English as a second language

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I visited family in Wales at the weekend – and I mean Welsh Wales. The Wales where Welsh is the first language, the Wales where you can sense English slipping away when people get tired. Where languages spoken are listed as Welsh, English and then any others. Where lessons are taught in Welsh and children who don’t speak Welsh are at risk of falling behind in school.

Now, for historic reasons, I don’t speak Welsh, although I do understand a certain amount. For my benefit, cousins spoke English. And, as we sat in the local pub yesterday lunchtime and I tried to keep up with what was being ordered for lunch, I had some sense of what it must be like for people coming to England to pick up the language.

Sure, I’ve known what it’s like to have people accommodate my faltering French when in France or my half-remembered German sentence structures when in Germany or Austria. But being accommodated by family being kind enough to speak English when I’m in the UK? That was a salutary reminder that it isn’t easy for people arriving here to learn the vocabulary, sentence structure and nuances of tone and language that make up day-to-day communication in England.

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