Developing English language usage in school
The way forward
G. H. ASOKA, Chief Project Officer & Head of
the Cell of Language Coordination Project Leader of Bilingual Education
Faculty of Languages, Humanities & Social Sciences National Institute of
The need for improving the use of English targeting developmental
aspects of Sri Lanka in the 21st Century has been understood and
highlighted in various perspectives: 2009 has been identified and
declared the year of IT and English by the Presidential Task Force.
The current leadership in the country has introduced an islandwide
program on promoting especially the primary skills of English under the
concept, ‘English as a Life Skill’.
Independent Television Network on September 3,2009 carried a news
that President Mahinda Rajapaksa expressed his idea on the importance of
bilingual education in Pirivena education, too.
Education Minister Susil Premajayanth in the Thematic Debate held in
Paris on October 7, 2008 on ‘Protecting Indigenous and Endangered
Languages and the Role of Languages in Promoting EFA in the Context of
Sustainable Development’ said in a rapidly globalizing world
multilingualism, a source of richness, diversity and creativity, could
only be sustained through a multifaceted, holistic approach which should
include promoting multilingualism to enable communities to work
effectively and become part of global communities based on the principle
of international cooperation fostering multilingualism [at least
bilingualism] in the work place.’ The number of languages spoken
throughout the world, according to Grimmes, 1992, is estimated to be
Of that, only a small number of languages serve as important link
languages or languages of wider communication. They are Bengali,
English, French, Hindi, Malay, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and
These languages are often used and recommended under language
policies in different countries as second, third, fourth or
later-acquired languages. Nearly 200 countries recognize two or more
Today multiple language proficiency has become unique in almost all
parts of the world and therefore more bilinguals and multilinguals are
present in the world than monolinguals. Today, according to Emeritus
Professor, Carlo Fonseka, capability of using one language is a certain
characteristic of primitive nature of human civilization.
Bilingual education, indeed, is a new practice in recent history of
general education in the country. Yet it has been in the system of
education linking general education with higher and tertiary education.
Educationist and the father of free education Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara
has also stressed this and facilitated to implement this under his
project of central schools. In the post colonial era, this had been used
in schools and some who have gained positive outcomes of this mode are
still met in various positions in the country’s development.
In the Kannangara Memorial Lecture held at the National Institute of
Education (NIE) on October 13 2009, the guest speaker, Emeritus
Professor Carlo Fonseka also highlighted this aspect widely and
recommended this as an urgent need of the current society to achieve
development through proper integration of language education with other
development aspects through curriculum.
Bilingual education would certainly be a master key for the learners
in the school system to enter the scientific, technical, economic and
professional avenues of the local and global communities and markets by
being internationally engaged while remaining locally grounded without
Learners of the Government schools, who commence their learning in
the bilingual stream from Grade six after completing their primary
education totally in Sinhala or Tamil, become competent in their Basic
Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS- fluency in listening and
speaking) of English within a maximum of three years. Not only Basic
Interpersonal Communication Skills, gradually within the due period
under a proper model, but also bilingual education allows learners to
achieve their Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency Skills (CALPS
which reflects competence of using Sinhala/ Tamil and English in Sri
Lankan context in academic aspects.
The usual experience of teaching English in the school system the
country is that the majority of students are unable to use it even after
studying it as a second language for nearly 10 years,.
Practice of bilingual education needs much planning and critical
thinking because language can make a difference in people’s lives in
many ways and subsequently in the community and society. Language serves
as a resource for individuals to constitute and transform social and
personal identities. It also provides access to important socio-economic
and political markets. Language is an instrument in the constitution of
realities. Those who have mastered international languages on their own,
use their bilingual or multilingual capacities as an economic asset to
be cultivated and passed on to successive generations.
It is true that English is encouraged in bilingual and multilingual
education as a second or foreign language using it as one out of two
media and at the same time, as subjects in the curriculum. English has
gained its importance not only as an international language, but also
under the titles like lingua economica, lingua academica, lingua
cultura, lingua bellica and lingua emotive.
