18 August, 2022

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English As The Language Of Higher Education: Some Facebook Responses

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Before writing this missive, I posted the proposal ‘Sri Lanka’s language of higher education should be English’ and requested my Facebook friends to ‘express their views.’ Within 24 hours, there were twenty-nine ‘thumps up’ and sixty-five comments. This is the first time that I realized that the FB could be mobilized at least in a small way in promoting (good) ideas.

Would it be a good idea to shift back to English medium? What would be the advantages and disadvantages to the graduates and the country?

Some Concerns

Above are the questions that would be discussed in this article based only on FB comments. Names are not mentioned as I don’t have their permission. At the outset I must say that there were concerns expressed whether this could undermine the Sinhala language? A particular friendly comment was in Sinhala, but it was immediately translated into English by the FB! I was surprised. This was the first time I realized that the FB has an instant translation program for the benefit of the users.

The comment in Sinhala was the following.

“සිංහල භාෂාව තියෙන්නෙ අපේ රටේ විතරයි. සිංහල දරැවන්ට ඉංග්‍රීසියෙන් අධ්‍යාපනය ලබාදිය යුත්තේ දෙවන භාෂාවක් ලෙසින්ය. ජපන් චීන කොරියන් රැසියන් රටවල මෙම මේනියාව නැත.”

The FB gave the following translation instantly.

Sinhalese Language is there only in our country. Sinhalese children should be taught in English as a second language. There is no such mania in Japan, China, Korea, Russian countries.”

Of course, in my FB posting I didn’t give details, and it is correct that the shift to English medium in higher education should not be promoted as a ‘mania.’ There is no superiority in English, except it has become an international language. It should be a practical and a pragmatic decision. If such a ‘mania’ exists in the country, it should be corrected or discouraged. Among other commenters, none expressed such a mania existing.

Let me tell you an anecdote. In 1999, I came to the idea that there can be a software program/s that could translate Sinhala and Tamil into English and vice versa and made a proposal to the then VC of the University of Colombo. I gave some examples how it could work. I made the same proposal to the then Chair of the Official Languages Commission. But there were no opportunities at that time in the country to do so. A friend of mine sarcastically asked me whether I have the computer knowledge to do so and I said ‘no.’ I mention this anecdote to say that such software programs, now apparently available in audio form as well, could be utilized to teach English to Sinhala and Tamil students effectively.

Some of the short positive comments were: ‘totally agree,’ ‘perfectly said,’ ‘should be,’ ‘definitely,’ ‘agree,’ ‘yes,’ ‘yes of course,’ ‘exactly,’ ‘true’ and so on.

Some commenters took more time to explain their positions. The first I received was “I think a timely needed requirement. It can be started and gradually enhanced. Already study activities are conducted in English at the University [of Colombo] but need to formalize and enhanced further.” Yes, to my knowledge and experience at the University of Colombo and Wayamba University even in the field of Arts, English is promoted positively. These should be formalized and enhanced in other universities as the commenter said.

School Education

Then came the suggestions for gradual expansion of English in school education: “Starting from grade 5, an important place should be given to English. So, it is easy for students to do higher education in English then.” Progressive promotion of English was the main idea of the commenter. Others expanded on the subject.

A prominent female educationist explained the proposal saying “It should begin at the primary level. Language can easily be adopted in the childhood rather than in adult age.” She also emphasized like others, “Going with English medium [in higher education] doesn’t mean neglecting our heritage, culture, traditions or our mother languages (Sinhala /Tamil). We can express our heritage better in the internationally recognized language. In this period, we thoroughly need people who think out of the box.”

She also came up with some practical suggestions. In promoting English in schools, “If there are lack of teachers, the opportunity could be given to new graduates who have passed out from the Faculty of Education and Teacher Training Schools” she suggested. The implication was that these graduates even at present are given a fair English teaching ability.

There were further suggestions I could fully agree. “The whole education system should be revised according to the global needs. We are still sticking to the traditional teaching methods and syllabuses. This is not only in schools but also in higher educational institutes based on the same structures and old paradigms.” There were some other positive proposals in her interactive intervention. She always talked about ‘Sinhala and Tamil’ when referring to national languages and her primary vision was for the benefit of young generations. She also mentioned other international languages.

There were similar views expressed by a former schoolteacher with international experience. Enhancing “English language teaching should start from the school system…the first step should be to revise school subjects and syllabuses. When promoted from primary level, students will be able to improve their skills in reading, writing, and speaking gradually by the O/L. Most important is to promote skilled and qualified teachers through teacher training and utilizing them all over the island by the education providers.” She also didn’t neglect national languages.

University Education

There were several of my former colleagues at the University of Colombo who supported the idea critically and one commented “Agreed but need to prepare from the school education. Infrastructure and necessary human resources should be provided by the government, especially for remote areas.” There was nothing much for me to add. A known social activist also supported the idea and even agreed to promote it through his profile and other means.

There were of course some sarcastic or provocative questions as well! One asked “Campuswala Englishwalin uganwanna puluwan aye innawada? Since this Sinhala was typed in English, the FB didn’t translate it. Perhaps it thought that this was some English or Singlish! The question was “Do we have capable people in Campuses to teach in English?” My answer was: “To my knowledge yes. Not all but some. At present Medicine, Engineering and Sciences are taught in English. Problems are in Arts Faculties. Since they were taught in Sinhala or Tamil, all lecturers might not be in a position to teach automatically in English. In that case they should continuously learn while teaching.”

I may be inaccurate, but all indications are that at present the capabilities are more, although not perfect. My experience has a ten-year gap as I retired from the University of Colombo in 2010. It seems the Faculties of Education and Management are now largely teaching in English. The Kotelawala Academy/University is also an English medium institute. During my time at Colombo many of us started teaching bilingual and our experiences were mixed. Of course, there was some opposition from some lecturers to teach in English because of the trouble involved and inconveniences. All these are common hurdles to overcome through understanding, perseverance, cooperation.

