Published : 12:00 am February 2, 2012 | No comments so far | | E-mail to friend
Being trilingual is not just about communication, it is about overcoming barriers. It is about learning to understand each other and actually melding together as one. To me, a language not understood is a wall. Once understood, it becomes a bridge.
A classic example would be Malaysia where I hail from. In Malaysia, a country comprising three main ethnicities, you will find people speaking three main languages – Malay, Mandarin and Tamil, in addition to several other dialects – and it is very common to find children of all races studying in both Mandarin and Malay schools. Psychologists have long believed that children who are able to speak more than one language develop better cognitive abilities. The advantage here is the ability of the citizens to integrate into both cultures simultaneously, without losing their own and ultimately retaining English as their mode of communication with the rest of the planet.
Being multilingual also creates confidence and an ability to interact freely and even fraternise with other races, wherever you go. This is also true of our neighbour, another island nation, Singapore. This results in both countries being tourist friendly and trade friendly. Being multilingual also becomes highly attractive for foreign investment as multinational companies find it that much easier to find good workers within the local community.
The greatest effect of this policy is always going to be in the arena of peace. The more we understand each other, may it be Tamil or Sinhalese, Muslim or Burgher, the less we need to doubt or criticise or even be suspect of each other’s motives or motivations as the cultural cross barriers come down.
I was reading about the Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT), proposed by Howard Giles a professor of psychology and linguistics at the University of California, which argues that “when people interact they adjust their speech, their vocal patterns and their gestures, to accommodate to others”.
The theory explores the various reasons why individuals emphasise or minimise the social differences between themselves and their interlocutors through verbal and non-verbal communication. One of the accommodation processes described by this theory refers to the convergence process, the strategies through which individuals adapt to each other’s communicative behaviours, in order to reduce these social differences.
This would be definitely true in the case of Sri Lanka. As we learn to understand each other better in every nuance; in literature, in music, in comedy, in drama, in theatre and in each other’s films, as these become areas of commonality, we will eventually move towards becoming one people thereby fulfilling the vision of the forefathers of this nation.
Historically, there have been no impediments to us understanding each other’s languages and greater effort was placed in learning them, for they were considered assets, and logically so. Now, they have become rather like impediments. With this great endeavour by the President, we have indeed taken a great stride forward towards a common united Sri Lanka.
This effect is however going to be felt in a more compounded way in the next generation and even more so in the following one. And they will thank us for it. This is indeed a great step for all concerned and for Sri Lanka itself. Hopefully, it will become a shining beacon for neighbouring India, for can we imagine a time where we will have the Hindi speaking North Indians learning Tamil and vice versa!
Let’s take Europe as a case in point. Many residents of the Euro-phonic countries are fluent in at least three of the major languages and fairly conversant in one or two. English, French, German being the more prevalent followed closely by Spanish and Italian. And people who live near the borders are fluent usually in more than two, if not three languages. It is not unusual to find a fluent Spanish speaking Swede or a German speaking Italian. And why should it not?
I am truly a case in point. I am writing here in English, born in a country where the national language is Malay, while my mother tongue is Tamil and I still love listening to Sinhalese bailas! Clearly, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
(The writer is a leading Asian businessman, bestselling author and speaker. He is also a major investor in the Colombo Stock Exchange.)
News Source : A Trilingual Sri Lanka, Daily FT