Its dominance, is attacked internationally in the need for
celebrating diversity of human beings, their cultures, languages and
bio-diversity. Terralingua Society an international organization working
in line with cultural diversity, linguistics and bio-diversity has found
out the need for maintaining all languages and cultures in the world
because they are ‘co-relationally related and causally related’.
The world does not allow dominant languages to be ‘lingua
tyrannosaura’ which leads to ‘linguistic genocide’ and ‘linguistic
cannibalism’. Today, therefore, various international organizations,
especially the UNESCO has influenced the world convincing them the need
for at least bilingualism with fluency in one’s country’s native
language/ first language and an international language.
For the rich, the easy channel for fulfilling the need of their
children’s English is directing them to study in international schools
and Government assisted private schools where everything is taught in
English which is a foreign language for the majority of Sri Lankans.
It is another monolingual education (education in one language as the
medium of instruction) similar to education in Sinhala/Tamil. Unlike
learning in Sinhala/ Tamil as the first language of our children,
education in English (education totally in English) definitely harm
children’s cognitive, affective and social development and consequently
they are alienated in their social milieu.
Another negative impact of monolingual education in English in Sri
Lanka is it gradually makes Sinhala and Tamil dead languages or domestic
languages in Sri Lanka. It, in return, damages national identity and
patriotic aspects through which the children are supposed to be local
The research conducted in African and South American countries have
proved that the educational outcome of bilingual education is far ahead
of monolingual education. On the other hand, it has been realized that
monolingual Education in second language, English practised in colonial
countries have faced economic failure.
Cultural rootlessness, blind acceptance of dominant world disorder
and uncritical endorsement of more English irrespective of other
languages’ importance, cultures and inheritance are some negative
outcomes of monolingual education in English.
Students studying only in their second language, English are unlikely
to generate critical ideas with intercultural, multilingual competence:
they merely oil the wheels of the current inequitable economic system,
contributing to social injustice and pandemic. Further, it influences
monolingual myopia and complicity in linguistic neoimperialism.
Research shows a few myths behind studying only in English in
post-colonial education policies: 1. English is best taught
monolingually: the monolingual fallacy 2. The ideal teacher of English
is a native speaker: the native speaker fallacy. 3. The earlier English
is taught, the better the results: the early start fallacy 4. The more
English is taught, the better the results: the maximum exposure fallacy
5. If other languages are used, standards of English will drop: the
subtractive fallacy. And the other important fact is monolingual
education in any language widens the gap between global ‘Haves’ and
‘Never-to Haves’ and monolingualism even in any politically powerful
language in any context is inadequate today.
Thus the necessity is the ability of addressing one’s local
linguistic capital and global linguistic capital through properly
structured bilingual education programs without becoming blotting sheets
of the west.
Meanwhile David Graddol mentions in his English Next that there is a
growing belief among language professionals that the future will be a
bilingual one. Hence the need of bilingual education arises in Sri
On the other hand, bilingual education introduced to the Government
school system opens avenues for the poor, too to make their children
balanced bilinguals and biliterate citizens, demonstrating language
capabilities in their Sinhala/Tamil and English methodically.
To be continued
Danger of using eclectic method to teach English
Teaching of English as a second language (and as a foreign language)
has seen many phases in its history. From the Direct Method through
Grammar Translation Method, Structural Approach, and a number of other
methods and approaches, it reached the Communicative Approach. Then came
the ultimate conclusion; the Eclectic Method, as the name suggests,
derived from eclecticism, a combination of all the methods and
approaches in the history of teaching English.
The best method
The teacher has to select the best of all the methods suitable to the
students in teaching English, as a second language. It is known that
almost all the methods and approaches have emerged and evolved from/in
the West or Europe. Asians have depended upon their selection in the way
to teach English just as we have taken their language which initially
came as a colonial legacy.
