Sri Lanka: Bilingual skills needed

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Apr 29 13:50:03 UTC 2007

Bilingual skills needed, says Commission
By Chandani Kirinde

The Official Languages Commission has recommended the recruitment to the
public service of a sufficient number of persons competent in Tamil and
make Sinhala and Tamil compulsory subjects in schools up to the O/L stage
as priority measures to be taken to meet the language problem of the

These recommendations are contained in the memorandum the chairman and
members of the Commission presented to President Mahinda Rajapaksa last

Other recommendations include the training of translators and interpreters
through the university system which has the necessary human resources and
infrastructural facilities for such training and to convert the Official
Languages Department, which already trains public servants in languages,
to an independent institute capable of carrying out its functions more

The Government has already taken two major policy decisions this year to
expedite implementation of the language policy adopted nearly 20 years ago
but not properly implemented till date. In February, a public
administration circular was issued offering attractive incentives to
public servants to induce them to acquire proficiency in the second
official language - Sinhala language for those competent in Tamil and
Tamil language for those competent in Sinhala.

Another circular is to be issued shortly under which new recruits to the
public service will need to acquire proficiency in their second language
within five years of entering the service.

According to available statistics, of the nearly 900,000 strong public
service, only around 9 per cent are proficient in Tamil. The Commission
said that if around 38 per cent of the public servants obtain some level
of proficiency in the second official language, it would go a long way to
make the public administration bi-lingual.

There is also a dire need for translators with only about 166 in the
Translators Service according to available statistics. Of these only 44
are qualified in Sinhala/Tamil translation, 108 in Sinhala /English
translation and only 14 in Tamil/English translation.

There is an equally bad situation with regards to interpreters despite
their requirement to serve in multi-lingual elected bodies such as
Parliament, Provincial Councils and local bodies.

The Commission has recommended the establishment of two separate
professional services for them and that trainees should be drawn into the
service from graduates who are qualified in at least one of the official
languages. They should be taught the other official language for a
duration of at least two years.

The Commission had arrived at this conclusion taking into consideration
the failed attempt to train those with only a secondary education
background as translators.


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