Is English Really Necessary in a Sinhala Speaking Country?


Don’t look at me folks – that’s not really my title, it was just the tiltle of a debate in an English Day program I found myself at recently.

I was rather startled when the topic of the debate was announced but that was before it started. After that, I was just plain flabbergasted.

The round was started by the team that argued for English’s necesssity.

“Good Evening, Ladies and Gentlemen, my topic this evening is: ‘is English really necessary in this Sinhala speaking country.’ I say yes, English is necessary in this Sinhala speaking country because blah, blah blah…”

And then the leader of the arguing team got up.

“Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, my topic this evening is ‘is English really necessary in this Sinhala speaking country’ and I say No, English is not necessary because…….”

And so on and so forth it went between the two teams comprising of three girls each until it ended with the closing team insisting that “English in not necessary in this Sinhala speaking country.”

The ‘Moderator’, another school girl finshed saying that the judge would decide and give the conclusion but there was of course no judge on stage to give his/her views on this…er….thought provoking subject.

So while the rest of the program moved on, I was left literally speechless with shock. I had been listening carefully to all the arguments for and against to see if there was any mention of other communities and the need to converse with them but no, apparently whoever had coached the girls was not aware that any other community other than the Sinhalese who all spoke Sinhala lived in Sri Lanka.

Oh and BTW, that wasn’t a real debate, they were all pre prepared speeches all drumming the ‘Sinhala speaking Country’ into almost every sentence of all the speeches, either for or against.

The team arguing for English only brought up globalization, the job market and education.

The team arguing against, insisted that we needed English only if we went abroad, but if we came back here, “We all speak Sinhala.”

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

I ask you, in this day and age? What the heck was that about anyway? At first I was inclined to give the teacher who trained them the benefit of the doubt and assume whoever it was was just a singularly stupid person moving within very narrow confines and had never chanced upon another non-Sinhala speaker. But now I come to think of it, unless this person was living down a mine shaft for the last 30 years, he/she could not have possibly missed the war and its origins or at the very least all that has happened over the last couple of months.

I discredited the obvious racist theory at first only because I couldn’t believe a racist could be that stupid but now I am not so sure.

An English day being held in Colombo, various dignitaries as well as the media invited and this is the message that has been approved through several screenings and rehearsals to come on out?



8 Responses to “Is English Really Necessary in a Sinhala Speaking Country?”

  1. 1 lankan

    Is English the only mode to communicate with other communities? What if the singhalese learnt tamil and the Tamils learnt singhalese?…? Your amazement seems quite baseless

  2. 2 Tulie

    My amazement was not about the English speaking part of it but at the assumption that this was a ‘Sinhala speaking Country’, where it was argued that Sinhala alone sufficed for our education as well as work and that Sinhala alone as a language sufficed within the country, because apparently everyone knew Sinhala.

    Absolutely no mention was made of any other community living within Sri Lanka.

  3. 3 nooranie

    I am in ful agreement with you macho, It just that our people are so self minded and have forgot that it is not only them who live in this small country πŸ™‚ they take thing to granted πŸ™‚ bloody Sinhalese extreemist πŸ™‚ No offence to the genreal sinhalese though πŸ™‚

  4. 4 Chavie

    agreed Tulie! but something I have noticed in a lot of Sinhala debates (not English ones thankfully) is the amount of racism and racial superiority that gets thrown out! Even when the debaters are from multicultaral and supposedly “liberal” schools! I don’t agree with your assessment that the teacher alone is to blame… I’ve debated quite a bit and most of the time each student brings his or her own opinions and research into the debate… so the fact than NONE of the six students brought up the role English plays as a link-language or even the simple fact that “not EVERYONE speaks Sinhala in this country” shows a major problem in Sinhalese society… Maybe it’s the lack of exposure to parts of the country that don’t speak Sinhala, maybe it’s the “frog in the well” (actually a frog in a well that can’t even see what’s in the well!) syndrome… I dunno, but it’s gotta change!

    Thanks Tules for the very thought provoking post! πŸ™‚

  5. 5 Roshan

    And in most of these english language debates the judges are english teachers and they will never allow a team that says “english is useless” to win the debate. English is more important to srilankans not because of globalisation but to settle domestic political and economic issues.
    A high level of english proficiency can encourage BPO investments as well.

  6. 6 Gehan

    yea i know wat u mean.. but welcome to sri lanka.. we’re either a “buddhist nation” or a “sinhala nation” or some other ludicrous label… bizarre….

    granted, the kids probably had no choice with the topic and so obviously one team has to be against it, but isnt it rather ironic to hold a debate in english about the need for english?! if i were one of the girls i’d have broken out into sinhala to prove my point.. at least it would be entertaining then πŸ™‚

    but yes.. its all jus sad if u go to see the mentality of some of our teachers, leaders etc…

  7. 7 Firoz85

    I think it would be fair to say that english is as important as sinhalese or tamil. I know this might hurt a few cultural sentiments but we cant help it our generation being post colonial and english being the language of progress. It should be a compulsary second language for both tamil speakin and sinhala speaking folks.I Think it gives us the common medium to communicate with each other and if ur well versed in either sinhala or tamil you wont be compromising your cultural identity either.

    The motion sort of implies two extremes.The Sinhalese only scenario or English as first language. I dont think this is what has to be resorted to,English as a vital second language would be common grounds.Not to mention,good for the economy too.

  8. Man! What school was this? Wait, don’t answer that.

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