How successful is the use of this Eclectic Method in the Sri Lankan
context where teaching English takes place in both general education and
higher education? Needless to say that teacher is entrusted with the
sole responsibility of the selection of the best way to approach the
students in teaching a particular task/lesson. Herein, what is
understood or taken for granted is the ability of the teacher to select
the best out of many methods. To select, teachers should be equipped
with knowledge of all the methods and approaches in existence. In the
case of the general education system in Sri Lanka, that is school
education, teachers of English are given a training for two to three
years during which they are given a thorough understanding of the
evolution of the teaching methods.
With knowledge expansion in almost all the fields including language
education, teachers of English who were trained some decades ago may not
get an opportunity to get trained in the modern techniques to teach
English. It is known that teachers in remote areas do not get
opportunities to update their professional knowledge on a regular basis.
Even if there are in service teacher training programs, they may not
reach all the teachers in the country. Therefore, the problem is with
the equal dissemination of training programs to update teachers with
most modern trends in the field and the teachers’ ability to select the
When such a situation prevails, how fair is it for teachers to being
thrust upon the burden to use the Eclectic Method? Such autonomy for
teachers would be welcome in the case of the developed countries where
teacher training would be more regular and could be carried out without
encumbrances we experience here in the Sri Lankan situation. The other
side of the coin is more disastrous.
When asked from the teachers the kind of teaching method they use,
the inevitable answer would be “the Eclectic Method” which most of them
have heard of and may be known to them via some kind of awareness
creation program if not through a proper teacher training under the
realities that have been discussed above. Teachers would use any method
as they feel suitable for their students. But in reality is this wise?
How far is this trustworthy? My personal view is that teachers can use
any method selected ad hoc and simply justify the action of the
selection of that method by stating it as the Eclectic Method.
This is not to demean teachers of English and their knowledge, but
simply to show the danger of the freedom given to a profession which has
already not shown remarkable results in the eyes of the public owing to
the problems that are beyond the teachers’ control.
In the case of the university teachers of English, the danger is not
less. University teachers are recruited for teaching English without
prior training to teach a second language. Even if there are teacher
training programs in universities, they are geared to develop teaching
methodology in general and not specifically for second language
teaching. Teaching a language is quite different from teaching a subject
and needless to say the teaching methods also differ vastly. The
picked-up knowledge about the teaching methods from ad hoc or
non-specific (general) training programs may not be sufficient enough to
device methods and approaches to teach English that are suitable for our
I interviewed 24 teachers from three universities. When asked about
the teaching methods they used in teaching English, they came out with
the names of all the methods that have/had been in use. Among them, some
stated they used the Communicative Approach, while some others said they
used the Eclectic Method with more use of the Communicative Approach.
Some said they taught the rule first and then gave exercises which I
derived as the deductive way of teaching grammar and sentence
structures. So, there was a plethora of teaching methods. While this may
very well account for the most modern method, that is the Eclectic
Method advocated by the experts in the field, one cannot overlook the
simple fact that to teach in the same program for the same-level (of
English language proficiency) students, teachers have been using various
We need to have clear-cut objectives to achieve from each lesson,
activity or task with a specific method to go about it which accounts
for reaching the main aim of the program. The techniques should be
strictly adhered to and critiqued after each program so that amendments
Teachers should be given opportunities to discuss the pros and cons
of the lessons and the techniques used. Accordingly, the teaching
methods should be changed, adapted, derived from time to time to suit
the Sri Lankan context. In short, the excuse “the Eclectic Method”
should not be used at will to teach all kinds of lessons in teaching
Avoiding teaching English in communicative classroom
The one and only reason Sri Lankans struggle with Spoken English is
due to the fear of making grammar mistakes in public. Even here in USA
Americans speak broken or slang English most of the time and African
Americans speak intentionally grammatically incorrect English known as
Ebonics. Grammar is not the main focus in almost every spoken Language
including Sinhalese. Hence, instead of emphasizing on grammar, teachers
should work on building confidence in students to speak English in
public or in theclassroom without fear.
The main purpose of a language is to transform one’s thoughts to
another person and it is about time we stop considering English as the
Whiteman’s language. As a motivational speaker over here in US I have
taught and helped Americans in public speaking at a culinary school
which by the way is the biggest human fear per science research.
-Evan Balasuriya USA