Let’s Talk about the English Language – Part I

Before I launch into an ultimate rant, let me just put out a few disclaimers for all we care:

  • Yes, I’m aware that I speak in English than Sinhala when given the opportunity;
  • I’m also aware that my blog posts are entirely in English;
  • and finally, despite it not being my first language or “native” tongue, I’m quite aware on how better I think, write and make sense of when using the English language.

But this isn’t about the English language. Rather, it’s on the growing sense of uneasiness a lot of the people come across seem to have with the use of the Sinhala or Tamil languages.

I would speak mostly for the Sinhala language though as the encounters are higher there.

If you know me in person, you’ve probably heard multiple rants of mine where I tell people on how it’s “okay” to actually get the English language “wrong”.

Yes, I am also one of those people that finds secret humour in ridiculously misspelled words, but this is about the spoken language and not the written. 

One of the things I still remember from my uni days was this lesson from my English Language Teaching class: the LSRW system or method or whatever. So, LSRW stands for “Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing” and is a method (in that order) followed when teaching second or foreign languages. However more often than not our education system practices an exact reverse of the same method where most children end up “listening” towards the end of their learning.

Now you wonder why young and older adults have arguments with each other and often throw in “you don’t listen to mes” – haha. It’s also not surprising how my aural skills are shiz and I had the attention span of a fly when it came to my music practical exams!

But leaving out LSRWs aside, when it comes to English or any other second languages, something we must all understand is that it’s okay to not be accurate. I used to teach English once upon a time in my life. I gave up for two reasons:

a) I was convinced that I was a terrible teacher and

b) I did not agree with the teaching system that was set out for us teachers.

Because for an individual like myself that harps on the fluency > accuracy formula, the system just did not work

However, the funny thing is that (at least from what I’ve seen here in Sri Lanka) non-native speakers of English and other “foreign” languages garner more attention and praise from the general public when compared to those who either do not speak non-native languages or those who speak it with “flaws and inaccuracy”.

In my posts, I usually try to refrain from dragging in the line of work I do. Mostly because my blog is separate from work and while I am influenced by what I see and experience during my tenure, I try not to write of it specifically. And no, in case you were wondering, I’m not a spy, or you weren’t but I just wanted to type that line out, haha. 

As a “communications” person and as a language enthusiast that picks up languages fast, one of my key personal objectives at work and in life is to “communicate” messages. Now these messages need not be communicated verbally. It can be pictures, hand gestures, miming and you know the rest of things we do when in search of a bathroom while travelling within a country that doesn’t praise the English language as much as ours does.

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However, in the context of verbal communication, the motive remains the same. The goal is to communicate a message from one party to another (or more). For which, the kind of language used in communication is secondary. If you live or work in Colombo, chances are that you speak more than one language. And if by chance you as a recipient are aware of the speaker’s language capabilities, it is your responsibility to ensure that you speak the language they are comfortable in.

Do you know that when an individual is comfortable speaking the language they do, they usually bring out their best most authentic self, which is a great way to build your relationship with them? 

So, why do we stop people from speaking in languages they are comfortable in?

  1. Shame – Quite similar to Cersei Lannister’s walk of shame, there are those who get uncomfortable and squirmy when someone speaks in a native language (in our case, Sinhala or Tamil).
  2. Classism – Stereotyping yes, but those from “upper” classes, do not speak in their native languages. Not all, but some for reasons I do not know.
  3. Upward Social Mobility – Similar to classism, this refers to the aspiring upper class.

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If you wondered why me, as an English writer chose to write this in English and not Sinhala given my supposed opinion on it, my reasoning is surprisingly a little similar to what’s listed above:

  1. Shame – I am not very fluent in Sinhala writing. I was nearly a decade ago, but I have stopped writing in Sinhala, especially long form. I am aware that it would be a bigger shame to speak incorrectly the language you were taught in school as opposed to the language you picked up through media.
  2. Lack of Adequate Resources – As a writer, I have no shame in saying that I refer dictionaries, Google and other websites when I need to clarify grammar and ridiculously big words I don’t understand. I’m also more familiar typing in English. However, while there are some resources available in Sinhala, there aren’t as much and kind of removes the guarantee otherwise vested when writing in English!

Speaking in a native language is a good thing. Most languages are on the verge of extinct today because people don’t speak them and newer generations aren’t taught the language for any of the above reasons. It’s funny because then you have countries like China that, with the help of their massive population have managed to make Mandarin / Chinese (I’m not sure of the difference) among the main languages in the world.

Perhaps this all goes back to the time of colonies where post-colonisation, the colonisers left with the colonies the need to spread and “colonise” their language and present it as more superior to others. *

*”Colony” word count: 05

Until next time and more rants and writings.

P.S. – The Part I is obviously an indication of more rants to follow, haha.

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