*The writer can be reached at FB Laksiri Fernando | Facebook

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Latest comments

  • 1
    2

    LF, Lot of lies on web by one track minds re higher education. Some in Russia, China and many countries including Sri Lanka have entire medical education in English, though some here are not very fluent in their speaking mainly due to their language use in own homes. Also sangha input is only Sinhala and hence a type of hindrance to English the universal world wide language creating broader and liberal minds. In Sri Lanka, standard medical text books are only in English, and students have no other options but English

    • 2
      0

      DTG,

      With that being the fact, however, MBBS graduates would not yet agree, to stand against ” English as the language for higher education” is the reality in SL today. GMOA is led by a man, Paddeniya, who is no different to a yellow pet mob . Their hidden agendas with SLPP undergound networks eroded the society on and on. And the fact as it is, not many among MBBS holders of the day are fluent enough to serve foreigners today. And also what was reported in media lately was Durden hospital hire ones that dont speak Englis as their service personnel so the PCR testing result s could cause unexpected problems for the passengers leaving the country. Some tourists complained that the medical doctors treated them failed to speak in English and that was the reason them to return to EUrope for their further treatments.

    • 1
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      DTG
      Providing medical education in English is good business.
      The Russian and Chinese students learn and practice in their native languages.
      Except for Singapore, all East & South East Asian countries educate their children in the mother tongue, and have done very well.

      • 1
        0

        Given my limited International Experience, I don’t want anybody to attach too much weight to my view of how other countries are faring.
        .
        True as it seems to be that Singapore allows kids to start of in one of four(?) mother tongues, I don’t think that there can be any doubt that it is English that counts for Higher Education.
        .
        As for Russian and Chinese, think about how much larger their populations are. Lanka is in many senses a country with a sick population. See how we keep debating, ad nauseam, the claims of Sinhalese and Tamil.
        .
        The chances still are that a century down the line, we’ll be cited as a country that had the potential to be a happy land, but we will be studied by anthropologists as an example of how societies ought not to conduct themselves.
        .
        I desperately hope that I’m proved WRONG.
        .
        Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela (NIC 48 3111 444V)

        • 1
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          S.M,
          The main reason why we can’t educate in the national languages is that there is little or no original scientific literature in those languages. Our past culture was heavily lopsided towards religion. Except for blaming the Cholas, we still have no idea why Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa collapsed.
          The Russians, Japanese, Chinese, etc do have a tradition of research in all fields.

        • 1
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          Dear Sinhala_Man,
          I was there in Singapore for 5 months in 1975. I can vouch for the quality of their Education and the skills level of their students.
          I was mesmerized by the performance of their Schools’ Debate teams.
          They proved themselves to be a total package!

      • 1
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        What is behind English not declared as an official language each state as listed below ? ( I added this to CT as well)

        USA

        – 320 millions

        – English not as official langauge but it works as the main langauge

        UK

        – 58 millions

        – English not as official langauge but it works as the main langauge

        Australia

        – 25 millions

        – English not as official langauge but it works as the main langauge

        New Zealand

        – 5 millions

        – English is the predominant language and a de facto official language of New Zealand.

        Canada

        – 38 millions

        – Under the Official Languages Act of 1969, both English and French have official federal status

        Malta

        – 450 000

        – Malta has two official languages: Maltese and English. Maltese is the national language.

        Malaysia

        – 33 millions

        – English as an international langauge not as official language

        Singapore

        – 6 millions

        – The Singapore government recognises four official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil.

        Hongkong

        – 7.5 milions

        – The Basic Law of Hong Kong states that English and Chinese are the two official languages of Hong Kong.[1] During the British colonial era, English was the sole official language until 1978 but has remained a strong second language in Hong Kong.

        Germany

        – 83 milions

        – THEIR OFFICIAL LANGAUGE IS GERMAN

        France

        – 65 millions

        – THEIR OFFICIAL LANGAUGE IS FRENCH

        Spain

        – 47 millions

        – THEIR OFFICIAL LANGAUGE IS SPANISH

        Italy

        – 60 millions

        – THEIR OFFICIAL LANGAUGE IS ITALIAN

        The Netherlands

        – 17 millions

        – THEIR OFFICIAL LANGAUGE IS DUTCH

        Portugal

        – 10 millions

        – THEIR OFFICIAL LANGAUGE IS PORTUGUESE

        Denmark

        – 6 milions

        – THEIR OFFICIAL LANGAUGE IS DANISH

        Switzerland

        – 9 milliions

        – German, French and Italian maintain equal status as official languages at the national level within the Federal Administration of the Swiss Confederation,

  • 1
    0

    Would it be a good idea to shift back to English medium learning shouldn’t be even a question.
    .
    Anyone who thinks that it needs to be inquired into and a decision made based on the advantages and disadvantages to the country, even at this late stage of our misery has no capacity to arrive at the correct answer!
    .
    ‘Sinhala only’ was apolicy introduced for political expediency. What many years of progress have we missed!
    .
    It is better late now, before it is too late forever.
    .
    If shortage of English Language teachers is the hurdle, there are many ways to clear it.

    • 2
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      Nathan,
      “Sinhala only’ was a policy introduced for political expediency. “
      Free education in their mother tongue for Sinhala and Tamil students was introduced in the 30’s under colonial rule, the prime mover being CWW Kannangara. But as a saving grace, English medium residential “Central colleges” in the provinces for bright students. This was a good system. Even now, how much tax-payers money has been wasted on “educating” the one million tuk drivers? Not everyone needs education.

