Expats can struggle with learning a new language when they arrive in a new country but now research in the UK suggests that it could also affect their health.
People who cannot speak English well are more likely to be in poor health, according to information gathered in the most recent Census.
A report from the Office of National Statistics says that language is an important defining characteristic of people’s identity and for the first time in a census people were asked about their proficiency in English.
The questions was introduced to gather information that helps local authorities to target, deliver and facilitate the provision of public services, for example, to help identify the need for translation and the interpretation for providing English language lessons.
It found that nearly a million people could not speak English well or at all but for the majority of local authorities, the inability to speak English well or at all affected less than 1% of the population.
However in areas of London, notably Newham, Brent and Tower Hamlets and also in Leicester, between 8 and 9% of the population could not speak English well or at all.
The research also found that just 65% of people who could not speak English well or at all were in good health, compared with 88% who could speak English very well or well.
The report suggests that this may be due to lower proficiency in English, making it difficult for people to access suitable healthcare, which may have a longer term impact on health. There was also a more rapid decline of good health by age among people who were less proficient in English.
In terms of employment, some 48% of those ‘non-proficient’ in English were employed, compared with 72% of all usual residents aged 16 to 64. This was particularly evident for females, where 34% of those ‘non-proficient’ in English were in employment compared with 58% of women who were proficient in English.
The Census data also reveals that 8%, or 4.2 million people, in England and Wales had a main language other than English. Overall the Census classified 88 main languages other than English.
Amongst these, the most prevalent was Polish, which was the main language of 1% of the population or 546,000 people, followed by Panjabi with 273,000 speakers and Urdu with 269,000 speakers. European languages such as French had 147,000 speakers, Portuguese some 133,000 and Spanish 120,000.
There were high proportions of other languages in some local authorities. For example, in Tower Hamlets in London 18% of the population spoke Bengali as their main language and in Leicester 11% of the population spoke Gujarati as their main language.