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Educational Practice in a Multilingual Context

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Brahmin is the name of the priestly caste, the highest in the Hindu social system. In fact, the word Brahmin translates to “divine” and its role has been defined as one of teacher or advisor. In the Hindu Sri Lankan society, members of the Brahmin caste are tasked with officiating at religious rites and are responsible for studying and teaching the Vedas.
The oldest and most developed of the Dravidian languages are Tamil. It is also the primary language of the minority Tamil region in Sri Lanka. However, the majority of Sri Lanka is dominated by people who speak Singhalese, which accounts for the fact that this is the nation’s official language. All Sri Lankan children are required to learn Singhalese. In the first two years of primary school, Tamil children were taught Singhalese as an additional language, which accounts for the writer being able to understand, read, and write but not speak Singhalese. Thus, this writer calls herself bilingual rather than multilingual because she does not consider herself competent in both productive and receptive skills in Singhalese, unlike what could be said for her proficiencies in both Tamil, her native language, and English, her second acquired language (Porter, 1990).
In the central or upcountry part of Sri Lanka where the writer was born, the Tamil accent is different from the Jaffna Tamil accent spoken in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. Jaffna Tamil is regarded as a higher form of the language. The reason for this status-defining characteristic of the language is that in former years, Tamils from the upcountry were brought to work in the tea plantations of India by the British Empire. When her family moved to Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka in the early 80s, she found it difficult to adjust to the Jaffna Tamil accent. It was so difficult that she felt like she was learning a new language altogether. However, upon her mother’s death in the late 80s, she and her family went back to the upcountry, allowing the writer to switch back to her Tamil up-country accent once again.
In the school where the writer spent her primary schooling, the medium of instruction was both Tamil and Singhalese. Classes were taught separately in either language and since she never had friends for whom Singhalese was the primary language, she never learned to speak Singhalese fluently as much as she did Tamil. Over the years, she improved her competence in both productive and receptive skills in Tamil, and until she migrated to England, Tamil was her language for study and communication with friends and family. At an early age, she was reading Tamil children’s magazines and books, and by the time she was 8 years old, she was already reading complex historical novels. This not only improved her reading abilities but also encouraged her to read proficiently in front of the whole class with more confidence (Rossell &amp. Baker, 1996).
The first encounter of the writer and her sisters with the English language was at home when their parents preferred to be called using the English words “Daddy” and “Mummy”. In Sri Lanka, English was considered a higher status language, and her mother must have thought that this would give the family some added social status. The three girls were educated in a convent school where English was the dominant language and medium of instruction.