    • 2
      1

      Nathan,
      .
      Why go back to what we discussed and dismissed? Don’t you remember that in relation to Manel Fonseka’s article, we considered your solution to finding more teachers, and then dismissed it?
      .
      Let’s not get into the habit of never digesting, and instead returning to base.
      .
      Manel immediately appreciated the new thinking:
      .
      https://bridge.edu/tefl/blog/what-is-clil/
      .
      I’m taking the trouble to give you a different article here. Why don’t you read it and learn from it?
      .
      Isn’t it correct to say that you once desisted from commenting on a school that you had taught in: S. Thomas’ citing “loyalty” to that institution? Doesn’t that sound bogus concern? Once I have proved beyond doubt that there is corruption, don’t you think that you should demand an end to it? Not punishment. Just no repetition.
      .
      I will not make rash accusations on big issues, like Bond scams, money printing, where my “knowledge” is second-hand repetition.

      .
      Please answer the questions asked. I’m avoiding ugly language and imagery to ensure that unnecessary emotions are not aroused.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe

      • 0
        1

        Dear Sinhala_Man,
        ISSUE 1:
        … We considered your solution to finding more teachers, and then dismissed it.
        ?? ??
        .
        There are many a ways. Dismissing one doesn’t exhaust the others.
        BTW, a shortage was there even during my time as a student. We had
        Teachers from Kerala!
        .
        ISSUE 2:
        Is SL ready for CLIL. Do we have the staffing / training / text.
        >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
        I was ridiculed as someone with no capacity to learn English. Yet, if I am able to debate you today, it is testament that there are other ways.
        .
        If we do not see eye to eye, let us bring this discussion to a halt.

        • 4
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          Dear Gentlemen,

          May I ask you both to see eye to eye via a Zoom meeting and clear your doubts ? Suche virtual meeting sessions are becoming much easier today via Skype, webex or Teams.
          .
          Thank you.
          LM

        • 1
          0

          Dear Nathan (and also co.),
          .
          This issue is far too important to be dismissed just like that. Let’s not try to discuss all the aspects at once. Ultimately, what LM says may be the most sensible course of action for Nathan and me. I know that oc will not want to declare his identity with good reason.
          .
          Nathan you have been a good teacher of Mathematics, in English. What the CLIL approach would allow you to do is to not bother too much with how much “correct” English has been absorbed by the students. Our focus has to be on the subject matter, and then students will lose their fear of the language and start using it, but we must not be pointing out little errors in English.
          .
          Why I’m addressing this to oc is because his words here have made me wonder whether all this talk about teaching everybody to the same level isn’t just hypocrisy. I think that we must question some of the fundamentals, instead of allowing a field day to manipulators of all sorts.
          .
          It’s up to you to suggest the other solutions that you have in mind. It may not be possible for us to complete such discussion in the next three days.

          • 1
            2

            Dear Sinhala_Man,
            You ask, WHAT other ways.
            I have indicated, one of them already, haven’t I.
            (We had Teachers from … .)
            .
            The advantage of TVs in our homes is enormous. It can be utilized in multiple ways.
            .
            Reading is time consuming; listening / watching is quicker and better.

            • 4
              0

              Nathan,
              “Reading is time consuming; listening / watching is quicker and better”
              I am always amazed at how the advent of SMS on mobile phones and YouTube enabled many to read and write in English.

              • 4
                0

                OC,
                .
                you are just fantastic. very good comment :)

              • 1
                0

                old codger,
                We are not far apart, are we.
                I quoted TV as a means because of its ‘accessibility’ / availability to more (young) people of learning age.
                (There is more room of Parental supervision, as well.)

          • 1
            0

            Nathan,
            .
            I have just submitted a response to your comment here:
            .
            https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/pandemic-travels-to-sri-lanka-back/comment-page-1/?unapproved=2417859&moderation-hash=ca08c5da1c5f7b0c0972896b018f8748#comment-2417859
            .
            I agree that the digital media could be used more. However, see what is said here:
            .
            https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/covid-19-pandemic-disruption-to-education-challenges-to-restoring-normalcy/
            .
            There isn’t a single comment on that article. We were all engrossed in what Manel Fonseka triggered. However, after comments closed, I wrote my apologies to Dr Wijewardena, told him that he had raised some valid points, but that I was even more concerned with how the digital media, now owned by the richest men in the world, is manipulating our thinking.
            A return to that article, and the comments on it, which provide links to videos, would be useful, because many issues raised by RTF were dealt with there.
            .
            https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/sinhala-only-tamil-also-and-also-english/
            .
            This is part of the problem with discussing like this. Some give links to total irrelevancies, so out entire reading here is careless. It is worse with T.V.
            .
            I learnt a lot from BBC radio as a kid; so I’m not discounting the usefulness of all that.
            .
            Panini
            .

            .

  • 3
    1

    First, thank you Laksiri for writing something that I can agree with.
    We live in a small country. We may be as sovereign (?) as Japan, Russia, Korea, etc, but those countries have their own body of knowledge written down it their own languages. A Japanese can find dozens of tomes on, say, the properties of Lithium batteries in Japanese. Can we in Sinhala?
    The Indians, despite their genuine nationalism, never dropped English, and that explains why thousands of Indians are at the top of Western companies, but not us. We live in a world where English is dominant. Just as we have to learn Russian to study in Russia, we need English to survive in a global village. It’s much easier than learning Chinese or German.

    • 3
      0

      English use nowadays is analogous to the use of the dead languages Latin and Greek even now in science, simply because they are easily understood by scientists everywhere. Imagine trying to translate the names of, say, organic compounds into Sinhala! Computers are programmed using various languages, mostly English based. In the 1950’s, we thought that simply translating English textbooks into local languages would suffice, but we know how that turned out. Consider the translation of “Intelligence section”
      into Sinhala as “Buddhi Angshaya”. Obviously the translator was unaware that “intelligence” also means “information” in English. The knowledge base, especially in science and engineering, expands much faster than expected. It is OK to be proud of one’s culture, but even the Chinese, who are a much older culture than ours, have adapted themselves. They have fully functional Western orchestras and classical singers, whereas we in our superiority condemn “Danno Budunge” sung by a soprano!

