More Britons 'should learn immigrants' languages such as Polish and Urdu'

British people should think of integration as a "two-way street" and learn other languages such as Polish and Urdu, a leading academic has said.

Wendy Ayres-Bennett, professor of French philology and linguistics at the University of Cambridge, said learning other languages is considered "something difficult and only for the intellectual elite" by many in Britain.

She backed calls for immigrants to learn English once they arrive, as she warned migrant communities could develop "exclusive social networks and alternative labour markets" without learning the native language.

Prof Ayres-Bennett, who also leads the MEITS project promoting multilingualism, spoke out after two major reports into integration in British society, published by Dame Louise Casey and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration.

"It is very important to think of integration as a two-way street," she said.

"Considering the issue from the point of view of language learning, we rightly expect immigrants to learn English but, as a nation, we often don't see the need ourselves to learn another language, and consider it to be something difficult and only for the intellectual elite.

"I would like to see more opportunities for British people to learn some of the community languages of the UK, such as Polish, Punjabi and Urdu, particularly in areas where there are high numbers of those speakers, so that there is some mutual effort in understanding the others' language and culture.

"Even a basic knowledge would be beneficial, which might be acquired formally or through engaging in joint community projects."

The Casey review and the APPG's report highlighted the need for more English language classes to reach communities that predominantly speak other languages.

Prof Ayres-Bennett said the reports reinforced the importance of languages in social cohesion as she supported their recommendations for immigrants to learn English.

"Without English, immigrants are likely to develop exclusive social networks and alternative labour markets," she said.

"For most people, language is at the very heart of their identity.

"We need to respect and celebrate this and to see English as adding to their multilingual and multicultural identities, rather than trying to force immigrants to suppress or even lose their home language and culture."

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