Open/Close Menu Expert providers of speech and language therapy to primary and secondary schools across the UK!

Communicating to ethnic minority communities: recommended languages for translation

English foreign language children

 The COI Strategic Consultancy Inclusivity team were commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions to undertake a review of the ethnic minority languages used by the department. The objectives of the review were:

  • To identify both the established and newly emerging ethnic minority communities in Great Britain;
  • To understand the communication needs of each community, including the principle language of communication (English or the Mother Tongue) and the communication channels best suited to engage each community;
  • As a result to make evidence-based recommendations as to the standard ethnic minority languages into which DWP information should be translated.

The report generated by this review is awaiting Ministerial approval. However, the recommendations as to core languages into which the Department should translate its information, follow.

  1. The principle ethnic minority languages for translation- english foreign language children

The recommended key ethnic minority languages (and most appropriate communication channel) are as follows.

Priority (i.e. communities with large numbers of the population who prefer to communicate in a language other than English)

LanguageCommunityCommunication Channel(s)
Bengali (written)BangladeshiBi-lingual leaflet


IndianBi-lingual leaflet

Bi-lingual leaflet

UrduPakistaniBi-lingual leaflet
ArabicArabBi-lingual leaflet
Classical Chinese (written)ChineseBi-lingual leaflet
SomaliSomaliAudio / video cassette


  1. The Bangladeshi community
  • The Bangladeshi community are the fifth largest group in the country. While nearly a quarter of the community live in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, significant numbers also live in areas including Oldham, Luton and Birmingham;
  • Among the Bangladeshi community in Great Britain the main spoken languages are Bengali and Sylheti;
  • Bengali is the national language of Bangladesh and the language of education and literacy. Sylheti is a spoken dialect of Bengali (there is no written form). Approximately 70% of the words are common to both forms.


  1. The Indian community
  • The Indian community are the largest ethnic minority group in the country: 1.8% of the UK population now claim this ethnic identity;
  • The main languages spoken / written by the Indian community are Punjabi and Gujarati;
  • Indian Punjabi speakers may be Sikh or Hindu. Sikh Punjabi speakers will normally be literate in the classical form of Punjabi written in the Gurmukhi script, the language of the Sikh scriptures
  • Indian Hindi speakers represent a small minority of British Asians. They are also established within the professional middle-classes and are most likely to be fluent and literate in English).

(N.B. Indian Sikhs read Punjabi in the Gurmukhi script. This is not intelligible to Pakistani Punjabis who read the language in the Perso-Arabic script. However, few British Pakistanis will read this form of the language).


  1. The Pakistani community
  • 750,000 people were of Pakistani ethnic origin in the UK in 2001. The Pakistani community is the second largest ethnic minority community in the country;
  • Pakistani people who can read are most likely to read Urdu (the national language of Pakistan and the most common language read among older Pakistanis).


  1. The Arab community
    • No official statistics exist for the number of Arabic speakers in Great Britain. Community sources estimate that around half a million Arabic speakers live in this country;
    • Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the official language throughout the Arab world, and in its written form is relatively consistent across national boundaries. MSA is used in official documents, in educational settings and for communication between Arabs of different nationalities;
  • While no official data exists, English language fluency amongst many Arab asylum seekers is generally low (although fluency is higher amongst the educated communities);
  • The lack of English language fluency is particularly acute for women and is further hampered by the low literacy rates of people from such countries as Morocco, the Sudan, Chad and Yemen.
  • There are large numbers of Arabic speakers in Great Britain. In the 2001 Census 12,000 people claimed Morocco to be their country of birth, 10,200 Sudan, 12,300 Yemen and 31,000-claimed Iraq to be their country of birth.


  1. The Chinese Community
  • In 2001, 250,000 people stated that their ethnicity was Chinese, making this the smallest separately identified ethnic group in the country. The Chinese community is the most geographically dispersed ethnic minority group in the country;
  • Chinese people in Britain speak a number of languages and dialects: Cantonese is the most prevalent and is the language spoken in Hong Kong from where the majority of Chinese migrants originate;
  • The British Hong Kong Chinese community read and write the Classical (rather than Simplified) version of Chinese.


  1. The Somali community
  • No official statistics exist for the numbers of the Somali community in Great Britain. Community sources estimate that between 125,000 and 150,000 Somali’s live in this country;
  • Somali became a written language (utilising the Roman script) in 1972;
  • The ongoing civil war resulted in a breakdown in the Somali education infrastructure, which has had a direct impact upon both Mother Tongue literacy and English fluency;
  • Due to low Mother Tongue literacy levels, the Somali community is best engaged by audio or audiovisual communication.


English foreign language children-Additional languages to be considered

LanguageCommunityCommunication Channel(s)


French-speaking AfricansAudio / video cassette


PolishPolish (age 60 plus only)Bi-lingual leaflet
TamilSri LankanBi-lingual leaflet



  1. The French-speaking African community
  • Communities emanating from many Central and West African countries (e.g. Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ivory Coast) are united by their ability to communicate in French;
  • The British community of French-speaking Africans[1] is large (over 21,000 members);
  • Literacy and fluency levels in English are low;
  • Community growth (via those seeking political asylum) is high, as are the levels of social exclusion.


  1. The Polish community
  • While the majority of the Polish community are able to communicate in English, English fluency is low amongst the elderly;
  • Of the 58,100 individuals who claimed Poland to be their country of birth in the 2001 Census, over 58% (34,000 individuals) are aged 60 and over.


  1. The Tamil community
  • Nearly 67,000 people claimed Sri Lanka to be their country of birth in the 2001 Census;
  • While the split between Tamil and Sinhalese speakers is unknown, it is understood that the majority of the 44,000 Sri Lankan asylum seekers to the UK (since 1993) are Tamil speakers;
  • First generation Tamil speakers of any age are likely to have low levels of English fluency.

[1] Those claiming a French speaking African country to be their country of birth in the 2001 Census.


© 2016 - by Therapy Network Ltd

speech therapy London        07977555914