What language do new citizens need?

In these monthly discussions we answer one question about language in PNG and beyond. This month we are looking at language and citizenship.

New PNG citizens with then Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Rimbink Pato.

EVERY year hundreds of thousands of people around the world move from the country of their birth to start a new life in another country.
After living there for years, some decide to make the new country their permanent home and they apply to become naturalised citizens of their adopted country. What are the language requirements that they have to fulfil to do this?
Here in Papua New Guinea the legal requirements for naturalisation are laid down in the national constitution, which states that naturalised citizens must be able to speak Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu, or a local PNG language. Most naturalised Papua New Guineans use their knowledge of Tok Pisin to qualify for citizenship. I have not heard of any persons who have become citizens on the basis of knowing a local tok ples.
There are no specific requirements as to how this language requirement is to be tested. Indeed, it is handled in a very informal way. There is no written test. Usually the applicant has a short conversation in Tok Pisin with one of the Migration officers.
One naturalised citizen, whose Tok Pisin is actually very fluent, told me a Papuan officer flew up to his home in the Highlands and asked him if he spoke Tok Pisin and if so, how well. When the applicant answered, “yes, I’m pretty good”, the examining officer said, “Great, because I cannot speak it all”. That was the extent of this applicant’s naturalisation language examination! These language requirements are interesting because the PNG constitution does not actually state what the national languages of PNG are. Because Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu, and English are all used in the national parliament and national radio services and are mentioned in different places in the national constitution, the feeling has developed that these three languages are the official languages of the nation. But this is not specifically stated in the constitution.
It is also interesting that although a knowledge of English is not required for naturalisation, it is a requirement for the long term visas foreigners need to live in PNG. Since persons wishing to become PNG citizens must have lived at least eight years in the country before they can apply, we can assume that any long term foreign resident and applicant for PNG citizenship should know English. Even more interesting is that the oath of allegiance either to the Queen or to PNG itself is given in English, even though a knowledge of English is not an actual naturalisation requirement.
Now let us look to see what the situation is in other countries. The constitutional designation of an official language is different in some other Pacific nations. In Vanuatu, for example, the constitution states that Bislama (the Vanuatu dialect of Melanesian Pidgin English) is the official national language, with English and French designated as “working languages”. Persons wishing to become Vanuatu citizens must normally demonstrate a knowledge of the official language, Bislama. New Zealand has three official languages: English, Maori, and New Zealand Sign Language for the deaf. Persons wishing to become New Zealand citizens must know one of those languages. The oath of citizenship can be given in any of those languages.
Like Papua New Guinea, the United States does not have a national language specified in the national constitution, although some individual states have specified English (or in the case of Hawaii, English and Hawaiian) as the official state language.
Nevertheless, adult applicants for American citizenship who are under 65 years of age must pass an oral examination about American law and government that is administered in English. Persons older than 65 can have an interpreter for the examination if they do not speak English. Children do not need to be examined.
Germany and the United Kingdom have similar citizenship tests in German or English. In the UK, applicants in Wales have the option of sitting for the citizenship test and giving the oath of allegiance to the Queen in either Welsh or English. These tests about the country’s history and government in Germany and the United Kingdom are said to be so difficult that many native-born adults would not pass them.
Some countries have a requirement that prospective citizens know the national language, but the government does not have a separate naturalisation language test. Instead they require the applicant to pass a standardised language examination before applying for citizenship.
This is the case for Portugal, which requires applicants to pass the same Portuguese language examination that foreign students need to sit for in order to study at Portuguese universities. This examination tests speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Japan is another country that gives citizenship applicants a written test. It makes adult applicants for Japanese citizenship prove they can read and write Japanese by passing a primary school grade 3 language test. The idea is that if foreigners can read and write the difficult Japanese characters as well as a native Japanese nine or 10-year-old, they should be allowed to become Japanese citizens.
As we have seen, countries differ in how they test if persons wanting to become new citizens have sufficient knowledge of their adopted nation’s language. They may differ in whether applicants are tested by an oral or written test, whether it is a formal or informal examination, and whether it is an actual language test or a citizenship test about government and history given in the language of the nation.
But common to all is the idea that newcomers must be integrated into their adopted society, and that one important way to show this is by demonstrating a knowledge of an important language of the community.

  • Professor Volker is a linguist living in New Ireland, and an Adjunct Professor in The Cairns Institute, James Cook University in Australia. He welcomes your language questions for this monthly discussion at [email protected] Or continue the discussion on the Facebook Language Toktok page.

Teacher sees success despite struggles

UPNG Journalism student
FRANK Otmar, 40, from Kerenda Village in Upper Mendi, Southern Highlands is headmaster at the Blessed Peter ToRot Primary School in Imbonggu District. For him the hardships of operating a school with little in terms of resources or funding are easily forgotten when he celebrates the success of his studies and the joy in their faces.
In 2009, he left his home, his village and everyone that he loved to serve the people whom he now calls his own and has found a real home away from home. He has served the village for a decade now and is whole heartily determined to serve the village until his last days in the teaching service.
Otmar said his school has faced struggles since it was an Catholic Church agency school but the agency and most of all, the people of Onarop have supported its operations and did whatever was necessary to get it going till the end of the year.

Frank Otmar (right) with villagers at a primary schools in SHP.

Again this has been a successful year when the school was able to hold its 12th graduation ceremony last Thursday where 39 grade eight students ended the year successfully.
“I see success when my students get into the workforce after graduating from higher institutions like universities around the country. Seeing my students coming back and serving their own community and province gives me a lot of satisfaction.
“When I refer to success, it does not only mean achieving something that is big and the whole world would cheer and know about it; success comes in different forms and I see mine in that,” he said.
Otmar is a loving father, husband, brother and true tribesman of people of Onarop apart from being addressed as headmaster. He serves, eats and walks with the host community both in good and in bad times, in sickness and in health. He gains the utmost respect from everyone in that village.
“The massage I’m trying to bring across to my colleagues and every other individual citizen is to improve and take ownership of things wherever you may be. This is where you will build a foundation and a wall against all kinds of enemies,” he added.
He made this appeal after learning from both mainstream and social media about teachers, nurses and doctors running away from their jobs due to remoteness and lack of government funding.