English as a life skill
The inauguration of the Sri Lanka India Centre for English Language
Training marks a very important landmark in teaching and learning
English in Sri Lanka. We should be grateful to the Government for
initiating this action which was a greatly felt need in this country for
the last several decades. This is also a very opportune moment for us to
reflect on the great benefits of making English a life skill without
confining one's knowledge of the English language to books and the
classrooms of our schools.
There is a renewed interest among many in Sri Lanka to acquire a
better knowledge of English.
The establishment of the Sri Lanka India Centre for English Language
Training is a great stride this country has taken to utilise this former
colonial language as a life skill in modern Sri Lanka. The country is
now inundated with modern technological advancement such as Information
Technology which has given a new lease of life to both the educated and
the not-so-educated citizens of this country in general and to the
country's student population in particular.
It is a well-known fact that successive governments in Sri Lanka
spent a large slice of our national income to employ English teachers
and to foster the teaching and learning of English in our schools and
other higher seats of education throughout the country. But most
attempts to spread the wide wings of English to nurture a natural
fluency in the use of this language among, particularly the country's
schoolchildren, has not been as successful as was envisaged by us
throughout the last few decades.
Therefore, it is highly commendable that the Government has
understood the value of English as a life skill rather than learning and
teaching English only to achieve scholastic and social aims, even though
these are also very important.
It is observed that of late, there is a renewed interest among many
in Sri Lanka to acquire a better knowledge of English. Some have even
clamoured to make English a medium of instruction for students and
adults who are keen to receive instructions in this language.
Today, the English language is used as an intellectual tool in many
developing and developed countries. Resurgent Sri Lanka too could follow
suit, mainly by teaching and learning it as a life skill, on the same
lines and principles of mastering any other known human skill.
Indian High Commissioner Alok Prasad, the then Minister of
Education Susil Premajayantha and Secretary to the President
Lalith Weeratunga sign the agreement for the Sri Lanka India
Centre for English Language Training at a ceremony at the
Presidential Secretariat. Former Minister of Enterprise
Development and Investment Promotion Dr Sarath Amunugama is also
During the last few years there has arisen a demand in Sri Lanka,
both in the towns as well as in the villages, to achieve competence in
English and this can be seen from the proliferating international
schools that have sprung up even in some nooks and corners of the
country. It cannot be denied that many decades ago there was much
dissatisfaction felt in some quarters of our society about the exclusive
use of English as a medium of instruction in the country's schools.
But today, the demand among many parents and students is to acquire a
wide competency in English without ever trading on their right to
continue the medium of education in the mother tongue, either Sinhala or
When we consider these facts, making English a life skill is
exemplary and it would also contribute appreciably to the healthy
promotion of inter-communal, inter-religious and inter-linguistic
harmony as was so clearly evident when English was the sole medium of
instruction in Sri Lanka several decades ago. If properly planned and
worked out, English as a life skill will contribute appreciably and will
also give an impetus for the maintenance of the unity of Sri Lanka and
to keep in touch with other countries and promote the mutual exchange
and stimulation of ideas in the spheres of scholarship, science,
international commerce and industry.
It will also catalyse the rapid economic and cultural progress of the
country. Even the average Sri Lankan can get a practical command of
English by following the principles of learning English as a life skill.
Through it both the students as well as the country will develop a great
sense of self-confidence, to use English in any social and academic
Throughout my teaching career spread over several decades, during
which I was and still is actively involved in teaching this language to
both senior school, adult and university students, I have found that
these students are both reluctant and shy to use the language because
they are mortally afraid of refined grammatical constructions which hang
on their heads like a gilded sword - soon to strike if they make a
mistake! If we could foster the study of English as a life skill and
speak and use the language in the way we want to express our ideas,
without leaning heavily on correct grammatical usage, learners would try
to express their thoughts more freely and with a high sense of
We must also realise that English as a life skill is vastly different
from learning English for academic purposes. Of course to begin with
introducing the study of English as a life skill will be beset with
certain practical difficulties such as a drastic change in our attitudes
to the learning and teaching of English, the oddity of expressing one's
ideas in English without paying much attention to some intricate rules
in grammer etc.
However, with a proper and intelligent approach these problems can be
easily surmounted. Changes are not pleasant at times, but they have to
be faced bravely and intelligently.
New steps have to be taken at least at this late stage for the future
prosperity of the country and the student population.
So, let's try to foster English as a life skill and give a new
impetus for the teaching and learning of English in this country.