Advocacy, Colombo, Education

English language is the need of the hour

At a recent discussion on; “Free schooling in Sri Lanka- A successful model then but a myth now?”, the subject of English language education in Sri Lanka came up for discussion once again. Most, if not all, of the participants and panelists agreed that there is a pressing need for English language standards to improve especially in the state schools and a lack of quality English language teachers was the main reason for the poor standard of English in the country at present.

People are well aware that English language education started to decline in this country with the introduction of the “Sinhala only” bill in 1956. So for the past 53 years English has not been an official language of this country. However, it was made a “link language” under the 13th amendment to the constitution in 1987; 31 long years after the “Sinhala only” bill. The 13th amendment to the Constitution came about as a result of the Indo-Lanka accord and India’s efforts to devolve power to the Tamil minority in a bid to solve the Tamil national question. Am I correct in saying that if it had not been for Indian intervention and the 13th amendment, English as a language would never have made it into our Constitution?

We now have a situation where due to globalization and free market economics the use of English language has become indispensable as a means of communication. This applies not only to Sri Lanka but to all other countries in the world. The growing demand for international schools in this country where the medium of instruction is English and not the mother tongue is a direct result of globalization, urbanization and the emergence of a fairly large middle class who live by global values.

However, I am concerned that most students in state schools and undergraduates alike are disinclined to learn English. This is true of the arts stream in our universities. The argument which is still very much alive and kicking that English is the language of the colonizer and hence we do not need to learn it is both idiosyncratic and an outdated populist discourse which reeks of nationalism. What the undergraduates need to realize is that it is only through a good knowledge of the English language that they can hope to get employed in the private sector. Is not the private sector the engine of growth and the biggest employer in the country? Public servants need a good command of English language too. There are members of the public who wish to be served in English. Thirty years ago public servants knew their English. My father was a public servant for most of his life and he certainly knew his English. What has happened now? The argument put forward by some that it is the private sector that needs English and not the public service is in my opinion absolutely hypocritical. For example, I worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2001-2005 and was surprised to find some Foreign Service officers whose knowledge of English was very poor or in some cases nonexistent. Most of them had been educated in state schools and had been selected to the Sri Lanka Foreign Service (SLFS) after having sat the entrance examination in Sinhala or in Tamil. Nowadays only a few graduates sit the Foreign Service entrance examination in English and, of them only a handful are selected to the service depending on the grades they obtain. The point I am trying to make is can these young Foreign Service officers; that are proficient only in either Sinhala or Tamil language represent this country effectively when they are posted abroad? I think not. Would it not have been better if they were proficient in English as well? Is English not an international language? I have met quite a few young Indian Foreign Service (IFS) graduates who visited Sri Lanka during my time in the Ministry and they certainly knew their English. We have much to learn from India. India never gave up English after independence but encouraged its people to learn the language and today an estimated 350 million Indians can not only understand but speak and write the language as well. Not surprisingly, India has a thriving English book publishing industry which is the third largest after the USA and Britain. The opposite is true of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has to import English books as there is no English book publishing industry within the country. There is no English book publishing industry in the country because the vast majority of people cannot read English. Ask any leading bookshop in Colombo and they will tell you that the only market they have for English books is within Colombo and Kandy City limits.

I hope the present generation of teachers in our schools and the younger more enlightened university lecturers will be able to convince the undergraduates especially in the arts stream that a good knowledge of English language is absolutely essential. From the point of view of the undergraduates, a positive change in attitude towards the English language is also required. So the question I pose to the Ministry of Education, the National Institute of Education, school teachers, university lecturers and whoever else is responsible for education in this country is: Are you really serious about arresting the deteriorating standard of English language in our schools and universities by recruiting suitable people as teachers and giving them quality training? We need quantity and quality in terms of English teachers. Send the teachers to India for training if that is the most practical thing to do. If I was a parent I would be concerned about my son or daughters education in a state school or even a local private school as English language teaching standards are at their lowest right now.

What I do see now is a small group of people in Colombo less than one percent of the population who can read, speak and write English fluently while the vast majority of the people of this country are unable to do so because they were never taught to read, speak or write English in school. It is the responsibility of the state to see that students are taught good English in schools as in most cases students have no access to English at home. A tiny minority of students having access to good English is in my opinion discriminatory and a sad reflection of the state that we live in. The state has to take its responsibility seriously and see that students get a quality education in English.

  • President Bean

    I thought it was more like 5 percent?

  • university lecturer

    Read your article with great interest, Niranjan. Amazing as this may seem though, the undergraduates of universities are NOT hostile to the English language and they do not harbour outdated and self-defeating attitudes towards English as the tongue of the colonizer. Numerous survey studies and other qualitative research projects have shown that they want to learn English and to be competent in it. However the fact is that the standard of English of teachers is so dismal (I was part of a team that conducted an English test for 23,000 English teachers throughout the country) that when a majority of students enter the university they have no or minimal competence in the language and it is almost impossible for university ELT instructors (who themselves, are sometimes not that competent, but that is another story) to help students UNLEARN all the wrong English they have learnt over 9 years of schooling and/or give them adequate language skills in a pressure-filled environment where the students are so focussed on their main subjects and trying to obtain a class etc.

