The English town with 127 tongues

TEACHERS in one town are struggling to understand their pupils – because they speak 127 languages.

Kids turn up for class talking any lingo from Afrikaans and Armenian to Uzbek and Zulu.

Others chatter away in an incredible variety of tongues including Assamese, Chichewa, Kurdish, Lithuanian, four kinds of Chinese, Nahuati and even English. It means Reading, Berks – population 233,000 – has more languages than almost any town of similar size in the world.


An influx of immigrants speaking little or no English has left teachers battling to cope.

The problem was thought to be even bigger when a council survey in schools revealed 150 different languages. But some immigrants used different names for the same native tongue. Kenyans called their language Kikuyu or Gikuyu.

Punjabi and Panjabi are different names for the same language spoken in Pakistan and India.

The council is seeking extra cash from the Government under the English For Speakers Of Other Languages programme.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: “This is quite an extraordinary number of languages. It is no mean feat for a local authority to cope.” Philip Davis, Tory MP for Shipley, West Yorks, said: “It’s very worrying. We haven’t really made people integrate properly into British society and we haven’t made them learn English.”

Local officials also seem to need help with plain English.

Lesley Reilly, head of Reading Adult Learning, said in a gem of gobbledegook: “Our aim is to involve stakeholders in community groups across the town.”

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