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UK Languages

Languages of the UK

Which languages are spoken in the UK?

Which languages are spoken in the UK? This is a question asked by many of our clients. Unfortunately there are no official figures on the subject which makes the question a difficult one to answer, and in turn raises the additional question of which languages to support when producing a campaign.

So, we have compiled the following research over a number of years to help various campaigns and public communication initiatives.

The research that we have done in this field has looked at the following areas to help us to answer the question of, which languages should I be translating for the UK home market?

  • The information gathered by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in the Census 2001,
  • Which languages are supported when the Government translate for the home market, and,
  • The current social economic situation.

This page is a consolidation of the research that we have found on the subject and shows an insight into which languages are spoken in the UK. If you have any comments about this research please use the contact page on this website.

Census 2001

Census UK Languages

In an ideal world we would be able to get this information directly from the results of the Census in 2001, but the question ‘which language do you speak/understand best’ wasn’t included in the Census.

Perhaps this question wasn’t included because it is irrelevant if asked in a language that is not understood “ it is no use asking a Chinese speaker what language they speak in English. To pre-empt this, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) carried out their own research into what languages are spoken in the UK, this was done in partnership with Local Authorities in England and Wales.

After this data had been analysed the ONS provided linguistic support in the following languages for Census 2001.

  • Albanian/Kosovan, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese (Cantonese), Croatian, Farsi /Persian, French, German, Greek, Gujerati, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Serbian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Turkish, Urdu and Vietnamese.

Additional Languages for 2008

Given the recent increase in economic migration from countries in Central Europe we would also add the following to the list.

  • Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Slovak and Slovenian.

Consideration must also be made for the native languages of the UK such as, Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Scots, Cornish, Irish and (of course) English.

And then cross referencing this against what languages are supported by the Central Office of Information (COI), we can conclude that the list of languages below will cover the vast majority of the current UK population.

  • Albanian/Kosovan, Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, Chinese, Cornish, Croatian, Czech, English, Estonian, Farsi /Persian, French, German, Greek, Gujerati, Hindi, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Tamil, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese and Welsh.

While this information is very useful if a UK wide campaign is planned (or if budgets are not an issue), most projects will be specific to a particular region and therefore we need to know which communities are concentrated in which areas.

This information can be gained from looking at local populations and their country of birth. In other words what percentage of a local population is born abroad.

Born abroad

As the global economy accelerates, the flow of information, investment and industry across international borders means that people with different languages and cultures follow the opportunities this creates.

The UK is one of the strongest economies in Europe and has had years of low inflation, low unemployment, relatively low interest rates and the City of London is now one of the world’s major financial centres “ this all leads to an attractive proposition when attracting migrants.

This has lead to an increasingly culturally (and linguistically) diverse UK.

To illustrate this point the graph below shows the growth in the number of people that were not born the United Kingdom that are now currently residing here. The figures were part of a survey done by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPRR) entitled the New Immigrant Communities Study. It shows that there are 4.3 million people living in the UK (and consuming public services and products) that were not born here.

Languages spoken in the UK

Given that this figure has grown at 38% between the years of 1991-2001 we have assumed that this growth will continue (safe assumption given the new entrants in the EU). This played forward gives a figure of approx 6 million people living but not born in the UK in 2011, 10% of the UK population.

What languages where?

Looking at research provided by the BBC, the Institute for Public Policy Research and Sheffield University Social and Spatial Inequalities Research Group, we are able to give an overview of which groups of people live in which area and therefore an indication of the languages spoken in each region.

For instance, looking at the London region the data shows that (in 2001) 1.7m people living in London in 2001 were born outside of Britain. The following 10 countries and regions were the most common birth places of these 1.7m people, accounting for ~50% (the languages spoken there are provided in brackets).

  • India (Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Gujerati and Tamil (Although there are many others))
  • Caribbean (English, French, Spanish and Dutch)
  • South and East Africa (Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Amharic, Chichewa, Oromo and English)
  • Bangladesh (Bengali)
  • Nigeria (English is the official language but others include Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa)
  • Pakistan (Urdu, English and Pashto)
  • Kenya (Swahili and English)
  • Central and West Africa (Swahili, Kirundi, Yoruba and Hausa)
  • The Far East (Arabic, Farsi, Kurdish, Pashto and Sorani)
  • Sri Lanka (Tamil)

In total 25% of the city’s population was born abroad, this was 18% in 1991, an increase of 38%. This is not uniform all over the city with the largest percentage of born abroad residents residing in Wembley where 52% of people were born abroad (the most common places of birth being India, Caribbean and Sri Lanka). While the lowest was Upminster at 4% of the population (the most common places of birth being India, Africa and the Caribbean).