  • niranjan

    Thank You for that reply from University lecturer. So it is a matter of students not knowing the language when they enter the university. So the fault lies with the schools and the teachers. Well if the teacher does not know English then obviously he/she cannot teach the subject to students. So how do you propose to change that ? Why cannot our teachers teach properly in the first place ? How is it that international school teachers manage to teach well and others cannot ? What is the difference ?

    I am under the impression that some students in the universities dislike English because of the Kaduwa mentality. For example I was recently told by a gentleman( a Peradeniya University graduate) who is a regular contributer to the newspapers and whose command of English is very good that Sri Lankans should give up learning English and those who want English should live abroad. Basically he is of the opinon that those who speak English have a colonial mentality and should therefore leave this country. This is the type of attitude that I find so disgusting and it is alive and kicking.

    On the other hand, a pakistani I met in a bus recently asked me why Sri Lankans cannot even understand spoken English.He told me that Pakistani’s understand spoken English even though they may not be able to speak it very well.


  • //“Sinhala only” bill in 1956

    Sorry, tamil was also added in 1958. The bill was only in action for 2 years from 56-58. Don’t misguide the readers

  • niranjan

    This one is to President bean. I think only about 1% or even less of the population have a good command of the English language. Those with good English language skills have gone abroad and have decided to remain abroad. Most of my own friends have done that. They are lost to this country. Those who are not too competant in the language have remained behind in Sri Lanka. You can also add most of the school teachers to that list.
    If you want to get a good English language education in Sri Lanka you should go to one of the top international schools and that costs a lot of money.

  • Ridgemond Diwakara

    I quite agree. English should be the medium of instruction in all the schools
    in Sri Lanka if you are looking for a solution for unity, harmony, reliability,
    friendship among the not so many races in Sri Lanka. Take for example
    Australia, there are over one hundred different races and dialects living
    in harmony with greater understanding. We must look around and see what
    are the countries that are in for-front and developing with the global language,
    i.e. English. Still Sinhalese and Tamil could be the official languages of the
    country. We cannot be without “ENGLISH” in the present day developments.
    All three languages should be made compulsory up to the year 8 and let
    the students make their choice as to what stream they would pursue their
    goals. If you are looking for a prosperous Sri Lanka, English medium is a must.

  • @niranjan: As someone who was born in Pakistan, grew up in SL and moved back to Pakistan I can tell you that the standard of English in Pakistan is lower than in SL. In fact I would say that there are more English speakers as a percentage of the population in SL than in Pakistan. The difference between the two countries is that, while in SL English is used to communicate, in Pakistan it is used to show off.

    Seriously think about it? SL has free education. SL has a tourism industry. Pakistan has none of that. How could you possibly believe that the standard of English in Pakistan is higher?

    @Ridgemond Diwakara: You have got to be joking! Bringing up Australia as an example of racial harmony! Have you heard of the stolen generations? The Indian students being beaten up?

    I am not an English expert. But I think the best way to learn the language is by speaking it from a young age. Unfortunately this is not something that you can do in a classroom. So the best alternative is to start teaching English at a young age. Designate a day of the week when only English is used to communicate at school. But never let it invade the home at the expense of the student’s mother tongue.

  • idolatry


    If you want to get a good English language education in Sri Lanka you should go to one of the top international schools and that costs a lot of money.

    Not necessarily, I know many for whom *good* english classes/tuition/elocution coupled with parental encouragement to start reading books written in english at a young age has worked wonders.

  • CircularLogic

    Meh, what do you want? Kadu, Hadu or Wadu English?

  • Pragmatist

    To Ridgemont and others who promote the absurd idea of English as the medium of instruction in schools:
    This idea that you can raise the standard of English all over the country in a short time is a pie in the sky dream that is not practical at all. I agree that if, by some miracle, everyone were able to speak in English, we would all be able to communicate better with the “other” and possibly have a more harmonius society quickly. While I agree that knowledge of English is absolutely necessary for higher education, international trade, banking, foreign service etc., Sinhala and Tamil would be more than adequate for people living in vast areas of the country away from urban centers. I’d like to make the point that the establishment of a more harmonius and progressive society does not need everyone to speak English. I have many friends who started out as young engineering/medical/science udergraduates with very limited knowledge of English who performed brilliantly at the university (despite this huge handicap – as some seem to imply) and went on to become very successful professionals in Sri Lanka and also in their adopted homes in many other countries where they now practice in English and also in other languages. I see a lot of BS on this topic written by the few remaining pukka sahib elites in Colombo who consider their inability to speak the “servant’s language” an extra feather in their crumpled colonial hats.

