Learning a Second Language, the contribution of British Council Library.
What is, “Learning a Second Language” has got to do with Long Life?
It may sound ridiculous or not relevant.
Let me untangle the tangled minds.
Suppose in your retirement, you like to visit a foreign country or one of your friends living abroad invites you to visit him/her.
Won’t that be a nice to have a working knowledge of English?
But if your friend is from Germany or France, would it be enough, knowing only English?
English is the business language of the world and if you intend to expand your local business to a foreign soil, it is vital that you have a team with language expertise to communicate and work with.
One cannot become an efficient ambassador, unless you are an expert and well versed with the language of the local community.
Depending on a translator is a handicap.
It was unfortunate in my formative years nobody emphasized the importance of language. If at all they discourage learning English.
I had the common sense that if I were to master science, English was the language of instruction.
The city school I went did not have a proper library. For my luck British Council Library was doing a yeoman service to help young readers of our time. Because of political indifference and interference, the USIS library closed its operation in Kandy long time ago.
I would close my introduction by saying that a sure way to train a dictator is to make him or her learn only the mother tongue of the local community. We have had enough examples in this small country with ethnic division making inroads and politicians capitalizing in the fringe.
None of the above is my reason for encouraging one to learn at least two languages.
Please read on, to get my point of view.
Learning a language and mastering it is no easy task for most of us. This is especially so when it is learned as a second language. When the mother tongue is not taught properly and its advantages and disadvantages are not highlighted, at an early age, children are at a loss to coordinate their interests and achievements. This is true for learning languages and I am yet to find a child who is genuinely interested in learning a language (for example Sinhala or Tamil) for its own beauty.
They become rote learners and drag along, in a system oriented for examination performances. Rather than bringing the best out of the innate talents of children, language difficulty becomes a stumbling block to progress.
If children are forced to learn a single language, there is no way of unlearning the bad habits.
Single language narrows the interests of young children.
If the quality of the available reading material is poor how are we to instill creativity in young minds?
One of the most interesting feature of leaning a second language is that it arouses the creativity along with curiosity.
Learning a language and its intricacies is quite different from learning a language of instruction. For an example English is a suitable medium of instruction for science without which vast knowledge base cannot be tapped.
Similarly, learning a computer language is entirely a different exercise altogether.
So language of upbringing (mother tongue), language of instruction (English) and the language of technical communication (Linux) are few facets of the emerging global trends and requirements.
Only few of us have the mastery of all these aspects of communication. How we could direct our children without unduly burdening them in early years of their life is the challenge for our educationists and reformists.
What is happening is little bit of this and little bit of that and the final chutney (Achcharu) is not of any taste to the child's creative mind.
There is a particular age where children are at ease with learning a second language other than the mother tongue. Beyond this period it is a tedious task for any body. To learn a new language especially the phonetics as an adult is not an easy task. Then there are many other aspects including, grammar, syntax, idioms, expressions and dialects to deal with.
I am no specialist in this game of languages.
As child I was attracted to books initially for the colorful pictures then to the stories. I was in no way attracted to the daily papers except the cartoons. Neither the history nor the literature attracted me but quite unknowingly the science was the theme that interested me.
There was the Russian ‘Sputnik’ and the Lyka the dog going to the outer space in my childhood. Gradually I begun to understand that unless I learn to read English I won’t be able understand all those exciting cartoons (Tin Tin, Denis the Menace and Andy Capp) and science fiction.
Learning English was fun and learning Sinhala was boring,, in early years of my life.
For my luck I had very good Sinhala teacher and a very good English teacher. If not for them I would not have gone far. Even though, I left the homely village life in my formative years to a school in the city, quite frankly I did not learn much in the city school.
It was actually the British Council Library that provided me with all the books I needed. City school library was not much to talk about. So I learned my second language at my own pace at my own leisure.
The seat of knowledge was the British Council Library.