So, armed with this information you will be able to make better choices about what to translate and what languages to provide support for in your projects. When purchasing language services make sure that you use the pan Government agreement put in place by the OGC as this offers considerable savings and improved flexibility over previous agreements. More information can be found on this website.

If you have any comments about the research please do contact us, we welcome all feedback.

Better Value for Government Translation

This article is a consolidation of the report entitled “Guidance for Local Authorities on Translation of Publications” published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in June 2009. This in turn was based on the Commission on Integration and Cohesion’s final report, Our Shared Future.

Details have been added about the pan-Government agreement for translation services 05/GEN/25, established by the Office of Government Commerce to allow all Local Authorities to use a low cost translation service.

Our Shared Future

The Commission on Integration and Cohesion is a fixed term advisory body, announced by former Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, on 24 August 2006. The Commission considered how local areas can make the most of diversity while being able to respond to the tensions it may cause.

In their report (Our Shared Future) they set out a new framework for local cohesion, this was based around four key principles. Read more

Government translation legal responsibility

Legal Responsibility for Government Translation

Translation and the Law

When developing your Government department’s language policies and communication strategies it is advisable to consider the following articles of law. This research should be used to help you to decide what you translate and when you use interpreters (or telephone interpreters).

Race Relations Act (1976)

The Race Relations Act 1976 established the Commission for Racial Equality and provided definitions of direct and indirect discrimination, on grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origin. Direct discrimination is defined as treating one person less favourably on grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origin, in the provision of goods, facilities and services, employment, housing and advertising. Indirect discrimination means discrimination by the imposition of unjustifiable conditions which can be met by more people of one colour, race, ethnic or national origin than another. Someone who has been discriminated against can take individual civil action, through an industrial tribunal for employment matters, or in the county court for other matters. Read more

RM1092 Award

K International Awarded Government Framework RM1092

22nd April 2016

Language Services
Framework Agreement Reference: RM 1092
Crown Commercial Service

We are pleased to announce that K International have again been awarded a place on the government Framework Agreement, now designated RM1092, for Written Translation, Transcription and Ancillary Services by the Crown Commercial Service. This reflects over 10 years of our commitment to delivering a quality, reliable and secure linguistic service to all government departments.

“This agreement is for the provision of translation, transcription and ancillary services and can be used by UK public sector bodies including but not limited to central government departments and their agencies, non-departmental public bodies, NHS and local authorities.”

Crown Commercial Service

Benefits to public sector bodies

  • Translation into over 250 languages
  • Secure exchange of documents made 24/7/365
  • UK based translators to ensure confidentiality for Homeland Security
  • Security cleared personnel
  • Real-time management information available free of charge
  • Dedicated project management and account management
  • Fixed pricing model
  • No further competition requirement aiding speedier resolution
  • Comparable pricing toolkit

More information about all of our government translation services can be viewed via this link.
A specific set of information for local authority language services can be viewed here.

 

Yours sincerely,

Gemma Lloyd - K International Government Account Director

Gemma Lloyd

Government Account Director

Belgium’s Language Divide Affects Everything From Government to Soccer Clubs

The divide between French speakers and Dutch speakers in Belgium has grown increasingly intractable, and currently affects everything from how well the country’s government does (or does not) function to coaching schoolchildren at a soccer club.

According to the Associated Press, the KFC Strombeek soccer club of Grimbergen, Belgium has been officially banned from coaching children’s soccer in French. Apparently, when Dutch-speaking citizens of the town heard coaches were speaking French to some of the children (presumably, children who already spoke French), they organized a petition to ensure that future coaching sessions were conducted entirely in Dutch.

That might seem mean-spirited, but it’s symptomatic of a divide that extends throughout Belgian society. In fact, over 2 months after the last elections, Belgium’s government is at a standstill as French and Dutch factions of 7 political parties try to negotiate the next steps.  The party that won the elections, the New Flemish Alliance, wants to split the country in two.

The bulk of Belgium’s economic activity and prosperity is concentrated in the Dutch half of the country, leading many Dutch speakers to resent their French-speaking countrymen. But why take these tensions out on a soccer club?

That’s what Christian Donneux, the president of the soccer club, would like to know. He told the AP:

“We are a sports club, not a political party. Many of my patients here in Grimbergen are Francophones. Am I supposed to send them away?”

Meanwhile, Robert Timmermans, the man who organized the petition against the soccer club, watched a group of French-speaking children at practice and declared:

“They must be coached in Dutch. This is our soccer field. (Dutch-speakers) paid for it. It is our tax money. Grimbergen is a Dutch-speaking town.”‘