    Sri Lanka is a poor country and raising the standard of English is a desirable goal but it takes time. The main languages Sinhala and Tamil must be retained as the key mediums of school instruction until university entrance/ALs. English language teaching should continue in all grades through OLs (Not at ALs where the focus is on more targeted subjects). Those pukka sahibs that want their kids not to learn the “servant’s language” could send their kids to expensive international schools. This awful myth that seems to link English language skills and intelligence (propagated by junior pukka sahibs in the private sector) must be completely dispelled.

    Since we lack good teachers the government could get rid of the incompetent English teachers (there are many) and hire a few competent teachers and utilize TV (and possibly internet) as a distance education medium to reach, through a national curriculum, as many schools as possible.
    That, in my view, would be a practical way to raise the level of English in Sri Lanka, say over 10-15 years. However, we must all accept say that English proficiency should NOT be a prequalification for any Sri Lankan who wishes to lead a decent peaceful life, say in a remote interior village, in the mountains or by the sea, conducting one’s own profession or trade as a member of the village community. I have seen and met many such decent individuals who contribute a heck of a lot more to the country than many in urban areas who can speak and write English but seem very shallow in their understanding of the country and its populace.

  • sanjeewa kumara

    Without knowing English Prabakaran Rule North nearly thirty years, So….?
    When will we get rid of this hysterical mentality?

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    It is so easy to blame politicians for our every day failings and i place the blame on politicans too.

    When W.J.M.Lokubandara, Dharmadasa Banda, Gamini Lokuge among others gave press conferences they stubbornly refused to speak in English. As Minister of indigenous Medicine, Lokubandara spoke of the need to eat indigenous fruits instead of apples and oranges, the need to be proud of being Sinhalese and appreciate the value of Buddhist culture he sent his own offspring to International Schools.

    While a few International Schools had some excellent teachers the others which mushroomed under businesses has appallingly incompetent teachers whose grasp of grammar leaves a lot to be desired.

    True, all parents want their children to be proficient in English and they do pay a lot of money for tuition classes, money they can ill-afford.

    So, there is a clear and urgent need to teach English right from kindergarten in schools if Sri Lanka is to reach international standard. We should take a lesson from India, patriotic as they are, they embrace English with the same ardour they have for their own languages.

    Pearl Thevanayagam

  • archi

    I have long believed that various social, political and power groups have a deep belief that the rural and small city dwellers are of little consequence and don’t require the same education that they ensure they get for themselves and their families. This is how the rural masses, especially the women, have little ability to ensure that they are not duped by the system and individuals. My observation is that the rural families who have the opportunity to realise that a good knowledge of spoken and written English is essential if their children are to obtain entry to certain status University degree courses and “big”jobs, do what it takes obtain the same. These families do not then abandon Sinhala or Tamil because it is inherent in their culture of community. Proficiency in English definitely increases the availbility of opportunities for employment, wealth and POWER.

  • niranjan

    This one is for pragmatist- Good English language skills are necessary for people in the private sector as well as in the state sector. There is nothing to say that the private sector needs it and the state sector does not. They both need it. Furthermore, English language more than Sinhala or Tamil broadens ones mind and outlook because most books, internet etc is in English. The frog in the well mentality is more so in those who do not know English. English is not a colonial language or a language of the Sahibs anymore. It is a world language and a part of our constitution.

    The arts faculties in our universities are the worst off where English is concerned. The majority of arts undergraduates do not speak or write in English. That goes against them when they leave universities and look for employment. They look for English at the interview. Not all medical/ engineering or science graduates are good in English. Some are. I was speaking to a senior law faculty lecturer at the Colombo University and he told me that the first year is set apart for undergraduates to learn English because law studies requires one to know English. Would it not be better if the undergraduates were taught proper English in school before they entered the law faculty. Are they not wasting one year learning English ?

    The few top international schools in this country have produced students whose English language skills are good. These schools have done a superb job where teaching is concerned. So why cannot our local schools both private and state give the same quality education to its students ? There would not be a need for international schools if the local schools gave a good English education to its students. Obviously local schools do not give a good English education to its students that is why parents put their children to the better international schools.

    The main stay of the economy of this country is the services sector and it needs people who know English. Services make up Banking, telecom, BPO’s etc. On the other hand the agriculture/fishing sector acounts for a small percent of GDP even though there is a large Sinhala Tamil speaking population engaged in agriculture. They can get by without English. But if their son or daughter who may not want to continue working in agriculture wants to join the services sector he or she is going to have to learn English and for that to happen the state schools have to provide good quality English teachers.

    There is a huge responsibility on the state to provide good quality English teachers to all its schools even in rural areas. The world is becoming a smaller place and even the rural people have to be given an opportunity to learn English. Rural women who go to the middle east on work find it hard to read directions or fill forms at the airport because they do not know English. Would it not be better if they knew the language ? If rural women are encouraged to go abroad on work as housemaids so that our economy keeps ticking would it not be better if they knew English ?

