Let’s think outside the box


As a reader of your esteemed paper I have followed the opinions of many, laments of some on the decline of the English language skills; others are trying to justify the need for a change as it happened with the Sinhala Only policy.

I am an English educated person of yesteryear, who studied in an assisted school. I was educated or rather immersed in the language up to Grade 10 and I was almost ashamed that the language at home was Sinhala. Mind you with a father an engineer of the time! It was considered a privilege for we had a Sinhala iskole in the same premises for those who could not attend our school not because we paid fees but we had the trappings 'they' could not afford. With the Sinhala Bill many of the latter could now read the books of higher learning and find their way to tertiary level so they could graduate from the menial jobs to the white collar ones, but did this happen out in the world of work? Nay, it took a long time for the attitudes of people to change.

People who lament that they lost their rights to work in the English language forget that the people they serve are the Sinhala educated and they have a right to client service in the national language whether officially recognised or otherwise. I happened to go to the Dehiwela Post office in 1962 and I found that the service window was still far behind or insensitive to the needs of the people, thus a Sinhala speaking client had to pay a postal peon to write their message in English and then present the form with no ability to check if it was right, and then present it at the window incurring an additional cost to them. I met a doctor who had left the country in disgust at the demand made for them to study basic language skills, and a promotion given to a junior who had them, which he thought was discrimination.

Learning a language broadens the mind and our people are blessed with this ability and some monolingual people of the west marvel at my ability to switch languages. I, too, marvel at some of my students who were in the Sinhala medium classes, working in both languages so well. Yes, they had a period of ESL with a well trained and dedicated teacher. I marveled at the ability of my fellow students at Post grad Diploma class of 1974 who would do reference at the British Council library and were able to have a discussion and debate with those references in mind, and the lectures in Sinhala were so comprehensive, which an English educated person like me, was made to think and appreciate. Let’s think outside the box and appreciate what we have.


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