      • 0
        1

        OC
        Unlike the Germans earlier last century, the Russians adopted the commonly used term for all manner of things.
        Very practical. Contrast fernsprecher with telefon, which the Germans have now come to terms with.
        *
        The Sinhalese (thanks to Munidasa Cumaratunge?) are less fussy than Tamils. I have seen the ease with which the S-team adopted foreign words when it was hard to find a term in Sinhala when dealing with glossary teams in the Official Language Department.

        • 1
          0

          S.J,
          It is always better to use commonly understood terms. I believe “janelaya”, “sapaththu”, “transformeraya” etc are better than the Sanskrit atrocities we are saddled with.
          “Rupavahini” and “Guwanviduliya”, for example,are based on misconceptions.

          • 0
            0

            OC
            Language is the most democratic institution that I know.
            Sooner or later it throws out any word or phrase that is unfriendly to the public.

    • 2
      0

      Dear oc,
      .
      We got used to English as kids, so we don’t realise the special problems posed by the lack of regularity in English.
      .
      It is a huge problem to those trying to learn the language once the gifts that nature conferred on us as infants has passed.
      .
      I agree with everything else that you’ve said.

      • 3
        1

        S.M,
        What we need is good functionality in English. The ability to understand Shakespeare or Wodehouse is secondary. If our medical students can learn enough Russian in 18 months to study medicine, it should be possible to teach English the same way. Of course, there is a shortage of competent teachers, but this is the 21st century, isn’t it?
        One of the problems is the fear of our culture being overwhelmed. Parents fear they won’t be worshipped, or their children will take to loose Western morals.The monks too don’t favour it. Exposure to foreign ideas loosens their grip.

        • 0
          0

          OC: “One of the problems is the fear of our culture being overwhelmed. “
          This is a very good point. Wanting to preserve some cultural norms can be an obstacle. Pusswedilla captures this to some extent in the way he uses “Western thinking”. An imagined culture among the displaced/diaspora is even worse. When my children were young and we tried to teach them Tamil, we looked for books. One from a Tamil school in the UK starts with “everyday Tamil” for children consisting of the child waking up, going to the parents and kneeling at their feet to pay respect…

          • 1
            3

            SAV
            “the child waking up, going to the parents and kneeling at their feet to pay respect”
            That is extremely rare among Lankan Tamils here or abroad, but very common among Sinhalese. The wife worshipping the husband is still common among Sinhalese. (But the Sinhalese woman is a far more independent and assertive social creature than her Tamil counterpart.)

            • 1
              0

              SJ: I know. Which is why I thought of the Tamil School’s book was “imagined culture”. And by BTW I am yet to meet a Sinhala woman who is more assertive and independent than my (Tamil) grandmother.

              • 2
                0

                SAV,

                The truth is more tamil females are in leading roles today, than a handful of female MPs are yet in the parliament ( in our hell hole – though once upon a time only it was known as a paradise for europeans).

                If you would travel to southern areas, …. those women expect their grown up children to kneel down before any older person – the culture was introduced by Rajapakshe rascals in recent years.
                .

              • 2
                3

                SAV
                I do not know your grandmother.
                But I meet Sinhalese and Tamil women in social life.
                How many Tamil women (even as a percentage) play an active role in society?

                • 2
                  0

                  SJ: “the Sinhalese woman is a far more independent and assertive social creature than” is your assertion. Have you any statistics to back it up? I also meet many Sinhala and Tamil women and they seem very similar to me.

                  • 1
                    2

                    I have not collected statistics. But I witness it in many social events.
                    You can check among women activists at various social levels.
                    Just look at any political or other demonstration and compare female presence by ethnicity.
                    *
                    Among female students whom I came across in the last two decades, plenty of Sinhalese females went alone to the offices of academics to clear doubts.
                    I came across only one such Tamil female.
                    When she met me the day after convocation, I told her that I admired her courage.
                    She responded “Sir, did you not know that I was married when I entered university?”
                    That summed up the contrast in attitudes nicely.

            • 1
              0

              @SJ,

              “The wife worshipping the husband is still common among Sinhalese”.

              This is something new to me. Have you personally witnessed such a practice among the Sinhalese? As an upcountry Sinhalese woman in her mid seventies, I have never “worshiped” my husband, neither have I ever seen my mother, sisters, aunts, grand mother, great grandmother- or any women for that matter – worship their husband. I am a villager and this is not a practice known to any of us.

              Perhaps, you have seen this type of husband worshiping on Sri-Lankan TV where they try to promote a weird male dominated agenda.

              • 0
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                Chandra:
                I think SJ might be extrapolating from this picture of SB being released from jail; an extreme event, may be even staged for the cameras, and unlikely to be a regular thing in the Dissanayake household:
                https://www.bbc.com/sinhala/news/story/2006/02/060217_sb_released
                But children being told/urged to worship teachers and parents is common. That now extends to politicians. You might have seen a video of Mangala Samaraweera stopping a school kid from worshipping him (but he too told the assembly that teachers ad parents are fine to fall at the feet of).

              • 0
                1

                CS
                Yes
                I do.

                • 0
                  1

                  CS
                  I have not witnessed it personally, because it is not a public performance.
                  But people have admitted to it.

                  • 1
                    1

                    Falling at the feet of school teachers and public figures is a new thing among Tamil school children.
                    It was something unknown in my time and even my son went to school in the 1980s.
                    Whether they got it from Tamilnadu, where ministers were seen falling at the feet of the Chief Minister in public, I do not know.
                    *
                    The term “swamipurushaya” was known to be in common use in Sinhala at least until some years ago.
                    I wonder why?

        • 4
          3

          OC
          I know Lankan parents who ran away from America because they were worried about American personal moral values.
          Our middle classes had no inhibitions about learning the master’s language, as long as they could go places with it.
          South Asians have less confidence in the potential of their native languages as media for modern knowledge compared to East and most South East Asians, except Singaporeans I think.
          We have had a record 4+ centuries of European domination, and that shows in both pro- and anti-English attitudes. East Asians make no issue of English, because they advanced without leaning on it.

