Multilingualism: a viable strategy to forge national harmony and social cohesion?

Multilingualism: A Viable Strategy to Forge National Harmony and Social Cohesion? A Sri Lankan Case - Thaiyamuthu Thanaraj, Chandra Gunawardena and M.B.Ekanayake at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Given Sri Lanka’s tangled (and now hopefully resolved) history of ethnic friction, it’s easy to see why a multilingual approach is essential. Throughout the conference, bilingual and trilingual policies had been discussed (including, in the Day 2 plenary, what looks very much like a monolingual policy in the United Kingdom) but it’s easy to forget that when countries embark on these policies, it’s not just a matter of legal implementation but also raising the multilingual language proficiency of government employees.

This session described just such a project as in Sri Lanka, although bilingualism may be quite frequent in the street, it is not in government offices. Government personnel speaking Singhala and Tamil learnt each other’s languages and although their final proficiency was limited, the experience was motivating, led to more social contact and an interest in each other’s cultures, probably emphasising that there is more to language learning than just a final score. A final thought, and an intriguing question raised by the speaker: if you teach A B’s language and B A’s language, which language do they converse in when they meet?

Post by: Andy Keedwell
The writer is the Senior Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in East India

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