When I was about eight years old I went to see my family GP in Bristol. I wasn't unwell; I didn't need medical help — I was there to serve as interpreter for my mum, who, a decade after arriving from Pakistan, could still speak only the most basic English.

Eventually she decided that enough was enough. Today she's completely fluent and her life has improved immeasurably as a result.

Her story is shared by the vast majority of immigrants. But I know some who haven't made such an effort. There are people I knew as a child who in the past 40 years have met only a handful of people from outside the south Asian Muslim community. I can name individuals in my hometown of Rochdale, Greater Manchester, who have lived in this country for half a century but speak barely a word of English. I've seen friends packed off to the subcontinent to find a wife because the idea of them marrying a British woman was simply shocking. It's not the norm, not by a long way. But it's not exactly rare, either.

Read the complete original version of this item...