Trilingualism or Bilingualism?

(November 14, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The wisdom of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s plan to make Sri Lanka a trilingual nation over a 10 year period beginning from next year was questioned at a seminar in Colombo on Thursday (November 11).

S. Ganeshan, a member of the audience, responding to this plan, enunciated by Presidential Adviser Sunimal Fernando said that he has served in the academia, and at present in the corporate sector.

Ganeshan said that one needs to have a good command of English in the corporate sector.

He said he has served in interview panels in multi-national companies. It was sad to see bright Sri Lankan graduates knocked out in such interviews because they didn’t know their English.

Ganeshan therefore suggested that instead of trying to promote trilingualism which is a costly exercise, the need was for bilingual education-the mother tongue and English.

To a question raised by this reporter as to why the Government doesn’t tap the donor community to take English forward in the country, Fernando said that resources are already there.

“It’s just that English teachers don’t want to take placements in the periphery,” said Fernando.

Colombo University’s Sociology Professor Siri Hettige said that universities invest heavily in buying books for their libraries, but there are no users. These books are in English. There is no usage because the undergraduates don’t know their English, he said.

English is the most convenient language form from which these books could be procured from. The difference in countries such as China, Japan and Korea is that they have translators to translate those books into their own vernaculars, but in Sri Lanka’s case it lacks translators to do this job, he said.

Murtaza Esufally, a director at Hemas Holding PLC, said that research and technological documents were in English, as such the importance to learn this language. He also said that foreign capital comes into a country which has a plural society.

The private sector needs an English speaking workforce, said Esufally.

Dr. (Ms.) Anila Dias Bandaranaike, a former Statistics director at the Central Bank said that during her field visits she found that there was a thirst among those living in the periphery to learn English. “This was because they felt that English was a tool for advancement,” she said.

Bandaranaike further said that the new affluent, who don’t belong to the English speaking elite, send their children to expensive international schools because English is the medium of instruction in those schools.

In a mentoring programme that she undertook in the physical science stream of a university, those undergraduates had told her that their single most deficiency was the lack of a knowledge of English.

B.R.L. Fernando, Chairman CIC Group of companies said that after they undertook to develop a school in the North Central Province with an emphasis on English, attendance shot up from 80 to 180.

The topic of the seminar was “How does Sri Lanka address its English Language Deficiency?” The seminar was sponsored by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. Tell a Friend

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