          • 2
            2

            ” South Asians have less confidence in the potential of their native languages
            I had a feeling like that when I see you underrating, mocking, belittling…….. and doing other uncivilized insulting of Tamils who language is the Most Old Classical language. (Check with Deva how often change the badu in packages, because my LTTEyers are not that good in that. My tongue sours, as you propagates. )

          • 1
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            SJ,

            During 1945–1952, Japan faced occupation and reconstruction under an American General, Douglas MacArthur. The country adopted many Western ways, including the English language, even though they have retained their language and culture to a great extent.

            Koreans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Hong Kongers also adopted many Western ways and English.

            Explaining scientific concepts in Sinhala and Tamil may contribute to better understanding in the early phase, but as students become professionals, English is often a must. These days, there are many internet tools, such as YouTube videos, to help with self-learning.

          • 0
            0

            SJ,

            The personal morality issue is a separate one. Even Indian/Bollywood movies reflect a steep decline in moral values in India as the country became a center of global IT business and adopted many Western ways.

            The challenge is to take only what is good in the Western culture and stand firmly against the bad. Young Indians are failing in that, though until recently they appeared to be succeeding. Sri Lankans have to be definitely cautious in that respect. Younger generations need good role models who have resisted the pressure to conform to Western standards of decayed morality while living and working in the West.

            • 2
              3

              Agnos
              Societies rarely pick and choose in these matters.
              And there is no clear vision on what is good and what is bad.
              (I will not elaborate. examine the impact that the DMK made through the movies.)
              *
              I visited Chennai early this century after a 10 year gap. The changes in social values were visible in every field.

              • 2
                2

                East Asians knew what they needed and took as much as they really needed.
                They learn English but do not crave learning in English as we do.

          • 1
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            S.J,
            “We have had a record 4+ centuries of European domination, and that shows in both pro- and anti-English attitudes. “
            Yes, but it seems, on closer inspection, that Portuguese has had more impact than English!

            • 2
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              OC
              On language: Yes, until recently.
              But modern technology and commerce are making changes that are immense.
              Tamil in South India is getting anglicised much faster than Sinhala, which has a neat way of ‘Sinhalising’ alien terms.
              Tamils as a community are too conservative to let the formal language change. But the print media and speech have a momentum of their own.

          • 0
            0

            OC and Mallai, now a days very often we here Western Governments recognizing, honoring and valuing our language, culture and even religious festivities. Coming Thai Pongal will be officially celebrated in US, UK ,Canada and many other Western Countries. But here is a frog at the bottom of the well says another (may be related) from the same well “ran away from America because they were worried about American personal moral values ??) For a fact, people have more rights and freedom, to freely practice their religion, language and culture in the Western countries, than in current Lanka. But the ignorant frog at the bottom thinks all Americans are amoral, Lankans who reside now in US are amoral or is it Lankans are moral ???

            • 4
              0

              Chiv,
              “Morality” is a matter of opinion. Women in skirts are common in Colombo, but not in Chennai. Buddhist women in Phuket and Colombo couldn’t be more different. Sinhalese think nothing about donating children to temples, but Americans wouldn’t do it to their pets!

        • 1
          0

          Dear oc (and Ramona, ref your comment dated, 29th),
          .
          Without doubt it is “functionality” in English that we aim at. Neither of you wants Shakespeare taught. I agree. However, I’m sure that you have come acquaintance with his work, and you’re not saying that Lankans should be prevented from reading his plays. Neither of you will imagine that Shakespeare used “Old English”. That is a technical term. He used early Modern English. Almost nobody really “knows” OE now but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Manel Fonseka has read Beowulf. The last person who was comfortable with it was Doric D’ Souza. I met him once to see if I could learn it, but Doric and I agreed that it was not a practical proposition. It’s a different language.
          .
          If I hear a Lankan, even an English teacher, refer to Shakespeare as “Old English”, I will let it pass. Under very special circumstances I may explain the terms. It is good that we who know English, and are actually discussing which aspects of it to teach, should know what we’re talking about. I have linked you to 95 seconds of video below the Manel article.

          • 0
            0

            S.M,
            It is suggested that what these guys speak is Old English. See what you make of it:
            https://youtu.be/FmyuSHXNTY8

            • 1
              0

              Yes, oc, regional dialects can be maddening, but if it comes to writing it down it is still the same 26 letters one is likely to use.
              .
              Thanks for reminding us that learning “Standard English” is going to to result in finding that British dialects almost incomprehensible. I’m moving on, having listened to it all, since we have a task in hand.
              .
              As I’ve repeatedly told you, I was prevented by many forces from ever leaving Asia. Had I had the opportunity of interacting with this as a younger man, I would have tried to learn this lingo. It can become maddening because these are living languages, and there is such a lot of it. Each locality having a different dialect.
              .
              With Old English it is a limited body of WRITING, but the grammar was so inflected, it has all to be learnt. This is the sense in which Manel Fonseka has to be appealed to. If her hearing were all right, she’d know how to cope with all this.
              .
              So, bottom line: don’texpose our learners to any of this.

              • 0
                0

                S.M,
                The Scots might say theirs is the Standard English.😳😳.

          • 0
            0

            I mean, if you are an English scholar it is quite a different thing….that’s your avenue of study. But if you are an Engineer, Doctor or a Civil Administrator (as Sena mentioned), the only use of learning high flown English is to go abroad and show that we too can speak English like the British aristocrats.

            • 1
              0

              Dear RTF,
              .
              Be wary of oc as a lover. He’ll end up telling you that these guys are Scottish aristocrats, and given the exaggerated respect that you Yankees have for anything from the “Isles” you may get taken in.
              .
              I don’t think that you have variations to the same degree in America, do you. I’m not going beyond what I know pretty well – how this language evolved from OE through Chaucer and Shakespeare to Standard British English as we now have it.
              .
              I know when I’ve turned into a bore, so BASTA!

