Jane Dodds gives perfect response to Boris on British languages

Yesterday Boris Johnson said:

…too often there are parts of our country and parts of London still and other cities as well where English is not spoken by some people as their first language, and that needs to be changed…

Jane Dodds responded brilliantly:

Mae sylwadau di-glem Boris yn dangos pa mor allan o gyswllt yw e gyda Cymru ac ardaloedd fel ein rhai ni.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is currently taking a break from his role as one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Yeovil Yokel 6th Jul '19 - 1:54pm


  • William Fowler 6th Jul '19 - 1:58pm

    Presumably because a few hundred people speak Welsh in Wales everyone else in the country should learn it as a second language, I am sure Boris will pick it up in a couple of hours whereas Cardiffians, like myself, will have to leave the country.

  • Norman Fraser 6th Jul '19 - 2:10pm

    “Boris’s unparalleled comments show how out of touch he has with Wales and areas like ours.”

  • Chris Bertram 6th Jul '19 - 2:42pm

    That’s easy for her to say!

  • John Marriott 6th Jul '19 - 3:50pm

    A ‘brilliant’ response? Really? Actually, Bozza has a point. An ability to communicate in the language of the country where you live is the least that you should be able to do, I would have thought. As to whether that language should be welsh is a different matter.

  • Nonconformistradical 6th Jul '19 - 4:09pm

    @John Marriott
    “An ability to communicate in the language of the country where you live is the least that you should be able to do”

    But that is not the point. BoJo was talking about people not speaking English as their first language. Does he believe that all those British who have gone to live in Spain or France should be speaking Spanish or French as their first language?

  • nigel hunter 6th Jul '19 - 4:09pm

    Yes of it would be good to learn the lingo of the country you live in. However ESOL funding was drastically cut by the Tories,therefore harder to find places where it is available.Culture can also inhibit women of certain countries where the way they live is dominated by male rules etc and they are not allowed out of the house without supervision. It can be left to the children to teach the women the language but they still are not allowed to go out without somebody present. You can see this in GP practices or in hospitals where the male of the house allows the woman to go to be looked at accompanied by a child.
    If Johnson wishes to change things he had better put ESOL back in action and use ways to encourage cultures to change in a positive way.

  • ..Johnson was asked whether he could represent minority groups having made such “derogatory and arguably racist” comments, referring to his newspaper column comparing veiled Muslim women to letterboxes.
    However, he explained that….. “it was a strong, liberal defence of the right of women to wear the burqa.”

    Using such logic it is clear that Johnson’s remark, far from being ‘dog whistle’ politics, was a strong liberal defence of those speaking English as a second language..

  • marcstevens 6th Jul '19 - 5:07pm

    It should not matter if English is not spoken by some people as their first language. If I lived in France I would speak French, it is not my first language but English is. So why scapegoat people who are learning English and doing ESOL. These people really do try hard, I have attended some of the classes in a college and their standard is pretty high and they can pick it up quickly. My next door neighbour who is Polish speaks English better than most of the people in my council block and on my estate. Welsh is a beautiful language. It gets a bit difficult when the nouns mutate but when I get down to Brecon and Radnor, I will be practising my ‘Peint of gwrw os gwelwch yn dda’ in the local pubs with ease.

  • Yeovil Yokel 6th Jul '19 - 5:22pm

    Thank you, Norman and Gwyn – and good one, Chris, ha ha!

  • John Marriott 6th Jul '19 - 6:10pm

    You would be surprised how many expats in France and Spain struggle to get by in French and Spanish, or even want to. You might also be surprised to know how many of the ones that had a U.K. vote supported Brexit. And then, perhaps not.

  • No, I am not surprised John Marriott! Ever since, as a student from the SW of England (not Cornwall at that time), I arrived in Bangor for the first time, and heard the often hugely intolerant words of some other students and others from England about people speaking Welsh – their native, first, language. Since then I have lived and worked in three other countries with different first languages, and heard British expatriates speaking loudly in English, with clearly an exceptionalist expectation that everyone else should be speaking that language.

    It is clear that many people here in England, for some reason resent others speaking in other languages, and either invent the assumption that this means they are not proficient in English or believe it anyway. I cannot understand why English speakers have this ludicrous and arrogant attitude – I am sure that has, if not caused the Brexit vote, at least added to it considerably.

    I think, John, as at least a liberal (if, IIRC, a lapsed Lib Dem) you should not be giving comfort to these attitudes!

  • chris moore 6th Jul '19 - 7:38pm

    @ John Marriott
    But that is not the point. BoJo was talking about people not speaking English as their first language. Does he believe that all those British who have gone to live in Spain or France should be speaking Spanish or French as their first language?

    No immigrant anywhere in the world will speak a new language as his first. By definition!

    Second generation people of immigrant background need very good English to particípate fully in UK life. But it doesn’t need to be their “first” language (mother tongue?)

  • Nonconformistradical 6th Jul '19 - 7:55pm

    @John Marriott
    “You would be surprised how many expats in France and Spain struggle to get by in French and Spanish, or even want to. ”
    No I’m not surprised – that is exactly my point. I’m all too aware of it. But Bojo expects something of immigrants to the UK at which all too many emigrants from the UK would fail miserably.