  • Atheist


    I agree that English is a basic necessity today. It is not the imperial language that once excluded the ‘gamay goday’ type you seem to have a beef with. However, for your information, I personally know ‘godayas’ who went to Trinity – a school most revered by the so called high class – read English classics, and later decided to grow paddy in their own lands. This adds a twist to your hypothesis which claims that farmers do not need English for their livelihood. As for those farming ‘godayas’, it is their knowledge of English that enabled them to understand what the colonizers really thought and wrote about us Lankans. This put them in the privileged position to bring up their offspring without any inferiority complex, so that they could become just and well seasoned members of society.

    Of course your talk about ‘good English’ is your way of praising International Schools as opposed to the local ones. This is a new phenomenon among the middle class –especially the new rich – that have recently found the means to provide an English education for their children. In such homes, I am sure the parents still converse in the “servant’s language” and look down on those who are attending state schools. Speaking of the middle class, even Sakvithi – himself a product of the middle class mindset – was a man with virtually no knowledge of English; this allowed him to singlehandedly dupe the said class. Oh, how the middle class attitude has lowered the standards!

    You probably don’t have much contact with the Sri-Lankan Diaspora living in Western, English speaking countries. Some of them, living in the English speaking west for over thirty years, still get by with only the most basic of English skills.

    As for the 350 million English speakers in India out of one billion, Sri-Lanka is not doing too badly per capita with her resident English speakers.
    You say that all your English speaking peers have left Sri-Lanka. To that I say: “good riddance “!!! As throw backs to the colonial past, they are going to be deeply disappointed by what they encounter in the West.

    I say that all the ‘godayas’ must learn English in order to counter the disinformation that people with your attitude so deliberately try to spread.

    I say anytime, kaduwata Jayawewa! Jayawewa! I wouldn’t have been able to participate in Ground Views without a little help from the trusted old kaduwa.

    I ain’t afraid of whitey’s lingo!

  • Pragmatist

    “The few top international schools in this country have produced students whose English language skills are good. These schools have done a superb job where teaching is concerned. So why cannot our local schools both private and state give the same quality education to its students ?” – Niranjan
    This kind of absurd thinking makes me recall a certain headless french queen, when she was told about poor people not having bread to eat, she said “if they don’t have bread let them eat cake!”
    I would like these proponents of English, as the medium of instruction in SL, tell us where the govt could get thousands of Good English teachers from? I wonder how many of them will volunteer to teach in the remote village schools sacrificing their cushy jobs in Colombo — that is if their English meets the high standards set for the nation.

  • niranjan

    Pragmatist-The Government at the moment has undertaken a programme to teach English to our teachers by sending them to India for training. In my view this is a good thing which should have been done a long time ago. The Government is keen to see that all students learn both written and spoken English in state schools. That is the chief aim of the programme. Some of those teachers once they return from India will teach in outstation schools no doubt. So let us wait and see.

    As far as I am concerned English language is for all and it is the responsibility of the Government to provide quality teachers to its schools. By the way there is nothing wrong with the top international schools. Those who come out of these schools are much sort after by employers.

  • niranjan


    How many Trinity College boys you know took up farming after leaving school ?
    Do you have a figure ? Did they actually get into the paddyield ? Even if they did I can be quite certain they used Sinhala to sell their produce. Sri Lanka has been a farming country for centuries well before the English came so that is why I am saying that one does not need English language to farm or to sell the produce. But if the son or daughter of a farmer wants to work say in a service oriented industry such as a bank then he/she is going to need to learn English to type letters etc.

    What you mean by “servants language” is the official language of this country. Anyone has the right to speak it including “parents at home.” And those very same parents have every right to give their offspring an English education in international schools if they so wish. By the way there are even members of the upper class and lower class who send their children to international schools in the hope that they are provided a good English education.

    I have studied and lived in the west and have moved with Sri Lankans whose command of English was poor. As you said they get by but they find it hard to integrate into society in those countries because they lack communication skills in English. There is a diffference between getting by and going far. Those who are poor in English tend to move around in Sinhala and Tamil speaking circles. Most of these Sri Lankans run small shops in cities called corner shops and do not work in banks, insurance firms and offices where English language is necessary. However, their children who attend school are taught English. What happens is that the first generation is not too good in English whereas the second generation is.

    My friends in the west who are of Sri Lankan origin have fitted in beautifully in the countries that they have chosen to study, work and reside in. They are not disappointed by the west as you claim. Some have married westerners too.
    They are not a throwback to the colonial past. They are of a much younger generation having being born in the 1970’s. What is more they are global in outlook and is able to fit into any country that they may chose to live in. English certainly helps. However, they are also Sri Lankan citizens so they have every right in law to reside in this country if they so wish to. You cannot “rid” this country of them even if you wish to because the law of the land exists.

  • Pragmatist

    Niranjan, I am glad to hear that the govt will be sending some teachers to India to learn English. Just think about the number of such trained English teachers needed based on the number of schools and the population of the country. I’d guess we need about two thousand teachers and train more than that as some of these teachers may opt to work in the lucrative private sector upon return. Let’s assume they all stay with the job. Now are they supposed to train all the other subject matter teachers like maths, history, social studies, science etc. If not the govt must send ALL future teachers to be trained in India.

