreds of classrooms.’

It’s quite clear that the use of ‘English-speaking’ here stands in for ‘properly British’, ‘or ‘not foreign’.

The Express is using language as a surrogate for race.

Playing on the anxieties of readers and promoting fear about ‘becoming a minority’ is racist demagogy, full stop.

To use children as fodder in this disgraceful way shames the Daily Express – or would if such a thing were possible.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

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13 Responses to “Express complains about bilingual children, as language stands in for race”

  1. Foullaini

    But what about English-speaking children who get less attention because more resources are taken up by children who don’t speak English well?

  2. JoeDM

    Well done the Express for bringing this issue to the public.

    The first thing immigrant children should be taught in schools is English and in separate classes so that they don’t slow down British children.

  3. stevep

    how wonderful our schoolkids will have the opportunity to learn about and experience different languages and cultures!
    I`ve travelled all over Western Europe and a good deal of European citizens, particularly the young, speak better English as a second language than a lot of British citizens do as a first.
    English is a rich language, with lots of “foreign” words, added over the centuries. long may it continue.

  4. Jacko

    Many Europeans speak very good English. They speak good English primarily because they’ve taken English-as-a-foreign-language-courses from a young age. This article is about whether children whose primary language is not English will hinder themselves or others in an education system conducted in English.

  5. Harold

    About 84% of the worlds population speak English, not because they attend a British school but because of the USA and its influence in the world via TV, music and films. If you are for example Finish and you holiday in Italy or Egypt which language is most likely to be spoken? More importantly the Express has turned yet another non-story into a front page headline, what does it tell you about the people who write this and the people who pay out their hard earned money to buy and read this story. I recall the Expresses weather forecasts which seem to have no connection to reality. The story also fails to note if some of these 311 languages are dialects, or how many are UK citizens learning another language.

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