By Sarath Wijesinghe (Former Ambassador to UAE and Israel)

English is a straight and simple tool of communication striped of its historical baggage, a skill for employment and a vehicle for reaching the outside world of knowledge. It has been a property owned by a few elite in the Sri Lankan society as a prized possession of a privileged class, as an instrument of social repression and not accepted for its utility value.

It is now necessary to transform this into common property, for the benefit of the people and the country for development and prosperity. English is the language of Information Technology, International Trade and Commerce, sectors Sri Lanka is expected and bound to take forward. Sri Lankan standard of education is of the highest level with our efficient and intelligent labour force winning the confidence of the local and international employers in Sri Lanka and outside.

  • Time to nationalize English

It is time we nationalized this precious property jealously guarded by a few into a common resource owned and utilized by all. We must encourage the learners to speak English the Sri Lankan way as is the case in India, where English education developed to attract even foreigners to India to learn English. A linguist in England once said that even if English disappears in England it will still continue in India as English is so interwoven into Indian life and India has embraced English in education.

India has emerged today as the world's centre of excellence for the teaching of English to non-English people. Thousands of people come to India from the former Soviet Republic (CIS) countries, South East Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Russia, China and many other regions in the world. Sri Lanka has the capacity and competence to be an excellent 'centre of excellence' in English education. India used English as a utility, a tool of communication and education, not as a tool for social climbing.

In India and Sri Lanka Cricket and English became a way of life
In India and Sri Lanka Cricket and English are woven into the fabric of life. However, children from Tamil and Sinhala speaking homes find it much easier to learn to speak Japanese, Korean, Russian, Chinese, French, and German than to speak English. In the Middle East- especially in the UAE - over 300,000 Sri Lankans are employed. They have a sound working knowledge in and a competency to speak fluently many foreign languages other than English.

Most of them however display reluctance to learn to speak English which is caused by physiological backwardness due to deep rooted social baggage picked up back in Sri Lanka about speaking proper grammatical English with an accent. We must encourage the learner to make mistakes in pronunciation and grammar when speaking and the teacher should quietly and gently guide the leaner to progressively make fewer mistakes giving the confidence that it is as easy and easier than any other language. In the United Kingdom not everybody speaks 'good English'. London is an immigrant city full of migrants speaking 'broken English' or their own languages.

  • Confidence Building

It is confidence building and getting them to learn the basic vocabulary of a few hundred words which the learner can build on. If two basic building blocks, English and IT, were put in place in all nooks and corners of the country, we will be able to get unexpected results in the employment sector.

Entrance Free workshop on 26 April at the OPA Auditorium
We are planning to give a gentle push and encouragement solely on a voluntary basis, getting the services of renowned experts in English and Education to conduct workshops on English as a life skill.

The first workshop is scheduled to be held at the Organization of Professional Association (OPA) Auditorium on 26 April from 6.00 to 8.00 p.m., with the participation of the British Council and with an open invitation to all interested parties at no cost. It is the initial stage of a programme to be continued in various parts of the country with the participation of the English Departments of Universities in Sri Lanka with Indian Universities coming in at latter stages.

English is a West German Language that was first spoken in medieval England, and became a global language. It has official language status in 60 sovereign countries including Sri Lanka. It is the third most commonly used language developed over 1400 years and the language of Information Technology, Medicine, Trade and Commence mainly in the Commonwealth of Nations and the West.
Now that we are entangled with English due to colonization by the British, we are bound to carry on with it in the same way we are bound up with cricket, the British system of administration and trade. Our workforce and the future generation need only a little bit of push and confidence to learn spoken and basic English which will enhance their IT skills and personality.

If one is in a position to command a few hundred words with confidence and ease with directions from competent and dedicated advisers and teachers, it is possible to improve other skills and personality for the success in any discipline.

English at one level is a technology of communication. You need to realize that every technology is an ideological system as well. In our country English was a communication technology that was crafted by our westernized elites as an ideology that provided a gateway to the West which required perfect grammar and pronunciation. Now we no longer need to continue this difficult route which was utilized as an instrument of social oppression by the privileged class and not as a tool of communication.

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