    I agree that English is important to the long term well being of the country but getting there is also a LONG TERM effort of10-15 years. Converting to English as the primary medium of instruction in all schools across the entire country is an unwise social experiment that is certain to fail. Any experienced educator who really knows about teaching and knows the characteristics of Sri Lanka would advise against such a move. Just imagine the outcome of the failure of such a foolhardy experiment — many generations of students that are neither competent in English nor in the subject matter like maths, science, history etc. all taught in English. Of course, they’d all make good low wage workers in the service industry to serve drinks to tourists in the new banana republic. I am amazed that such crazy ideas have political support in Sri Lanka. We must be in a far worse shape that I previously thought!

  • Atheist


    I figure you’re a member of Generation X. However, that does not excuse you from knowing the connection between Trinitians and ‘goday’ paddy farmers and also about the Sri-Lankan Diaspora in western, English speaking countries.
    As a member of the baby boomer generation, I know of a Kuda Banda and Muthu Banda who both attended Trinity, way before the “INDIPENDENCE”, and later took care of their paddy fields with their children in tow. To answer your question, yes, they did get into the paddy fields. They knew superb English as well as real ‘goday’ Sinhala. I even know of a generation x guy who is now doing the ‘govithang’. I am telling you it is great that farmers also learn English; otherwise, how the heck would we know what you and your English print/television media spread about us.

    Now, going on to the Sri-Lankan Diaspora, no my dear, not all of them are doing the corner shop thing. For your information, some people who have come from rural parts of Jaffna with only a village school education, now own restaurants in trendy parts of the downtown core which serve rice, dosas, curries etc…for yuppie whites. Our humble cuisine has now become gourmet food in the West, but you would not see a Sri-Lankan dinning there. Sadly, for some of us Sri-Lankans, junk food such as hamburgers, hot dogs and KFC chicken have become the food of choice. Some upscale pubs, too, are owned by certain people, formerly from Naduntheevu, which employ only Caucasians…ha!ha!ha! It seems human experience is cyclical afterall.

    Your ramblings make me think that either your friends have misled you or you have no clue about the Diaspora. While a bank job may be a very great thing in Sri-Lanka, in North America, you will find people from all over the globe, with very little knowledge of English, working in banks. You may be surprised to know that people from places like Vavuniya and Naduntheevu who have never been to a bank or heard about an English novel are employed at banks in North America. Once they come in, their colleagues, who happen to be English speaking Tamils, will train them in Tamil. Those with your colonial mindset – although you are of the Generation X – will be stunned to find people speaking in various Asian and African languages other than English in the workplace. That, my dear, is the beauty of North America!!!

    Thanks to standardization, a female doctor I know, who attended a state school in Vavuniya, is practicing here in North America.

    Please note that if the young women, working in sweatshops in Sri-Lanka and those who’ve gone to the Middle East have a way of coming to North America, they, too, will be able to do bank jobs.

    Lastly, the most pitiful statement you’ve made so far has to do with your friends marrying westerners. I have nothing against this, but it sounds to me like you have a slavish notion of the West. Perhaps, I am wrong, your mention of “westerners’ may have been a reference to other South Asians, Africans and other non Europeans settled in the West. Is it so?

    Your comments made me think of that classic hit ‘My Generation by the Who’. However, in this case, it does not apply to the present generation but to the Veterans:

    “People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
    Just because we get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)”

    Muthu Banda and Kuda Banda’s people really knew how to get around!!!

  • Das

    In the sixties,seventies and eighties, I met many rural folk and they ALL desired a good knowledge of english for their children, as they knew that only english literate persons prospered in the government and private sectors. But they were sad and frustrated by the successive governmets’ attitude. They knew that all affluent citizens and all politicians educated their children in englsh either here or abroad and all were sure of employment in both sectors. I also found that teachers who had no knowledge of english discouraged others from learning it purely because of a feeling of inferiority. I taught engish to my son at age five, who was in a “Tamil Stream” class using English Grammar & Exercises Parts I to IV and Radiant Readers Books I to V, at home, a half hour daily. He was speaking english in six months time. These books are still available I think.
    The english textbooks of the education ministry were horrible concoctions. written by people who never taught english. Those who had an ordinary pass in english at OLevel were appointed to teach english! All of then could not evan speak english ! All retired teachers who know english should be recruited to teach english in schools. Thus a start could be made.

  • Sinhala_Voice

    Good knowledge of ENGLISH is essential.

    That is reading | Writing | Listening | Speaking.

    English was the language of our last colonizer. BUT it had also become an international language.

    Therefore, we MUST learn English to participate properly and accurately in world affairs to represent ourselves. If the SInhala do NOT learn ENGLISH and PUT their case before the WORLD WHO IS GOING TO DO IT FOR US.

    Everyone should learn your own Ethnic Language AND ENGLISH. Mathematics is a language we learn Maths so MUST WE LEARN ENGLISH.


