Supermarket workers are to be given badges to identify them as immigrant-friendly so they can be approached by those who want to practice their English.
Under a bizarre scheme to be launched today, checkout staff at Asda and the Co-op will be employed as ‘sympathetic listeners’ so those with poor English can brush up their language skills.
More than £6million of public money will be spent on new projects to coax those who don’t speak English to finally learn the language.
Announcing the plans, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles warned that those who fail to speak English ‘are condemned to a limited life’.
Recent census figures showed that across England 1.7 per cent of the population - more than a million people - have either no, or poor spoken English. That figure rises to 9 per cent in some London boroughs where one in three inhabitants was born abroad.
Under the plans, language classes will be held in mosques, churches and Sikh gurdwaras in order to reach those people who have not got access to language training.
Language classes will be focused on practical themes, rather than classroom English, so immigrants can learn how to engage with schools, hospitals and other public services and how to discuss social activities such as cooking and gardening.
Those who are struggling will also be encouraged to help design their own courses and local volunteers will be recruited to hold informal conversations with those who a struggling.
A source at the Department for Communities and Local Government said: ‘Training staff in supermarkets to be ‘sympathetic listeners’ to encourage learners to practise their English in-store - badges will make trained listeners easily identifiable.’
That project will get the go ahead in outlets of Asda and Coop in Manchester and Yorkshire.
There will also be new language projects in Birmingham, Leicester, Blackburn, Bradford, Oldham, Sheffield, Rochdale, Bristol, Luton and Slough.
In London 15 boroughs will be targeted: Brent, Camden, Ealing, Enfield, Hackney, Hammersmith and Fulham, Haringey, Harrow, Hounslow, Lambeth, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Westminster.
The projects were selected after ministers were told that traditional English language classes are not always suited to the people who need them the most - such as those who are often socially and economically isolated by their lack of English.
Mr Pickles said: ‘Speaking English is crucial to allow us to come together and be part of British society. People are unable to do this and are condemned to a limited life if they can’t speak our language.
'Speaking English is crucial to allow us to come together and be part of British society'Communities Secretary Eric Pickles
‘To be a proper functioning citizen you must be able to speak English. Those who can’t are missing out much of British society, such as participating in civic life, talking to neighbours, or popping to the shops.
‘These fantastic projects will have a positive impact on local communities, enabling people to fulfil their potential, to communicate with friends and neighbours, gain employment and increase self-confidence.’ Mr Pickles hopes that investing in new ways of improving language skills will also lead to reduced translation and interpretation costs for local public services - money which he believes could be better directed at services that will benefit all residents and communities.
He added: ‘Far too much taxpayers money has been wasted by councils on translation services, reducing the motivation to learn English and leaving too many people isolated at home and unable to get on.
‘We want to give more people the opportunities to participate fully in their communities, without being held back because they can’t speak the language.’