Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Standard British English vs. Standard Sri Lankan English



     The purpose of this essay is to explore the current developments related to the English language in Sri Lankan context. The members of Group 03 have selected established professional teachers of private education institutes who have completed reading for their first degree or of an equivalent professional qualification as the participants of the interview. All of them have received their tertiary education in English medium and at present use English for a specific purpose (i.e. in lecturing) in their relevant fields.

I - 1
I - 2
I – 3
I - 4
I - 5
I - 6
I - 7
Use English for
Specific purpose
Specific purpose
Specific propose
Specific purpose
Specific purpose
Specific purpose
Specific purpose
Age
71
59
52
30
28
69
40
Residence
Kandy,
Peradeniya
Nugegoda
Kandy
Kandy
Kandy
Canada
Education
Postgrad.
First degree
Ph D in Phil.
Reading  MBA
Postgrad.
Postgrad.
Diploma
Profession
English teacher-ACHE
Manager – ACHE
Teacher of English
HOD- (QS) ICBT
HOD – (BM) ICBT
Dean - ICBT
Teacher
Of English  
Income
Below 25,000
51,000 -75,000
Above 100,000
25,000 – 50,000
25,000 – 50,000
76,000 – 100,000

Fig. 1. Table containing the summery of the socio-economic status of the interviewees


 The questionnaire given contained ten questions which aimed to establish the following:
  • Q1 – Q6: Their attitudes on changes in the standards of English in Sri Lanka
  • Q7 – Q9: Suggested remedies for the crisis in English education in Sri Lanka
  • Q10: Thoughts on bilingualism in Sri Lanka
Attitudes on changes in the standards of English in Sri Lanka:


