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Stigma of broken English

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Even though many economic development policies are made to attract more investors to the country, a question has to be raised as to whether the country has an English speaking workforce that is capable of communicating with the world. As a majority of Sri Lankan population consists of rural people whose main communication medium is either Sinhala or Tamil, the idea ‘English speaking workforce’ has been a challenge for the nation over the decades. It is needless to mention that an isolated community can never move forward in this globalized world. It is essential to look into what the faults are.

The social stigma of broken English can be identified as the culprit responsible for holding the nation back in terms of English language speaking. Stigma means a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Broken English refers to a poorly spoken or ill-written version of the English language, sometimes considered a pidgin.

If you can remember how you began speaking your mother tongue, your vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar were poor. As nobody laughed at you, once you spoke in your mother tongue, you have become fluent in your language. Unfortunately, we have been unable to apply the same theory into our second language. As a result, the stigma of broken English is on the increase. Reason is nothing other than misconception of the language. Language is the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way. However, it seems that local community, who stigmatizes broken English, has misunderstood the primary task of the language. Some people, who are embarrassed to speak in English in front of local community, do not hesitate to speak with foreigners in any possible way.

English is just like a horseshoe, and not a crown. Furthermore, a horse whose foot is attached with a horseshoe made of metal can run very fast and comfortably. Similarly, person who is fluent in English can move forward very fast and comfortably. However, it is not a crown of which we should be proud. The problem is that people take it as a crown, not as a horseshoe. It needs to be noted here that this stigma has opened a can of worms, intensifying the social stratification which has resulted in many social issues, even riots in the country. When it comes to university level, the plight has gone from bad to worse. That is why university students are used to calling it ‘Kadda’ (sword). Sword is used to behead anyone. That example depicts that how far English language has become a sharp tool to move up in the society and can be used as a class tool.

As we were colonists under the imperialism of the Great Britain, we are used to respecting those that speak in English but do not know Sinhala, and look down upon those that speak in Sinhala but do not know English. Due to this attitude, people coming from non-English speaking backgrounds are to a great extent discriminated in the society.

It is very difficult to find a person who has not followed two or three English courses, spending much money on that. However, we obtain the same results as the same theory is applied. We all know by experience that teaching English at schools has been futile. If so, question is what ought to be done.

The language is not a thing restricted to the book. It is to be practiced. It should be with people, not in the library. The language that people do not use is called dead language. Therefore, the time has come to change the approach towards English teaching and learning. Nobody can say this is the point at which one should learn or teach English, because it can vary from person to person. For many people, grammar is not the point to be learned or taught. We should speak English in our way which we call Sri Lankan English. If we eradicate the stigma of broken English from our minds, we as a nation can move towards a new era that is branded as the era of knowledge.

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