  • niranjan


    The year 2009 was declared by the Government as the Year of English and IT. A Presidential Task Force headed by Sunimal Fernando was established to improve the standard of English and Information Technology of our younger generation. The Education Department together with the Presidential Task Force launched a mechanism to improve the teaching methods of English and Information Technology at grassroots level based on the methods adopted in India.

    Accordingly, 40 teachers who had followed the `Communicative English’ scholarship program at the English and Foreign Language University in Hyderabad will be utilized to train other English teachers who are serving at Government schools. The 40 teachers will function as English Language Master Trainers.

    This shows that the Government has taken serious note of the poor standard of English in state schools especially rural ones and is doing something about it.
    I support the programme and give credit to the Government for trying. There is nothing to loose by trying.

  • niranjan


    So a few Trinity College educated farmers spoke in English and got by. But the majority of farmers in this country do not speak English and can get by without it if they want to remain farmers that is. But I can assure you that if one wants to work in a service sector job such as a bank in this country then one is going to need English. North America and Sri Lanka are two very different countries. But even in North America if a customer wants to be served in English the banker must know his/her English. He/ she cannot serve the customer in Sinhala/Tamil.
    At the end of the day the lingua franca of North America is English. English and French are the official languages of Canada while in the US there is no official language, but English is the most widely used.
    I can also tell you that even in multicultural in Britain if one is to pass examinations or look for jobs in a bank, service sector organisation or in Government then one is definitely going to need a good knowledge of English.
    I have studied and lived in the UK and I know that people from different countries and cultures speak their own languages at home in the UK but when they go to work they definitely speak, write and read in English. I also know Sri Lankan families living in the UK who are very keen on giving their children a good English education. Some even send their children to expensive private schools.
    Did you read about the Sri Lankan named Deva Kumarasiri who worked in a post office in the UK who refused to serve customers who did not speak with him in English. His logic is that if you do not know English then do not live in England. Deva said “Anyone who doesn’t make an effort to learn English doesn’t want to integrate. If people come to live in this country they should fully embrace British culture.”
    I know he was sacked for his stand, but I agree with what he said. He had the right to say what he had to say and what he fervently believed in.

    I do not have a slavish notion of the west. The west has good as well as bad. What I have said is a fact. I have friends who have married westerners( whites as well as non-whites etc.) and they live in western countries.
    You need English to do well in the west-jobs, schools etc but you can get by with sinhala or tamil as long as you live within the confines of the diaspora. But if you want to integrate with the white culture you need English. All western Governments are concerned about immigrants and the way they integrate into society. One way to do that is to learn English.

  • niranjan


    I agree with you completely when you said that “I also found that teachers who had no knowledge of english discouraged others from learning it purely because of a feeling of inferiority.”

    The feeling of inferiority is still around.

  • niranjan


    I agree with you when you say that a good knowledge of English is absolutely essential. For example Dayan Jayathilleke did a superb job defending the Government in Geneva. One reason for his success is his superb command of the English language both spoken and written.

  • Atheist


    Lordy, Lordy! Deva Kumarasiri has become the role model for Overseas School/ International School fellows. Yes, my dear, Deva is doing well. I even heard that the skinheads in England were elated, and reportedly went around saying: “Look mate, there’s a Paki on our side”!

    I’m not going to talk about the Diaspora anymore with you as you have no clue about it. Your perception of the West is outmoded; it has no bearing in the East/West connections among young people today.

    I still stand my ground that English is a necessity for everyone minus the hoity toity imperialist baggage that some Lankans still lug around. My goviya relatives didn’t treat English as a meal ticket, but felt the importance of learning English had to do with widening one’s horizons.

    It seems that whatever educational institute you attended – in Lanka or in England-the only thing that was imparted to you was learning English for material gain. Did you at least learn English literature, classical/modern music, art, philosophy at the place(s) you studied?

    I think Overseas Schools/International Schools are miserably failing if their goal is to turn students into money makers. I would’ve had a far more interesting discussion with a village school boy/girl, who would’ve had far more depth and better understanding of Sri-Lanka, as a result of she/he being more grounded and in touch with reality.

    Goviyas: “get up stand up, stand up for your rights”!

  • niranjan


    I went to a private school in Sri Lanka and not to an international school even though I feel that the top international school students in general have done better in English language than our state/private school students. There are reasons for that. One reason is that they have good English language teachers. The international schools pay their teachers good salaries that is why they are able to find and retain good teachers. Another reason is that quite a few students who go to international schools in general come from families that know English so it is easier for the student to pick up the language.

    By the way I studied arts subjects at school and my degree is in history and International Relations from a UK University. I know what wide education is. I have not treated English as a meal ticket but as a way to broaden my horizons as you say.
    By the way what have you studied ?

    I can also tell you that to get employed in Sri Lanka in a service industry or any other organisation for that matter you need English. One of the first things that an employer looks for is English. You need English to pass CIMA exams as well because that is a British exam. All Sri Lankan accountants with CIMA qualifications have passed their exams because of a good knowledge of English and maths. There is no doubt about it. There is also a move by the Sri Lanka law college to make English compulsary for its students from this year which is a good thing in my opinion. In addition, Sri Lankan universities are also trying very hard to teach its students English in the first year of their studies so that they can broaden their horizons. This is especially true of the arts and law faculties.

