Concern on English and IT education from grass root level to policy level is increasing day by day. The author of this article tries to give more alternatives for this issue with a view of global context.
The BBC and the use of English
I would like to warmly congratulate our President on his recent initiative in promoting English and IT. All those with any compassion for the underprivileged would support this, because it is the underprivileged who would benefit most from it. The JVP and the JHU would probably not be delighted because they have been traditionally against the promotion of English. Their frog-in-the -well attitude has held Sri Lanka back for decades.
The vast majority in Sri Lanka now realise how badly we missed the bus when we swept away the tremendous advantage we had at the time we obtained Independence. The standard of English in this country then was the envy of India and Singapore and probably the entire East. Foolish chauvinistic ideas on the part of our politicians resulted in the rapid dismantling of the English infrastructure that we had. While we kept harping on the ‘kaduwa’, India and Singapore developed the standard of English in their school education. While the majority in Singapore were Chinese speaking, they never made Chinese the Official Language. English remained the working language of the administration. In India while Hindi became the Official Language, they never neglected the teaching of English in schools. As a consequence India became the Call Centre for American businesses, and their IT infrastructure developed rapidly. We could have enjoyed this privilege if not for the short-sighted language policies of our politicians whose desire to win elections overcame their good sense and statesmanship. It would not be wrong, I believe, to attribute a good part of the blame for our so-called eEthnic problems on the insistence that Sinhala should be the pre-eminent Official Language, to the detriment of Tamil.
President Rajapakse has given a boost to the belated recognition that if we are to regain international respect and economic power in the 21st century, we must regain our mastery of English. A significant weakness in our mastery of this language is that we are very weak in speaking it properly because Sinhala pronunciation of certain vowels such as ‘o’ (‘not’, ‘pot’) is different to accepted English pronunciation. This is what gives rise to the fear of the ‘Kaduwa’.
One easy way to be exposed to good pronunciation (and master it) is to listen to BBC announcers. For this reason I was delighted when some enlightened public servant or politician started relaying BBC news broadcasts on FM (95.6 in Colombo). (In Singapore such relays are available throughout the day). This has been going on for some time in Colombo, and quite apart from the pleasure of listening to well spoken English, we have an excellent source of comparatively unbiased world news and intellectual programmes of high quality.
Recently I was disturbed to find that some retarded bureaucrat at the SLBC (possibly influenced by JVP dogma) had cut down on BBC relays. I would urge the President to look into it and increase, as much as possible, the exposure of our citizens to well spoken English.
While I am on the subject, I would like to advert to a wasteful, inefficient process that tremendously slows down litigation in this country. The necessity to translate into Sinhala all submissions in commercial cases, in all courts other than the Appeal and Supreme Courts, is an utter waste of time. It is a farce, and I am sure every lawyer realises it. I do not think it is beyond the ingenuity of the Chief Justice to improve matters in this regard. He has already done wonders in this direction at Law College. It would be a great boon to this country if he would add this to the other numerous progressive steps that he has taken.
Charitha P de Silva