              • 0
                0

                We should be working for our Motherland as most of us are are for the removal of the autocracy, dictatorship, and tyranny Sri Lanka is sliding into. Instead you continously indulge in perverse learing for no rhyme or reason other to get some titillation out of it. Why is that S_M? Don’t you have the capacity to indulge in wholesome debate?

                • 0
                  0

                  America has its own advanced programs in literature. It is modern, as Shakespeare was for his time. Their literature also creates script for their high-level movies and theatrical performances. Hence the reason for their huge trillion dollar literary industry that has the rest of the globe enthralled by. Much of it is of course what
                  they brought over from their Mothercountry, Britain, and what they have blossomed on.

      • 4
        0

        LF,
        .
        The national language of Singapore (yet 6 milliions of population) is Malay while English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, and Tamil are the four official languages in Singapore.

        English is the most widely spoken language (primarily by the population below the age of 50), and the medium of instructions in school. English is also the language of business and government in Singapore, based on British English.

        A unique and widely spoken language in Singapore is the Singlish with “la” endings.

        . It is primarily the colloquial form of English, having a distinct accent, and ignoring the basic standards of English grammar. Having a jumble of local slang and expressions of various languages and dialects of Singapore, speaking in Singlish is seen as a mark of being truly local! Interestingly, all the schools in the city teach the language of the child’s parentage, along with English, to ensure the child stay in touch with the traditional roots

      • 1
        0

        Esperanto was a noble effort, but it just didn’t work, Laksiri.
        .
        When reminded, we, as decent people must always honour Zamenhof.
        .
        The language that he fashioned was based mainly on the European languages that were then current in Europe.
        .
        LM, knows German pretty well; good for him. However, we should never advocate the learning of other European languages now as a policy.
        .
        Yes, we’ve got to be “pragmatic”. Thanks for you many interventions in the comments section, Laksiri. It helps us keep on track. Depending on special needs and circumstances it’s some of the Asian languages that we may have to allow students to study. Chinese in particular.
        .
        Our State System allows many languages at A. Levels, but remember this about our local exams: it is only three languages that require advanced skills at local A. Levels: Sinhala, Tamil and English. The problem with all three syllabi and tests is that they have a bent towards Literature.
        .
        The CLIL that currently dominates thinking is not concerned with anything other than a working knowledge of English.

  • 0
    0

    I was once a proponent of English medium education. I no longer believe that way. Language became an issue precisely because of ineffective language use. There is no official language in the USA, however with normal economic ebbs and flows it evolved into the defacto lingua franca. Therefore, English became the sole official language without any official declaration. The same holds true for Japan and Korea. Developing a country is easy if you encourage its citizens to transact among themselves. You can then scale that up to other countries. What needs to be improved is the process of selling to each other. This requires education. Sinhala is the most cost-effective way to improve education since everyone knows it anyway. This is what require improvement. Among those who receive this education a majority would never have to learn a second language for everyday dealings. The language is not what caused the Tamil problem. That was caused by an entirely different set of circumstances that can be easily demonstrated.

    • 2
      0

      Jambu, I agree with almost all that you say.
      .
      However,
      .
      1. Now that we have created a problem in relation to Tamil, serious consideration to it. I won’t try to contribute much on that. I don’t know the language 3hh

      • 1
        0

        2. Language is absorbed without effort from infancy. Three or four languages can be learned, before age five. But how can the resource persons (teachers in normal parlance) be provided?
        .
        There must be a State Policy and system as minimum, but do we hold the advantaged back in the interests of equal opportunity. That will never be; claiming otherwise is being naive or hypocritical
        .
        Panini Edirisinhe

      • 0
        0

        No one is going to turn the medium of education in China into English. Neither will the Sri Lankan, Japanese or the Korean. English is incredibly beneficial to learn certain subjects. Although it will remain a second language. Sinhala will remain the first langauge of education in the island. This is only a fancyful idea that will only gain some milage in fora such as this one.

      • 1
        3

        LF
        “You mention USA. Even in Australia, legally, there is no official language.”
        The USA now has. They had to shut Spanish out.

        • 3
          0

          SJ,

          The U.S. still has no official language, even though for all practical purposes, English is a must.

        • 4
          0

          Not at all true. A stereotypical guy making stereotypical comments. (just like , Lankan parents ran away ?? compared to thousands who ran away from Lanka) . USA does NOT have federal official language. Mid West states may have made English as their STATE official language, where as New York, New Jersey, Texas, Washington, District of Columbia and many others, still doesn’t have any official language, for that matter official language of state of Hawaii is not English but Hawaiian, Puerto Rico has both English and Spanish. State of Alaska has more than 10 official languages. Federally still there is NO official language. Now a days most official documents carry Spanish version too and people who live in USA, know well..

      • 0
        0

        Scaling happens in the business – not in the language. Learning a foreign language for the sake of becoming an entrepreneur is just unnecessary friction, time, and costs. Industry skills can be taught through the system. Taxi drivers, farmers, shop owners would form the bulk of entrepreneurs. All they need are the skills to deal within their own country. A very small portion will also be international. Gearing a system for the sake of the few is inefficient and a waste of resources. Let them learn English or Mandarin depending on where they plan to sell or do other dealings. Skilful entrepreneurs do business globally regardless of language barriers.

