28th September 1997


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Is this really English?

There seems to be no end nowadays to the demand for English instruction from various quarters - school- leavers, public and private sector employees, graduates, SLAS officers, executives, clerks, stenographers and prospective Middle East employees. The opposition to English that prevailed in the "Sinhala Only" days has disappeared. It has been a pleasure for us to have been able over these long pedagogical years to supply the growing need in some small way. And, it has also been mild exasperation, wild amusement and, on certain days, weariness for us to see the Queen’s English, which we tried our best to teach, assaulted, hanged, drawn and quartered by several generations of students of many types. Willy-nilly, we began to collect their howlers.

One of our recent groups of English learners consisted of graduates (more unemployed or underemployed than employed) from various Sri Lankan Universities. Addressing a recent workshop organized by the University Grants Commission on "Unemployable Graduates" Singer chairman Hemaka Amarasuriya said the ability to communicate fluently in spoken and written English was a key attribute the private sector looked for in graduate applicants for jobs. "School-leavers with AL qualifications, a general education, good English and sports do better than degree-holders. A university education does not have any relevance for the private sector today, which needs performance and achievement from its employees more than academic distinction," he said.

Intending to get to know graduate students personally we distributed cards among them, and asked them to write on them their names, and below their names, their degree qualifications. These cards turned out to be priceless "Visiting Cards" , or Business Cards" as they are known in American English, for our keeping. We have scores of them now, and they like their other written work, tell a story of the travails and pitfalls (pronunciation and spelling and syntax difficulties, for instance) of learning English as a second language.

One of our graduates wrote "B.SC Management (HONEST)"; many others had B.A. or B.SC GANARAL degrees , some from the UNIVERSITY of JAPURA and others from the UNIVERSITY of KELA. Not one of the graduates from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura spelt "Jayewardenepura" correctly: it was either JAYAWARWARDENAPURA or JAYAWARDANAPURA OR JAYAWARDHANAPURA.

In one of our courses in "Business English" (whatever that means and as if it were some other kind of English), directed by a Colombo -based commercial and industrial organization, there were MANAGMENT TRAINIEES from a prestigious group of companies in the hospitality industry. Among those following a postgraduate course conducted by a university institute there were a Deputy Chief SECRETARY, a SECRATARY from a Provincial Ministry of Education and HELTH, and an Accountant from the department of POSTAL.

More than anything else, what these learners -whatever the course, whoever they were and whatever their status - clamoured for was "SPOKING English". Telephone conversations therefore formed one of our lessons.

"Can you give the Director a MASSAGE?"is part of a telephone dialogue that nine out of ten students wrote.

"Yes, can", was the response of the receptionist at the other end of the line.

Among a group of bankers we taught there was an Assistant MANAGERE, an Assistant MANAEGER, several MANGERS, a STAFF ASSISTANCE, an ASSIT: Manager, and an ASSIST. MANEGER.

Our English learners enrolled in an "English for Beginners" course were by no means beginners. They had been taught English in their schools such as St. Peter’s COLLAGE, Bandaranayake COLLAGE. Vijitha Central COLLAGE, St JSHEPH College or SRI PARAKARAMA Maha VIDIYALAYA. They had obtained CREDICT or CREADIT or CREDITE or CRIDICT or CREDET or CRADIT psses or SIMPAL or SIMPALE passes in English at the GCE ORADNERY Level. A few also had either a DICTINTION or a DISTINTION in English and also a simple pass in English LITREATURE or LITRERATURE.

Many of them had FALLOWED further courses in English such as "English for CARRIERS" or English for CARRERS Part II or "PROPENCELY English Level III" at one of the universities. Others had done the GINARATANA ACODOMY Diploma in English, the DEPLOMA in ADVANCE English for ACADAMIC and Administration Purposes, the CERTIFICAT Course of the Open University, the SARTIFICET Course of the University of Colombo or the Diploma in English Language from a HIGER Educational INSTITIUTE. Some of them had professional qualifications such as LICENCATE OF CHARTARE ACCOUNTANCE.

They described their professional status as either "Accounts CONTROLER" or "Director of TEXTIES Industries". EXCETIVE Director", Managing Director of Royal CATERS", CON Secretary" "Staff ASSITANCE 1" or RECPTIONIST.

English Trained Teachers there were in numbers in some of our classes. That they should feel the need to improve their own knowledge of the language they are being paid to teach speaks volumes for their humility. One of them had an "English TRINED Certificate" from Peradeniya Teachers COLLAGE.

It is not English but one of the "New Englishes" that we encountered during our many teaching sessions. What should we do? we thought. Ignore these errors that did mortal damage to the English language or correct them? An English expert from Britain advised us at a seminar at the British Council that these errors need not be taken too seriously. "Portfolio English" is the term he used to describe his tolerant approach to ELT! Perhaps, he has a point there. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, " the English language is a city, to the building of which every human being brought a stone."