I - 1
I -2
I - 3
I - 4
I - 5
I - 6
I - 7
1.      “Educated” Sri Lankans speak British English
Yes
yes
Yes
No
No
No
Yes
2.      Standard Sri Lankan English is Incorrect and substandard
Yes
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
3.      A substandard variety of English is being promoted in the country at large
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
4.      Speaking English our way is mainly an act of freedom from colonization.
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
Yes
5.      The rest of the world will not understand us if we speak Sri Lankan English.
No
No
No
No
No
No
No
6.      Standard British English is often inadequate to give expression to the culture and the traditions of the users.
No
No
Yes
No
No
Yes
No
Fig. 2. Table containing attitudes on current standard of the English language in Sri Lanka
     All interviewees agreed that there is a disturbing development regarding the standard of English in Sri Lanka, but their opinions differed in the degree of gravity of the problem. The older candidates who had longer experience as teachers were more disturbed by what they termed as the ‘appalling’ condition of English education in Sri Lanka.
     On whether educated Sri Lankans spoke Standard British English, opinions were divided. Those who were above 40 stated that educated Sri Lankans spoke Standard British English whereas the younger generation disagreed. One pointed out that some use other varieties such as American and Australian English. The older candidates who supported the use of standard British English stated that it is adequate to give expression to Sri Lankan culture and traditions. This notion was supported by one of the younger candidates as well; but others disagreed quite strongly. Interestingly enough, all, including those who agreed that Standard British English is adequate to express traditions and culture of the country, supported introduction of Sri Lankan vocabulary items to the English language.
     Two of the senior-most that were interviewed stated that substandard variety of English is intentionally being promoted in the country at large while the privileged enjoy greater access to Standard British English. All agreed to the fact that more facilities must be provided to upgrade the English language education in rural areas.
      The majority agreed that Standard Sri Lankan English is a legitimate variety of English and all stated that it could be easily understood anywhere in the world. It must be stated here that all interviewees have either worked or resided in foreign countries for a considerable period of time.
     More than fifty percent of those who took part in the interview believed that speaking Standard Sri Lankan English is an act of freedom from linguistic colonialism practiced by the affluent that use Standard British English as a tool/weapon to monopolize power and resources. It is interesting that some of those who did not consent that Standard Sri Lankan English as a legitimate variety of English, agreed to the fact that it is an act of rebellion against the power politics practiced by those who stand for Standard British English.
     Considering the above facts, it is clear that there are clashes in the opinions of the interviewees regarding the changes in the English language in Sri Lanka.      
     Reactions for suitability of using Standard British English as a model of teaching, too, were mixed. Those who stated it to be outmoded pointed out the lack of any other acceptable option. Pointlessness of the difficulties learners had to undergo in learning Standard British English was quoted as the main reason for its unsuitability in this regard.  
    Notice must be drawn to the fact that the members of Group 03 display a remarkable harmony in opinions in contrast to the subjects of the interview on the issues examined above. As a group, we have noted an emerging interest in learning English in Sri Lanka which could be linked to exposure to media, new developments in information and communication technology, modernization, globalization, etc. Unlike the majority of those who took part in the interview, we do not agree that Sri Lankans in general, even many of those with tertiary education in English medium, speak Standard British English. On the other hand, we, like most of those interviewed, accept that Standard Sri Lankan English is a legitimate variety of English and that it could be understood by the rest of the world without difficulty. Inability of Standard British English to express some of the unique socio-cultural realities of Sri Lanka (i.e. Esala Perahera, Kolam) adequately is another fact that was collectively agreed upon by the group members. We also see speaking Standard Sri Lankan English as an act of rebellion against the linguistic monopoly of the elite, a residue of colonialism.
     The overall conclusion on the standard of the English language is that it, like any other language, responds to the socio-political and economic realities of a society. The English language in Sri Lanka is not what it used to be before 1956, but its utilitarian value as a link language has increased in the current weightless economy. 
Suggested remedies for the crisis in English education in Sri Lanka:
7. Standard British English is an outdated model for teaching.
1
No
2
No
3
Y
4
Y
5
No
6
-
7
No
8. Measures that should be taken to address problems related to the use of the English language in Sri Lanka
a.       Create awareness of the legitimacy of Standard Sri Lankan English (SSLE)
b.       Standardizing and codifying rules of SSLE
c.       Describe/publicize the rules of standard to SSLE educate teachers of English
a/c
a/c
c
b
a/b/c
a/b/c
a/c
9. What are the measures that can be taken to improve the current standard of English education in classroom situations in Sri Lanka?
a.       Training teachers in Received Pronunciations (RP) and Standard British English
b.      Establishing language laboratories where students can listen to RP
c.       Promoting “unplanned speech", as opposed to "planned speech"
d.      Promoting use of  Sri Lankan English vocabulary (e.g.: kiribath instead of milk-rice)
e.       Developing confidence and helping to overcome inhibitions
f.       Encouraging to consider errors as a part of learning process
a/bc/d
all
b/de/f
a/d/e/f
a/de/f
c/d/e/f
a/be/f
Fig. 2. Table containing suggested remedies for the crisis in English education in Sri Lanka
     On the measures that should be taken to address the problems related to teaching-learning process of the English language in Sri Lanka, the bulk of the interviewees said that the Standard Sri Lankan English should be standardized and rules should be codified before any attempts should be made to teach it.  They also urged to create awareness of its legitimacy among the general public.
     All except one agreed that teachers should be trained in Received Pronunciation and Standard British English. A substantial number proposed establishment of language laboratories where students could listen to Received Pronunciation. Half of those interviewed promoted ‘planned speech’ over ‘unplanned speech’ as the better way to master the spoken aspect of the English language. They pointed to the fact that learners, especially from rural areas, lacked the vocabulary to engage in ‘unplanned speech’. Learning basic structures and subsequently building on them was given as a more fruitful method for such learners. Those who disagreed pointed to the unnaturalness and inflexibility of using ‘planned speech’ as a way to learn to speak.
Importance of considering errors as a part of learning process in order to encourage the learning process was highlighted by almost all the participants.
     Once again disparities in opinions on how the English language could be taught successfully are clearly visible from some of the contradictory views expressed by the participants of the interview. 
     As a group we agree that people in urban areas have greater opportunities to learn English from more qualified instructors in well equipped environments. In comparison, learners of the English language in rural areas suffer from lack of qualified personnel, equipment and infrastructure. This leads to a disparity in the teaching learning process between urban and rural areas which is often interpreted as intentional by many; thus the concept of “Kolambata kiri apata kakiri”. We also noted that most of the institutions that facilitate English education were privately owned profit driven entities which were reluctant to extend their services to remote areas in order to lessen the disparity of opportunities between the urban and rural learners. Therefore, the greater burden of promoting the English language in rural areas would fall on the government.
     As Standard Sri Lankan English is not yet standardized or codified, we see that students may have to rely on Standard British English until it is done. But as the situation improves, it is necessary to incorporate more and more of Standard Sri Lankan English in order to communicate more effectively in the Sri Lankan context. 
     We do not believe in promoting Received Pronunciation and Standard British English in the teaching-learning process. It is essential to promote ‘unplanned speech’ as oppose to memorized structures despite the initial difficulties both learners and teachers may encounter. Importance of developing confidence in order to overcome inhibition and encourage learners as well as teachers to regard errors as a part of the teaching-learning process is considered essential by all members. We also agree on the significance of encouraging the use of Sri Lankan English vocabulary in order to be more precise in expressing our unique realities.
Thoughts on bilingualism in Sri Lanka:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
How does bilingualism reflect on the current situation of Sri Lanka?
a. Builds understanding between communities
b. Provides access to resources hitherto inaccessible
c. Helps in official and educational purposes
d. Helps in official and educational purposes Useful in informal/formal local/international communication
e. Gives social mobility
a/b/d
all
all
a/cd/e
a/cd/e
all
a/c
d/e
          Fig. 3. Table containing information on bilingualism in Sri Lanka
     Commenting on bilingualism, all those who were interviewed agreed that it helped to build understanding between communities and useful in formal and informal as well as local and international communication. It was also commonly perceived that bilingualism gives social mobility by making resources more accessible in spheres of education and employment.
      All members of the group accept that bilingualism is an invaluable asset leading to better life chances. In a multi-ethnic society like Sri Lanka, bilingualism is a useful tool in building understanding between communities limiting misunderstandings and conflicts.  
     Considering some of the contradictory points of view discussed above, it is clear that outside the English departments of universities, general public – even those with postgraduate degrees- do not have a clear idea about the existence of a distinct variety of English called Standard Sri Lankan English and how it differs from Standard British English. Most of the older interviewees, who were from solid middleclass backgrounds supported Standard British English and Received Pronunciation and considered Standard Sri Lankan English to be flawed and substandard. The younger candidates accepted the legitimacy of Standard Sri Lankan English more readily, but they too showed a marked reluctance to see the use of it as an act of freedom from the lingering remains of colonialism.
     The general opinion of the senior participants of the interview was that the standard of English is deteriorating. The younger participants, who generally consider English as a tool, did not see a serious problem in the current standard of English in Sri Lanka.
     The final conclusion to be drawn from the process of the interviews and the subsequent discussion is that Standard British English is still being promoted as the target proficiency, especially among established urban middleclass. A lot of work has to be done if Standard Sri Lankan English were to be given its due status as a truly legitimate variety of English; and it should start with creating awareness among the general public about the changing status of the English language in Sri Lanka.

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