  • 2
    0

    Dear Laksiri,
    .
    Many thanks for this article that focuses squarely on the teaching of English in Lanka. This is my field of activity, but many of you will still be able to teach me a thing or two.
    .
    We can’t just wave a wand, and hope that all will come right.
    .
    Many interesting things got said here last week:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/sinhala-only-tamil-also-and-also-english/
    .
    However, I didn’t name the people who deliberately created conditions in which our best efforts would be in vain. I intend doing just that here, and I hope that readers will make trenchant comments on what I say. No problem with pseudonyms are used, provided we deal with specifics.
    .
    I myself will take full responsibility for what I say, and if anybody wants to check my identity, or needs to contact me personally, I’ll ensure that my contact details appear here.
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe
    of Bandarawela, (NIC number 48 3111 444V)

  • 2
    0

    Teaching in English or in any other language I do not worry about. What really worries me is unlike our Asian neighbors our close to 100 years of investment in higher education has not contributed any thing to the economy. Our economy is still a blue collar worker shouldering subsistence economy.
    One main reason for this is what you listed “mania’ attached to the knowledge in English. English has not been used to gather international knowledge and technologies and start a knowledge based economy but to get ahead of others in obtaining jobs and social standings.
    Even for faculty position and industrial jobs in science and engineering many candidates are rejected because their poor English proficiency
    And a clear difference in countries where the higher education has resulted in establishing knowledge based economies (South Korea Japan etc) is they conduct their education in local languages.
    So English is not a magic towards prosperity and Sri Lankan habits of venerating it and abusing it to get ahead of their fellow citizens should be replaced with providing opportunities to people who show creativity and skills towards establishing a knowledge based economy. It is unfair to depend on poor public for their sustenance after the same public funded their higher education.

      • 3
        0

        Dr Fernando,
        .
        thanks for the article, but I have incoherent question which I think you ought to leave an answer.
        .
        What you make of the appointment of Rev. Muruththetuwa Ananda for the VC position of the UOC ? It was one of the Univerisities you worked for until 2010.

          • 3
            0

            LF,
            .
            thank you for your honest comment. I thought you would defend them.
            :
            No point of raising other issues today. Entire country country is a mess.

  • 2
    2

    Let’s face it: English is an extremely practical and functional language. It copied the best parts of other languages, and when its speakers colonized the world, they gained vast experience and knowledge which they incorporated into the language. It is conceptually very versatile and effective. It may not be very ancient or original, but it is evidently a highly evolved and unifying language.

    • 0
      0

      Ramona,
      .
      Think this out and tell us if this topic comes up again.
      .
      There will be much awareness of the Spanish language throughout the USA, although there may not be many users in Pennsylvania.
      .
      It is a much better organised language than English. As for French, there almost is government intervention to ensure that it is kept unadulterated.
      .
      However, it seems to be nobody’s business as to what passes as English. Three hundred years ago Jonathan Swift tried hard to bring some order into the language, without much success.
      .
      Fifty years later, it was the social-climbing middle classes who established “polite norms”.
      .
      It’s now not difficult to acquire the smattering of English that is necessary to study an academic discipline using it, but mastery of English is difficult. As oc has observed, however well fellows like me were to know “correct English” there will be varieties of regional dialects that will not be understood by us.

  • 0
    0

    As long I know until recently countries like Japan and S.Korea were issuing preferential visas for English teachers from all over the world ,so that they can help in developing the language. The same was true, years ago where many Lankans were recruited in Zambia, Tanzania, Nigeria and many other places to teach English. Vice versa when people from China and Russia move to West , they may have to take English Proficiency exams to qualify for respective occupation. As long I am concerned I want my child to learn English, so that he/she can benefit as me (education) and not go through the misery of studying for the first time, after entering Medical School.

  • 1
    1

    Laksiri Fernando,

    We had debated for long to elevate English to the status of an Official Language in Sri Lanka and as a medium of instruction for higher education, the time has come to take decisive action without wavering .

    There may be thousands of objections, but all these objections could be faced and bridged, if only we have the conviction.

    If there is a will, there is a way.

  • 2
    0

    As my supervisor in one of my previous jobs said Sri Lanka missed the boat in 1950s. The world technology outlook was changing rapidly with the advent of electronic age (with the invention of semi conductor transistor) . And lot of labor intensive industries were becoming unviable in the West and were being outsourced to other countries . Countries like Singapore, South Korea, Japan quickly adopted them (at that time Si Lanka was so prosperous, Lee Kuan Yew, the Singapore head of state, admired Sri Lanka a lot).
    What did our politicians, high ranking official and newly minted engineers/doctors/scientists from the University of Ceylon did during that time ? Impressed each other with the best standards of written and spoken English. The legendary administrative service (Ceylon civil service) is best known for their high level proficiency in English. Sad that they did not have the time or the acumen to understand the changing world economic outlook and conditions and get a piece of technology being transferred to launch Sri Lankan economy towards a knowledge based one

    • 2
      1

      Sena,
      Very true. But it’s not the English per se. It is the shameful Sri Lankan pompous mindset! Our people will use any entity to jaw about, whilst the minions will sit gawking (all the while Koreans were working for the happiness of their Masses). Sri Lanka was asked to teach English, and the fellows taught Elocution and Shakespeare.  Whole problem with Motherland…….still suffering inferiority complex on what the British did to them. No, we do not need Shakespeare  and Austen at tertiary levels. What we need is taxpayer rupee to be spent from pre-K upwards on basic functional 21st-century English.

  • 0
    0

    On the anecdote of 1999, instead of proposing an automatic translation system to the VC of the University, Prof Fernando could have walked across the courtyard and talked to people in the School of Computing. There were (and are) people from whom I learnt much about state of the art in the field and the difficulties/limitations in doing Sinhala/Tamil.

    • 2
      0

      SAV,

      That was before the advent of cloud computing. These days, Google Translate/Live Transcribe can do a pretty good translation by accessing a vast corpus via the cloud, doing context analysis, and improving its translation on the go.

      • 0
        0

        And what are the dangers inherent in that?
        .
        Won’t humans stop thinking.
        .
        Sorry, if I’m a wet blanket
        .
        Panini Edirisinhe

        • 0
          0

          SM,

          When we need some handymen at home, we hire some people who don’t have enough working knowledge of English but can talk to us by using the Spanish-English google translation software on their smartphones. It often works well for them. It may not be 100% accurate, but it is good enough and we haven’t had any problems.

