Polish is second most spoken language in England, as census reveals 140,000 residents cannot speak English at all

Almost one in ten people reported speaking a language that isn’t English or Welsh

Kevin Rawlinson
Wednesday 30 January 2013 18:30 GMT
546,000 speak Polish as a first language, reflecting more than half a million Poles who migrated to England and Wales during the last decade
546,000 speak Polish as a first language, reflecting more than half a million Poles who migrated to England and Wales during the last decade (Getty Images)

Polish has become the most commonly spoken non-native language in England and Wales, it has emerged as figures from the latest Census detail the rise of multicultural Britain.

More than half a million people now speak Polish as their first language, placing it ahead of more established languages Punjabi and Urdu and behind only official languages English and Welsh.

The figures, released today, also show that nearly 140,000 people living in England and Wales cannot speak English, while around 726,000 had a weak grasp of the language. In all, neither English nor Welsh are the main languages for about four million residents, or 8 per cent of the population.

The 2011 Census, which was the first to ask such detailed questions about language in the UK, showed that around 1.6 million could speak the language “well”, while around 1.7 million could speak it “very well”. It was the main language for 92 per cent of the 50 million residents aged three or older.

And, according to one language expert, Poles are taking on British linguistic influences, as well as making their own mark on their hosts.

Like the French before them, whose Alliance Française go so far as to put about new French words in a bid to counteract the spread of English, the Poles have found some Anglo-Saxon influences irresistible.

Polish translator Anna Lycett, 25, from Leeds said that English office terminology is being adopted. “Mostly English is incorporated into Polish in business speak, so terminology used in the office would be English rather than Polish: for example you would go to a ‘briefing’ rather than use the Polish word for it,” she told the Huffington Post.

She added: “Marketing is often referred to as ‘marketing’ and you would also say ‘IT’ rather than the ‘technologia informacyjna’ or ‘TI’ either. People tend to use these English words whether they fully understand what they mean in English or not. PR is also Polonised so it is pronounced like the English ‘PR’ but spelt in Polish to reflect the pronunciation ‘piar’.

According to one report on immigrant languages published by language analyst Ethnologue, Polish was not even in the UK’s top 12 in 2001.

Census figures showed that other languages which featured prominently were: Bengali (with Sylheti and Chatgaya), spoken by 221,000 people or 0.4 per cent; Gujarati, spoken by 213,000 and Arabic, the first language of 159,000 people.

French, one of the oldest influences on and closest relations to modern English, is below all of them with only 147,000 speakers. German, another close relation, was even lower down the list with 77,000 people speaking it as a first language.

The Census found 49 different tongues were used as the main form of communication by groups of more than 15,000 people. And 22,000 used sign language. A regional breakdown found 22 per cent of Londoners used a main language other than English.

The latest statistics offer a more detailed snapshot of the population as it was in 2011. They also provide a new level of geographical detail relating to the characteristics of those living in England and Wales. Around 47 per cent of the adult population (21 million people) were married in 2011 - this was down on the 51 per cent who were married 10 years earlier, when the number also stood at 21 million.

The languages of England and Wales

:: English (English or Welsh if in Wales) 49,808,000 or 92.3% of the population

:: Polish 546,000 or 1%

:: Punjabi 273,000 or 0.5%

:: Urdu 269,000 or 0.5%

:: Bengali (with Sylheti and Chatgaya) 221,000 or 0.4%

:: Gujarati 213,000 or 0.4%

:: Arabic 159,000 or 0.3%

:: French 147,000 or 0.3%

:: All other Chinese (excludes Mandarin and Cantonese) 141,000 or 0.3%

:: Portuguese 133,000 or 0.2%

:: Spanish 120,000 or 0.2%

:: Tamil 101,000 or 0.2%

:: Turkish 99,000 or 0.2%

:: Italian 92,000 or 0.2%

:: Somali 86,000 or 0.2%

:: Lithuanian 85,000 or 0.2%

:: German 77,000 or 0.1%

:: Persian/Farsi 76,000 or 0.1%

:: Tagalog/Filipino 70,000 or 0.1%

:: Romanian 68,000 or 0.1%

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