The ESOL question - are we short changing immigrants whose first language is not English?

Fergus Dolan, Literacies Development Worker, NALA

by Fergus Dolan, Literacies Development Officer, NALA

In 2008 an Irish government report called for a national English language policy and framework for legally resident adult immigrants. The report was commissioned by the Office of the Minister for Integration with the Department of Education and Science.

At the time, Irish society had seen a dramatic increase in the number of immigrants entering the country over the previous decade. The ability of immigrants to speak English was seen as key to their integration into society.

However, when Horwath Consulting Ireland carried out the research for the report in 2007, the economy was still doing well and the state’s finances appeared to be in a healthy state.

Unfortunately, 5 years after the report was finalised, the recommendations have not been implemented.

What did the report recommend?

  • 5,000 additional publicly funding places be provided by the VEC (now ETB) sector.
  • 200 hours of English language tuition is required for a beginner to reach A2 level of competence. (This number of hours is taken as the best estimate of English Language competence for attainment of A2 or National Framework of Qualifications level 3).

The report concluded that the acquisition of language skills has positive long-term benefits for immigrants:

  • English language competence by parents can lead to improved educational opportunities for ‘second generation’ immigrants.
  • There is a potential for higher earnings for those immigrants with a reasonable command of English.
  • Enhanced language skills leads to improved job opportunities.


These recommendations and conclusions are still valid and relevant. If immigrants are to properly take part in civil society in Ireland and join the labour market, then they need to be able to read, write and speak English.

It’s time to put in place a national English language policy and framework for legally resident adult immigrants and to provide sufficient English language classes so that immigrants can enhance their skills and take a fuller part in society.

What do you think?