    I fail to understand your stance on the subject of English living in a North American country where English is the main language I presume. Obvioulsy you do not want to integrate into the society that you live in ( Deva Kumarasiri has) and you seem to be suffering from an inferiority complex where English is concerned.
    There is no difference between hoity toity imperialist baggage and learning English language. English is English.
    By the way I have also traveled widely in Sri Lanka and continue to do so something which you have perhaps not done because you seem to live in a western country. You cannot be in two countries at the same time can you ?

    By the way why don’t you have an interesting discussion with a village boy/girl if that is what you want to do. No one is stopping you. It is you who is being unrealistic as you live abroad and cannot seem to relate to this country. I have a feeling that you do not wish to live in Sri Lanka anymore because you might be earning a dollar salary and enjoying life in the west even though you seem to have reservations about us Sri Lankans who are promoting English language teaching and learning in this country. That is hypocrisy. Otherwise what else can it be ?

  • Atheist


    If you read my earlier posts carefully, my dear, you wouldn’t be repeating the falsehood about my having an aversion to our Lankan people learning English. I’m going to tell you for the last time, all people living in Lanka should have access to English classes taught by accredited teachers. When I say all, I mean farmers, labourers, housemaids and all blue collar workers. Among these people, there may be many who are interested in reading English dailies, listening to English radio broadcasts and watching English Tele programs. This is the very reason I stress that English is not simply a meal ticket, but a rich language that is evolving all the time; nobody can deny that. Who knows, there may even be a few potential booker prize winners among us ‘godayas’. Having said that, those who seek more lucrative employment will have an easier time finding jobs because they will not be handicapped by the language barrier.

    I find it hilarious that you compare me with Deva kumarasiri, and accuse me of having an inferiority complex when it comes to English whereas, in your opinion, Deva does not. You’ve completely missed the point here. You see, if Deva could speak proper English, he wouldn’t be prancing around making a jack ass out of himself. He wouldn’t go around harassing new immigrants from non English speaking backgrounds. I wonder how he understood cockney.

    In the end, Deva’s poor self-image will send him headlong into the barrel of rejects. Deva’s method of integration bombed because integration requires an understanding of the host culture as well as one’s own culture. Except for a few skinheads, the majority of the English people didn’t have time for Deva’s neo-Nazi attitude. They couldn’t care less about who was being served – English or no English; they just wanted business.

    I am an old woman from the baby boomer generation, and it is precisely the reason I am shocked that someone like you, belonging to Generation X, is so clueless about new cultural trends. May I recommend Hanif Kureishi,who superbly deals with classic East/West conflicts in his novels, to you and your international school pals? You guys/gals should read, read, read more!

    Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack got caught into the Godaya’s web.

  • Pragmatist

    If you look at all my previous posts I never stated that English competency was not important to Sri Lanka. Let me repeat, yes, a higher level of English competency will be a very valuable asset for the future of Sri Lanka. However, my argument is against what appears to be an effort by some foolish people in Sri Lanka who have jumped on the “promote English bandwagon” and are seem to be pushing for a total change to English as the sole medium of instruction in schools. That is PURE MADNESS in my view. This is what I have stated very clearly but you are beating around the bush without saying where you stand on this particular issue.
    I applaud the govt for sending 40 teachers to India to learn how to teach English. That certainly is a step in the right direction. As I said before, if all school subjects are to be taught ONLY in English, as these misled pundits claim as feasible, the govt would have to send thousands of teachers to India to be trained how to teach in English. That is such a pie in the sky dream of these pundits who obviously know very very little about teaching. I hope we agree on this.
    I see many posts here claiming the high value placed on English knowledge by employers when hiring new recruits in Sri Lanka. I think this is a true and current condition in Sri Lanka, but I also think it is an aberration that might be unique to Sri Lanka due to its colonial past. A good knowledge in subject matter and technical expertise is slightly more important than knowledge of a language. What is the value of a bad accountant that can only speak excellent English but don’t know accounting. I’d prefer a great accountant with English skills less than perfect. I believe that it is people who have very limited marketable technical skills that promote this myth. It is so pervasive in Sri Lanka (even among Gen Xs) that it might take a few more generations for all these sahibs to die out.

  • niranjan


    OK, I welcome your view point that English should be taught by acredited teachers in this country. The teachers should know their English before they can teach. Those who cannot teach well should not be allowed to teach at all. In Sri Lanka the national languages are doing fine. There is no problem with Sinhala or Tamil teaching. The problem is with English teaching and the low standards of such teaching in the state and some private schools which in my view is not acceptable. I am a product of a private school and not a state or international school.
    I will put the following question to you-Why is it that the standard of English is good in a few top international schools while in other schools in the country it is not so ?

