If broadening the definition of progress necessitates constructive dialogue with individuals of other ethnicities, then the presence of multiple languages becomes a significant barrier. Practically, Sri Lankans will have a more difficult time cooperating with one another if they cannot understand the speech of their compatriots. Psychologically, language differences impose a barrier by making it easier to dehumanize others outside of one’s communicability. A failure to achieve verbal understanding halts personal connections and closes the main avenue through which one can discover the abundance of similarities that human nature and geographical proximity provide. Conversely, a concentrated effort to communicate with others in their lingua franca signals equality and eagerness to establish common ground. While English has provided a common language for Sri Lanka in the past, bilingual speakers of Sinhala and Tamil have an advanced start in uniting an island for the years to come.
At the Future Leaders Conference, the language issue is in the forefront of the minds of the planners. Fortunately, since most of the attending students are school prefects, being able to speak two or even three languages is not uncommon. Even so, every team will have at least one trilingual volunteer who is able to act as a translator between group members. Sometimes, words need not be used at all to fashion comradery. Actions speak for themselves, and cricket, football and other sports are a great way to encourage students to communicate while circumventing the disparity of the spoken tongue. The mutual effort of working for a common goal through games can launch lifelong friendships. For these relationships to continue, learning the language of the other remains critical. While some of the SLU team know both Tamil and Sinhala, many within the group are taking the time to become conversational in Tamil so that they can better further the work they carry on at SLU.
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