    “You might also be surprised to know how many of the ones that had a U.K. vote supported Brexit.”
    Not suprised at that either.

  • John Marriott 6th Jul '19 - 8:52pm

    Congratulations. You obviously have all bases covered including your precious anonymity.

  • Jayne Mansfield 6th Jul '19 - 10:06pm

    @ Nigel Hunter,
    It is my understanding that between 2009 and 2015 ESOL courses were cut by 60%.

    I would argue that it would not only be good to learn the lingo of the country that you live in, it is imperative if one wishes to reduce poverty, heal social divisions, enable individuals to benefit from education and all the opportunities that those who have a shared language take for granted are available to them.

    I am pleased that you were brave enough to mention some cultural values inhibit women from participating as equals in society. Never mind `Johnson, may I ask what positive ways the Liberal Democrats have suggested to help cultures to change in positive ways?
    It is not just the state that inhibits freedom, equality and a right to social justice and full participation in society through a shared ability to communicate effectively?

    Just for once, Johnson might be doing women a favour.

  • CHRISTOPHER THOMAS 7th Jul '19 - 9:38am

    We aren’t surprised are we? Bojo is a typical upper class twit who has no concept of reality. Kids of aliens will naturally learn English through their schooling and adults will pick up bits and pieces over the years. Of course they won’t abandon their 1st language as I would assume Bojo wouldn’t abandon his 1st language if he ever moved abroad. But then we should be so lucky if he did!

  • Many of the utterances by Boris have only a passing resemblance to grammatical English.

  • Innocent Bystander 7th Jul '19 - 10:50am

    Far be it from me to defend Johnson (who embodies all the features that I dislike), but he is simply making the point covered in this thread by others in that it is a feature of the English abroad that they refuse to learn the local language but speak loudly in english.
    Well if that’s a flaw, it works both ways and communities arriving here should converse in the local language as well. English if England, Welsh if in Wales and Cornish (if they can find anyone who speaks it).
    If you choose to build a wall around your own community and isolate yourselves from the locals with language then you are not a welcomed immigrant but a colonist and the British know well how unpopular with the locals colonists can be.

  • Obviously one’s first reaction is that this is a typical Boris Johnson foot in mouth, inappropriate comment. And then I reflected for a moment. I am not sure that this proves Boris is out of touch (though of course he may be for other reasons).
    Obviously if a person moves to the UK from another country then they may always be more comfortable when using the language they were raised speaking. The real issue is whether it matters if we have parts of the country, whole communities, who use a language other than English, whether that indicates a fracture in values and attitudes as well as language.
    Language can be used to exclude. My late father in law used to frequent a corner shop where the staff spoke Urdu. They would often make uncomplementary comments about the customers, safe in the knowledge that none of the British born customers could understand. Unfortunately for them my father in law had been born in Allahabad, lived in India before partition and spoke pretty good Urdu. You should have seen their faces when he joined in their conversation one day !

  • Neil Hickman 7th Jul '19 - 11:33pm

    @ Chris Cory
    Some years ago, I was holidaying in Cardigan. I went down to the newsagents’ each morning to buy the Guardian. And, naturally, the shopkeeper and her other customers were conversing in the language of the bards, as Lord Denning used to call it.
    A colleague’s wife gave birth to a daughter, and I plonked down a copy of the Graun and a card reading Croeso i’r ferch fach (everyone understands Croeso, and I understood enough about how Welsh worked to get from MERCHED to ferch).
    Spectacular double take. “It is for a little girl, isn’t it?” in a rather small voice. “Of course”, keeping my face straight.
    No Welsh was spoken in my presence in that shop for the rest of the holiday.
    I have often thought that the most useful three words of Welsh for any Englishman are “Diolch yn fawr” spoken over your shoulder as you leave.

  • I am surprised earlier comments do not mention the main reason why this is indeed a politically astute intervention by Jane Dodds. Plaid Cymru has withdrawn its candidate in the by-election in her favour. She therefore has to try to ensure those who would have voted for the Blaid come out and vote for her. One of the issues dearest to the hearts of Plaid supporters is the health of the Welsh language. Indeed many argue this is more important than independence itself since the health of the language is essential to the continuance of a distinctive Welsh culture. Jane’s remarks are a way of identifying with such sentiments. They are not, however, cynical. As a liberal, Jane supports diversity, and there can be few better examples of diversity than the right to live ones life, as far as possible, through the medium of a language which has existed in these islands for much longer than English.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Jul '19 - 4:17pm

    The purpose of immigrants learning english is to help them integrate into their communities, not learning it for its own sake. Those who speak welsh are already integrated into their communities. I would be surprised if any of them do not speak english. It’s not straightforward if they don’t to a level that makes communicating in that language easy though it’s a possibility and raises interesting questions.

  • There do seem to be a number of people commenting here who don’t know what “First Language” means.

    Your first language is the one you learned first. You can’t change your first language without a time machine back to your childhood. It’s got nothing to do with how well you speak that language or any other.

    Boris Johnson’s statement about first languages was a dog-whistle about repatriation of immigrants – the only way to change the first language of the people living in an area is to change the people.

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