    As for Deva he is stressing the point that if you want to live and work in Britain you need to know English. He is absolutely correct. Language is a way to integrate. I have studied and lived in the UK and I am talking through first hand experience. You do not need to be a skinhead or a member of the British National Party to support his view. There are many people who do not belong to the skinhead category who would support what Deva said. That can include the Conservative Party, Labour, Liberal and people in general. Mr Kumarasiri is a Liberal Democrat councillor I think. At the same time you can get by with a little English in England if you want to. As I said if you run a corner shop then you do not need to integrate with the whites too much.

    By the way I have never used the word “godaya” in my writing. It is you who is using it in each and every post. I wonder why ?

  • niranjan


    All school children should be taught in all 3 languages. Sinhala and Tamil are already there. It is English that has suffered over the years. We need to correct that. The medium of instruction is English in some schools already. But in the majority of schools it is not the case. Therefore in the schools that do not have the medium of instruction in English it is important to have good English teachers to teach English in the few classes that are allocated for such teaching during the day. This is where good teaching comes into play. Now that the war is over the Government should put more money into education. Improving English teaching is a part of it. The teachers who were sent to India for training will come back to Sri Lanka and train our teachers here. It is not possible to send all teachers to India.
    The idea is to train some teachers in India and bring them back to Sri Lanka where they in turn will train our teachers. Even Tara De Mel brought in English medium to selected schools at grade 6 and above. I do not know if that scheme is in existence anymore.

    I agree that in accountancy the techinical side is as important as the language side. All CIMA qualified accountants that I know are both good in English as well as the technical side and they are very much in demand in this country and all over the world.
    My question to you is can you do CIMA exams in Sinhala and Tamil ? I believe that most accountancy exams are in English.

    English will not die out in this country as long as there is a demand and need for it. India has accepted it as one of its own languages. We need to accept it and need to look at ways to improve it both spoken and written.

  • Pragmatist


    Here’s what I wrote before

    ” … However, my argument is against what appears to be an effort by some foolish people in Sri Lanka who have jumped on the “promote English bandwagon” and are seem to be pushing for a total change to English as the sole medium of instruction in schools. That is PURE MADNESS in my view….”

    I am inclined to interpret your lack of response to my statement as a deficiency in English comprehension on your part. This is a pointless discussion.

  • niranjan


    The following is from the LMD magazine of August 2009. Tara De mel(former Education Secretary) in an interview says “I strongly believe that the Government is obliged to provide all facilities, including learning material and trained teachers that are required for English medium teaching. Students should be given the opportunity to study in Sinhala, Tamil or English. The medium of instruction should be the choice of the students and their parents. The authorities have no right to prescribe what they think is best, whether this be in primary or secondary education. The Governments responsibility should be to provide the opportunities and enable those who opt for English medium instruction to do so.”
    Tara goes onto state that one of the main negatives of many students is the lack of English language skills. This is amply vindicated by the huge demand for enrolments in international schools and by the large number of tuition classes offering English.

  • Atheist


    If Deva Kumarasiri is your role model, so be it. I now know that Hanif Kureishi is not for you.

    Take it easy!

  • niranjan


    Hanif Kureishi is not a well known author in Sri Lanka. This country only gets a limited amount of English books and authors. It takes months to get down books from abroad and it is usually Vijitha Yapa who does it. The English book reading public is limited to Colombo Central. I miss the bookshops in developed countries including Singapore where you can spend hours browsing books and can even sit down and read some.

  • Atheist

    Dear Niranjan,

    You can visit the British Council where you will be able to find books by this author, as well as a whole host of other interesting novels and plays by contemporary authors.

    Best of luck to you!

  • I agree with Niranjan because what he says is absolutely right. But, my question is that how we can promote English in Tamil medium schools?

  • niranjan


    You can promote English in Tamil medium schools by getting well trained teachers to teach the subject. Even though the medium of instruction is Tamil you can still teach English during the English class- one or two classes a day. But the main thing is to get competant teachers and pay them well. A retired Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs once told me to read at least one difficult book in English per month so that I could improve my English. He was of a generation of people who had very good English language skills and he knew reading books helped one to improve ones language capabilities.

  • The circulars of the pensions department signed by the director general online,are full of grammatical errors and thereby there is difficulty in understanding what is meant to be conveyed. If the director general cannot write grammatical english,he should have had the drafts corrected by one who can.There are no tamil versions – only sinhalese ones.Tamil translations could have been obtained from the Official Languages Departmet.
    This, 30 years after tamil “also” became an official language.Meanwile there is much praise about the president saying some tamil words in speeches – most probably from transliterations on teleprompters.

  • Ryenel Almiranez


  • Dylan Dayas

    Srilankan actresses and actors are making fools of themselves in every teledrama especially when it comes to communicating with the others in English. They socalize with their srilankan friends in English which is a cheap idea. Clearly, you can point out hundreds of mistakes in their grammer, time phrases, statements et cetera et cetera.
    Iam myself a srilankan and sometimes I honestly feel ashamed of myself for being a srilankan. We cannot blame our country nor we cannot blame it on our society. It is upto the people who attent that should monitor more of themselves.