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Sunday, 25 April 2010

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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.

Renewed interest

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 seen.

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 Tamil.

Impetus

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 environment.

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 self-reliance.

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.

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