Language and Citizenship
Most countries have an “official” language. Several have more than one. Government business and schools are conducted in the official language. Official documents are printed in the official language.
Knowledge of the country’s official language is usually one of the stated requirements for citizenship. For example, here are some language requirements I found in naturalization guidelines available on the web:
Be able to communicate in one of Canada’s official languages.
Provide proof of adequate knowledge of the French language.
Be able to speak German to ‘B1’ standard in the Common European Framework of Reference.
Prove knowledge of Spanish and Mexican history.
Be able to communicate in English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic to an acceptable degree.
Pass an English test
Just how stringently the language requirement is enforced varies from place to place. Knowledge of Japanese is not specifically mentioned in the guidelines I found on line, but because an applicant for citizenship must complete the process entirely in Japanese, it’s unlikely that anyone could achieve citizenship without considerable fluency in the language.
The UK has only recently required applicants for citizenship to provide proof they can speak the local language at the B1 level; the outcry against the stiffer requirements is still in progress. A speaker at the B1 level
- can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
- can deal with most situations likely to arise while traveling in an area where the language is spoken.
- can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
- can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
Under a new rule, Canada now requires something similar to the European B1: “applicants [for citizenship] must provide objective evidence that they meet the language requirement, achieving the Canadian Language Benchmark/Niveau de compétence linguistique canadien 4 speaking and listening, when they file their application.”
The United States government, on the other hand, is not only very generous in providing test waivers, but it doesn’t provide much of a test to those who can’t claim exemption. A new citizen commenting at the Business Week site describes his experience:
I prepared for three months for this exam. […] For the reading part of the exam, I was asked to read the following sentence: “Today is a sunny day.” For the writing part of the exam, I was asked to write the following words: “Today is a sunny day.” […] I was flat out insulted.
It doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect immigrants who plan to spend the rest of their lives in a country to learn to speak the country’s language of government and education.
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