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Language & Identity

“We speak English, but we speak it differently.” Jemina Sweeney, Dublin, 1946

It was easier for the Irish to integrate in London as they spoke English, although with a style that marked them as different. Occasionally people changed their accent to help them find work.

“Plus our way of thinking is vastly different to an English way of Thinking. Our sense of humour is completely different.” Jemina Sweeney

“There were some parts of Ireland where they didn’t speak English and in the pubs you could hear some young men talking the Irish. It was their natural way.” Jemina Sweeney, Dublin, 1946


Many Pakistanis who came to Cricklewood spoke Urdu and learning English was a priority. Workers were able to learn on the job, from their colleagues.

“If I was sitting at home doing nothing, I would have been the same as many of these Pakistani women who’ve been here forty, fifty years, and they hardly speak English.” Parveen Khan, Sahiwal, Pakistan, 1943


Many women were homemakers. Some were able to learn from their children, and others created their own opportunities, setting up English classes. They also met regularly to practice Arabic, to study the Qu’ran, the holy book of Islam.

Quote in Arabic and English, decorating the wall of Brent Central Mosque

“You know, every week now, this class, Qu’ran, class, its effect on us is so good. … We get here, we read Qu’ran, we learn Qu’ran, but we meet each other. We have a very good time. It’s a very good change from the week.” Parveen Qureshi, Rawalpindi, Pakistan, 1943

Many continue to meet at the Pakistan Community Centre in Willesden, where there are also Urdu language classes. Preserving the mother tongue is an important way for migrants to retain their identity.

Of the post-war generation, many young Irish had left school early to help out on the farm or earn extra money. They took advantage of opportunities in London to study at evening classes.

Irish language classes, Cricklewood Technical School, 1956.