By Nadeem Badshah
A FREE TV channel showing comedy characters including Del Boy and Basil Fawlty to help migrants learn English has been backed by some campaigners.
British Future, a think-tank led by Sunder Katwala that aims to improve integration, proposed the channel as part of a £600 million package that also includes more classroom teaching.
It recommends shows including comedy Only Fools and Horses where south London market trader Del Boy Trotter uses phrases such as “luvely jubbly, “cushty” and “he who dares, wins” on his quest to become a millionaire with his brother Rodney and their Uncle Albert.
Around 844,000 people in England do not speak English well or at all, the 2011 census revealed.
British Future’s report blamed the high figure on what it said were oversubscribed English classes, a lack of study discounts and limited options for immigrants who worked long hours.
The think-tank said the TV network would be part-funded by advertising. It would air programmes including Midsomer Murders; Fawlty Towers, where Basil runs a hotel in Torquay; and the History of Britain series.
Amit Kapadia, executive director of the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) Forum told Eastern Eye: “Although it cannot be the best alternative to classroom teaching, accessibility of these courses and affordability can be a major barrier for those having financial problems.
“A free-to-air TV channel which helps in language learning and promotes understanding of British life and culture can be an easily accessible tool.
“Furthermore, bodies like the British Council have done a great deal of research in promoting English language learning through media and other platforms, and they can immensely add value in shaping government proposals. There needs to be more such creative approaches to make it easier for language learning.”
Prime minister Boris Johnson said in July that he wanted everyone in the UK to be able to speak English because there are “too many parts of the country where it is not the first language”.
He praised Bangladeshis in the UK as an example that immigrants had adapted and “helped to make our national culture”, but said some communities had failed to integrate.
Amjad Malik, an immigration solicitor from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, told Eastern Eye: “I believe Britain takes pride as a multilingual society. TV plays an important part to encourage the interests of the migrant community. Mind Your Language and Goodness Gracious Me were watched and enjoyed by all and preached the value of language in a comic way.
“I think TV should be used to teach English as an additional language to those who wish to make the UK their home as without (being fluent) in English. One may restrict oneself from using services, such as seeing a doctor for medical advice, instructing and taking advice from lawyers, using a bank and day-to-day business from grocery to shopping.”
Since 2007, fees of up to £700 were introduced for ESOL [English Speakers of Other Languages] courses.
From 2011, full funding for ESOL courses was further restricted to people on Jobseekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance and funding for ESOL in the workplace was withdrawn. And the number of migrants taking ESOL courses fell from 179,000 in 2009-10 to 114,000 in 2017-18.
Fizza Qureshi, co-CEO of the Migrants Rights Network, believes government investment in language classes should be the focus. She said: “Disappointingly, we have seen for a number of years a steady decline in funding for ESOL classes that has meant longer waiting lists, and more stringent criteria for entry.
“Any routes to helping migrants learn English would be useful. However, rather than invest time and money in a TV channel that replays older comedy programmes, and ones which may reinforce unhealthy stereotypes in the name of comedy, we would urge for more investment in ESOL and English language classes.”
A report in 2017 by MPs said migrants in parts of the UK were waiting up to three years for government-funded English classes.
The government pledged to publish a new national strategy for learning English earlier this year. It said: “We will explore the issues raised through the consultation. These include giving people access to clear information about courses and resources to help them improve their English, as well as making sure that courses are accessible and teach the skills people need.
“We will also seek to ensure there is a fair balance of investment and responsibility between individuals wanting to learn English and the taxpayer. “Businesses also have a role in English language learning, to ensure that employees can fulfil their potential and benefits business and the economy as a whole.”