          Sinhalese and Tamils should try to use such software to the maximum possible to extract as much value as it can provide. Any Android smartphone will do.
          I don’t have enough time to engage in philosophical arguments about it at this time, but human beings aren’t going to stop thinking just because they use machine translation software.

      • 1
        0

        Oh, really? Good to know.

      • 1
        0

        Agnos /SAV.
        .
        this is absolutely the case with some spanish and italian representatives in today’s virtual forums. Google translations help them indeed a lot.

        • 0
          0

          Thanks, LM.

  • 0
    0

    All ye guys are trying to hold back the flood with a round finger in a square hole ……… in the dam!

    Morality; that’s a laugh! …….. The moral among ye cast the first stone.

    Out here, it’s the survival of the fittest, baby.

    • 0
      0

      Straight outta wiki ……… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master%E2%80%93slave_morality

      Master–slave morality (German: Herren- und Sklavenmoral) is a central theme of Friedrich Nietzsche’s works, particularly in the first essay of his book On the Genealogy of Morality. Nietzsche argues that there are two fundamental types of morality: “master morality” and “slave morality,” basing his theory on Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Master-slave dialectic. Master morality values pride and power, while slave morality values kindness, empathy, and sympathy. Master morality judges actions as good or bad (e.g. the classical virtues of the noble man versus the vices of the rabble), unlike slave morality, which judges by a scale of good or evil intentions (e. g. Christian virtues and vices, Kantian deontology).
      For Nietzsche, a morality is inseparable from the culture that values it, meaning that each culture’s language, codes, practices, narratives, and institutions are informed by the struggle between these two moral structures.

      • 0
        0

        “contemporary British ideology”

        Nietzsche defined master morality as the morality of the strong-willed. He criticizes the view (which he identifies with contemporary British ideology) that good is everything that is helpful, and bad is everything that is harmful. He argues proponents of this view have forgotten its origins and that it is based merely on habit: what is useful has always been defined as good, therefore usefulness is goodness as a value. He writes that in the prehistoric state “the value or non-value of an action was derived from its consequences”[1] but that ultimately “[t]here are no moral phenomena at all, only moral interpretations of phenomena.”[2] For strong-willed men, the “good” is the noble, strong, and powerful, while the “bad” is the weak, cowardly, timid, and petty.

        • 0
          0

          … that is ‘reality’. .. that is a well rounded argument, nimal.

        • 0
          0

          NF,

          Did you read the conclusion of what Nietzsche said in that Wikipedia entry?

          “But he asserted that for the individual, master morality was preferable to slave morality.”

          Isn’t that what I was discussing with SJ?

  • 1
    0

    The question is not about English as an important language to be learned in the schools and universities. It is whether we should replace mother languages with English as the medium of instruction in higher education? Most linguists that have come across show that education is best be provided by one’s mother languages as such languages are intrinsiclly connected to one’s community,identity,culture,history,religion and so on. On the other hand to learn English well would require one to understand its context, nuances, cultural baggage as well. I am someone who entered the university after learning in Sinhala,acquired skills in English language while in the university through personal commitment,private tuition in Kandy, academic English from the English Sub-department and finally mastered the (Western)knowledge in sociology and anthropology which was available mainly in English. I am an exception than the rule compared to my fellow university batchmates who entered the university of Ceylon in the late 60s. My point is that it is ok for those motivated enough with necessary skills to learn the disciplinary knowledge in English but this should not be made a blanket rule by University authorities. The world of knowledge is moving toward pluralism and diversity. Hence the learning method and language also should be pluralistic and diverse to accommodate different interests of communities and individuals.

  • 0
    0

    English standards throughout the country are in a shambles. The lists of countries that we were linked to by “leelagemalli” surprised me, but on reflection, they may be accurate enough.
    .
    Five days ago, I thundered that I would “name names” but I haven’t done so yet. Now in the dying minutes for comments here let me do so. I’m in Maharagama, hampered somewhat by having to rely on my mobile phone. Owing to some payments mishaps the router will come alive at midnight. Now it is almost 10 pm.
    .
    I know that there’s not much wrong with my English. Throughout these recent comments on English, triggered by Manel Fonseka’s article, the cry has been that we don’t have competent teachers.
    .
    Why, then wasn’t better use made of me?
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe usually of Bandarawela (NIC 483111444V)

  • 0
    0

    I have consistently described myself as a Retired Village English School Teacher, from Uva, the most backward Province of Lanka. And so I am.
    .
    I became a teacher as a teenager, but entered Peradeniya as its oldest undergraduate. Technically, that last statement may not be accurate, because there may have been older teachers who entered on on study leave, but they hardly functioned as undergraduates. When a student strike came along, they were respectfully excused from whether to participate or not.
    .
    The strikes were for a variety of reasons. Some called by the “Junta” were directed at the JVP. I definitely attended lectures or worked in the library. I took academic work very seriously.
    .
    Then we struck work when the racist Junta fellows began beating up the Tamil students, and chased them out of the campus. That began on the 11th of March 1983. We vowed not to turn up for lectures until they returned. We succeeded, but then came Black July.
    .
    That was responsible for my fashioning an almost unique friendship with Doctors Sarathchandra Wickremasuriya.

  • 0
    0

    Sarathchandra Wickremasuriya, with two PhDs: that such a gnome (he was actually called that by some English Department undergraduates) tells us much about the status of the various languages in the country.
    .
    Embarking on something like a strike requires some planning. We couldn’t make fools of ourselves. Arjuna Parakrama was a temporary Assistant Lecturer in English, with only a Second Lower in his Peradeniya External English Special. A decade younger than me. How he now holds the Chair is a different story. We made our calculations – almost all of them proved wrong.
    .
    We decided that Professor Thiru Kandiah, given his Tamil name wouldn’t be able to participate. But he’d appreciate our efforts. The Chair was held by Professor Halpe, who we felt was going to be with the Establishment. Very wrong, it proved to be. He acquired heroic stature owing to his exertions in fighting racism.

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