[lg policy] A trilingual nation - bridging the chasm

r.amirejibi-mullen at QMUL.AC.UK r.amirejibi-mullen at QMUL.AC.UK
Tue Mar 29 13:37:10 UTC 2011

Role of English in both national and global perspective:

Dr Ruwantissa ABEYRATNE

It was both heartening and encouraging to hear that, in an interview  
with Swarnavahini TV on March 16, 2011 Secretary to the President  
Lalith Weeratunga had said that the government aims to build a  
trilingual nation by 2020 to remove mistrust among communities and  
ensure that terrorism will not surface again. The Secretary had added  
that the government encourages all - especially public servants and  
schoolchildren - to learn the two official languages Sinhala and Tamil  
and the link language English. There could be no doubt that the  
measures taken by the President, particularly in establishing a  
National Languages and Social Integration Ministry in pursuance of  
this objective reflects foresight, wisdom and leadership.

Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga

This article is intended to provide my views with regard to English as  
a link language from both a national and global perspective.

Conversant in English
I believe that such a sage policy should not only be for removing  
mistrust among communities and eradicating terrorism. It should also  
serve to infuse a sense of dignity in every Sri Lankan child who could  
dream of having a fair and equal opportunity of social acceptance and  
employment after his/her education. During my education in Sri Lanka,  
in a private school in Colombo for elementary and higher school  
education and in the English medium in the Law Faculty, Colombo  
University for tertiary education, it became increasingly apparent to  
me that those who were not conversant in English were at a distinct  
disadvantage, not only in securing employment but also in acquiring a  
sense of direction, purpose and dignity in a society where there was a  
psychological plus in being able to communicate fluently in English.  
In most of my colleagues, particularly those in the University  
studying in the Sinhala medium without a foundation in English, I  
found a distinct disparity in morale, ambition and perseverance when  
compared to us who spoke the Kaduwa, although none of them were found  
to be lacking in intelligence.

Fundamental right
I completely agree that Sinhala and Tamil should be the official  
languages in Sri Lanka. However, there is no doubt in my mind that  
English is the equalizer in Sri Lankan education. It is also the only  
door that would open opportunities for the younger generation - of  
exposure to the world, be it by working for governmental or  
multinational organizations or representing their country abroad. This  
is an opportunity that every child must have, wherever he/she might be  
in Sri Lanka.

To take this a step further, the equal opportunity to be educated in  
English should be as much a fundamental right of every child as the  
opportunity to learn the two official languages. By this I mean that  
English that is taught in the country throughout must be of the same  
quality and standard in order to ensure that each child has equal  
opportunity to compete in later life.

I did not study in the English medium at school. English was only a  
subject. However, the school infused a certain mindset in the children  
that made us value English, read English books from early childhood,  
listen to English songs and watch quality English movies.

This should be a joint effort between the State, the school and  
parents. Where parents are not fluent in English they could try to  
share the material and influence brought home by their children.

Educational techniques
Schools could even have special English programs for needy parents  
whenever possible. In other words, together with educational  
techniques, an English mindset should be taken to schools in which the  
sole emphasis is on Sinhala or Tamil. To learn English has always been  
a contemporary aspiration of people living anywhere in the world, as I  
experience with people of the 190 nations I work with whose first  
language is not English. We Sri Lankans are no different. There is one  
more compelling reason why English should be a strong link language  
and that is globalization. Globalization, which essentially means the  
removal of geographic boundaries for purposes of trade and certain  
other areas of human conduct, imposes certain requirements on citizens  
of the world to respond to challenges. For that one needs a common  
language, which has always been English. Through its current inspired  
leadership, Sri Lanka is opening doors to enhanced foreign trade with  
the opening of new harbours and airports and expanding business  
opportunities with the world.

Global problems
Very soon, global problems wrought by increasing development would be  
our problems as well. As the United Nations Secretary General said in  
his address to the United Nations Association of the United Kingdom on  
January 31, 2006 in Westminster, ?We are all in the same boat.? More  
than ever before, the human race faces global problems firstly from  
poverty and inequality to nuclear proliferation, from climate change  
to bird flu, from terrorism to HIV/AIDS, from ethnic cleansing and  
genocide to trafficking in the lives and bodies of human beings. So it  
obviously makes sense to come together and work out global solutions.

The strength of the English language as a booster to a future of  
opportunity would be any persons dream anywhere in the world and that  
dream is the liberty and freedom that allows all citizens and  
residents to pursue their goals in life through hard work and free  
choice where equal competition will bring in just rewards.

It would bring about the opportunity to achieve greater material  
prosperity than was possible and also create the opportunity for  
children to grow up and receive an education that would lead to career  
opportunities. In the ultimate analysis, it remains an enduring  
realization that the thrust of the English language does not merely  
eradicate terrorism and take away mistrust among communities but would  
also bridge a psychological chasm. And this does not apply to Sri  
Lanka alone.


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