Of judges and justice

Reflections on a changing society - by W.T.A. Leslie Fernando. Reviewed by L. Maharachchi

W.T.A. Leslie Fernando, the well known writer and Judge of the High Court, presently in Ampara, is the son of late Wa. Sa. Prananda alias Santiago Fernando, a political figure of Negombo. A collection of articles and speeches that he had made forms this book. His topics range from law and society to culture, religion and humour too.

W.T.A. Leslie Fernando is no stranger to readers both Sinhala and English, as his articles are carried in tabloids and broadsheets alike. The book reveals the author’s wide experience as a Judge in Nawalapitiya, Mawanella, Matara, Anuradhapura, Embilipitiya, Bandarawela, Avissawella, Matugama and Ampara.

An old boy of Maris Stella, and De Mazenod, he studied Sinhala, at the feet of a venerable monk in Negombo, his native village.

Chapter1,‘The duty of a Judge in Society’ provides interesting reading in the context of today’s society. In our Judiciary, the author says an adversarial system exists where the rich override the hapless. He encourages Judges to see that justice is maintained in such backgrounds. His advice to lawyers is to be mindful of the changes in society. His foray into the spheres of sexual abuse of children both in Sri Lanka, and internationally, is both encouraging and constructive.

Rev. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody OMI, in the ‘Preface’ suggests that the Buddhist Sangha more vigorously organised modes of controlling the problem of child abuse. Fr. Jayakody refers to Leslie Fernando, as a fearless writer, specially in his forthright contributions to Religion and Culture.

A true ‘Chip of the old block’, Leslie has at many a fora, demanded the Church to recognize local culture and heritage, and be more national minded when it came to Catholic rituals and services.

In an address made at the Lankaramaya Borella in 1994, ‘Identifying Christian Culture in terms of Indigenous Culture’ Mr. Fernando writes, that it was Dr. Edmund Pieris of Chilaw, who pioneered a national renaissance in the Church, declaring that the Church should be made a thing of the soil, and that he guided and inspired the editing of prayers in Sinhala and Tamil.

It was simply sensational

Review of Movie Musical Splendour

Alas! It finished too quickly.

That glorious evening I entered the Lionel Wendt quite by accident. A friend of mine had said "Hey, you just must see this show".

I not only sat in the hall mouth agape, the first evening, but visited Lionel Wendt again the next.

Sri Lankan children, so young, handling three part harmony with mastery left us in awe. (I felt as proud as when our cricket team became world champions). The music too was very difficult, unlike the standard music attempted by choral groups of days gone by.

I can well recall the presentations of Fr. Ig’s Catholic Choral Society, Colombo Singers and the more recent performances. Except for the Catholic Choral Society which did four part harmony, I believe none of the others did so, with such gay abandon.

The choreography was out of this world. I must particularly commend Ms. Ruwani Seimon Seneviratne for the evident intensive training in sound production, harmony and choreography. The second day’s audience was far more receptive than those of the first night.

The post interval part of the concert was disturbed rudely by a few hundred jaws munching peanuts and the sound of rolling empty bottles. The Board of Management of the Lionel Wendt should enforce the law regarding beverages and food within the auditorium.

I must say that there were a few slack moments when the younger soloists performed. However, when one realized that at that age, most of us would have run a mile rather than face the limelight, I would credit them, for their courage and ability.

I only wish that Ms. Seneviratne would repeat this performance, so that I can take a few of my friends along since believe me, words cannot ever express the visual and auditory sensations evoked by them.


Ingredients were just right

Review of On With The Show

Take Mary Anne and Andrew David, add Oosha Saravanamuttu, throw in the vivacious and highly talented girls and boys of Stafford International School, stir all these ingredients together and you have a HIT. This is the second time I have seen this sort of Revue at which the girls and boys of Stafford seem to excel. Three years or so ago a similar Show was put on the boards, the star of which was Penny Ferdinand, now a past pupil of the school. Her guest performance was superlative as always, and a younger sister Samantha coming up through the school is following in the family footsteps: she gave a wonderfully feminine rendition of "I Enjoy Being a Girl".

I think my pick of the evening would be 15-year-old Sharmalene Silva who sang "Climb Every Mountain" with the depth and maturity of a much older singer. Ishan Wadugodapitiya made a convincing Fagin in "Pick a Pocket or Two" from Oliver while Chamitra Perera’s "Autumn Leaves" was appropriately haunting. Her lovely voice matched those of Penny and Sharmalene albeit in a very different style.

The item that got the biggest clap was the little Nursery kiddies who sang "Shortening Bread" with enthusiasm, confidence and genuine delight. They enjoyed being on stage and showed it. In this connection I must mention Senior School soloist Prasan Fernando who has one of the most bubbly and effervescent stage personalities. His infectious smile, acting ability and total aplomb drew every eye.

No Revue is complete without its dancers and Oosha’s smooth choreography was expected.

A Revue like "On With The Show" needs a perfect musical accompaniment and what can go wrong with Soundari David, Neranjan de Silva, Christopher Prins and Mary Anne David herself providing it.


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