Posted on February 26th, 2019


Revised 13.3.19

A huge government apparatus has been created to deliver the Tamil language to a reluctant and disinterested population.  An Official Languages Commission was established in 1991 by the Official Languages Commission Act No. 18 of 1991.  The Commission is composed of six members, of whom only the Chairman serves in a full-time capacity.  The Commissioner of the Official Languages Department is Secretary to the Commission.

The Commission has four objectives. The first objective is to recommend principles of policy on the use of the official languages and to monitor and supervise compliance with the provisions of the Constitution on language in Chapter IV of the 1978 Constitution. Secondly, to take all such actions and measures as are necessary to use the official languages (Sinhala and Tamil) and the link language (English) in accordance with the spirit and intent of Chapter IV. Thirdly to promote the appreciation of the official languages in regard to their status, equality and right of use (i.e. awareness creation). Fourthly, to conduct investigations in regard to complaints on violations of language rights and take remedial action.

The Commission can do ‘all such other things’ necessary for the attainment of the objectives of the Commission. This includes initiating reviews of any regulations, directives, or administrative practices which affect the language policy and commissioning studies and policy papers.

The Department of Official Languages, established in 1956 to implement the Official Language Act No.33 of 1956.  was thereafter given the task of implementing the 1978 language policy. The Commissioner of Official Languages is the   head of the Department. The Department had to improve the language skills of government servants, provide translation services to the government, and compile glossaries, language textbooks and dictionaries. A Language School was set up in 1998 in the Department with Norwegian Aid, in conjunction with the National Integration Project of the Ministry of Justice. This school was to conduct advanced courses in English, Tamil and Sinhala. However, in October 1998 the Department advertised recruitment for the advanced English/Tamil courses only.

Around 2008, the Official Languages Commission had recommended   restructuring the Official Languages Department to become primary institution for accelerated language training of public officers. The Department should henceforth have four main tasks, i. language training in Sinhala, Tamil and English ii. training in languages of smaller linguistic minorities such as Malay and Malayalam, and languages useful for employment inside and outside of Sri Lanka iii. official translations and iv. compilation of glossaries directly related to law and public administration. the Department should become a statutory institution enjoying a degree of autonomy from government and be recast as a national languages institution. It  should also be the designated authority  for of glossaries, dictionaries and standardization of terminology.

National Institute of Language Education and Training (NILET) was established by Act No 26 of 2007 to help implement the Trilingual Policy, by training language teachers to teach Sinhala/ Tamil/ English languages.  The Institute conducts teacher training courses, island wide. A residential institute for language training was set up in Agalawatte for training trainers and creating trilingual public officers. This Training Centre had a 250   seat auditorium, a language lab for 30, and a hostel for 60.

The Institute offers certificate and Diploma courses on teaching the second language. It has drawn up syllabuses for teaching Sinhala, Tamil, English.  Special programs and training courses for public officers were drawn up, including part time and short term 12 day training courses. The Institute broadcasts Language Training programs on 08 radio channels. It also conducts language training courses in Sinhala, Tamil and English for translators, interpreters and stenographers.

The Official Languages Commission, The Department of Official Languages and National Institute of Language Education and Training are today under the Ministry of National integration and Official languages .

This Ministry is busily at work, to create a trilingual society in Sri Lanka .The annual report for 2016 records its activities. To start with, this Ministry has a ‘Policy Development Division’ which is engaged in   formulating language policies. These policies are intended to create the necessary environment for bilingualisation of the public service, to empower the public with regard to implementation of the Official Languages Policy and to   establish a positive mindset among the public on popularizing and promotion of languages.

Bilingual Facilitation Cells have been set up in all 72 bilingual Divisional Secretariats in order to provide a service to the public in the language of their preference.  There is also a Trilingual dictionary which is online.

The Ministry has also initiated ‘Language Plans.’  Work has started on language plans of the following five Ministries, Justice, Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media, Home Affairs, Public Administration and Management, Law and Order and Prison Reforms. Language plans are also in preparation for 24 District Secretariats. Model language plans and trained language plan officers are available for this task.

The Ministry has initiated Awareness creation programmes” for Government institutions, to create awareness of the Official Languages Policy and the services offered by the Ministry. These programmes were intended to create awareness about the responsibility of public officers in implementing the official language policy. The legal aspect was not forgotten.

They were made aware of the circulars related to the Official Languages Policy, their       responsibility in defending the language rights of public. The problems these officers faced in implementing the Official Languages Policy were discussed and solutions provided. Specific awareness creation programmes were provided for public officers in identified fields. Awareness creation programmes were held in 18 DS areas in 2016.

Language Promotion Circles” were established by the Official Languages Commission in order to create a trilingual public service in Sri Lanka by developing the knowledge, attitudes and understanding of school children regarding the language policy. Ministry of Education issued Circular No. 01/2015 with regard establishment of Language Promotion Circles in schools. In terms of this circular, schools have to carry out specific activities such as displaying all boards within school in trilingual, preparing invitation for ceremonies in trilingual. Commission expects to establish Language Promotion Circles in the schools Island wide.

The Official Languages Department continues to train and examine public officers. In 2016, training programmes were provided at  the Divisional Secretariats of  Arachchikattuwa, Aturaliya, Badulla,Elpitiya, Gampaha, Gampola, Kebithigollewa, Kegalle, Kurunegala,  onaragala,Nochchyagama,Ratnapura,Ruwanwella,Tamankaduwa, Tawalama,  Ukuluwa and Welikanda. Also Polonnaruwa general Hospital. The courses were all for Tamil language.

The Official Language Department conducts written and oral tests for language proficiency of government servants. The result sheet is made available. Listening tests via modern facilities were conducted in the office premises. Oral tests, based on the results of the listening tests, have been held at provincial level.

10,000 Spoken Tamil Books and 5000 Written Tamil Books were printed in2016. 5000 Tamil Books –Level I and 9775 Tamil Books –level II were also printed for the Language Proficiency Examination for Government Servants. As well as 8 textbooks for Sinhala and Tamil Language learning in schools.

In order to give a helping hand in writing official letters in the government institutions, a book called Rajakari Lipi Sampaadanayata Athwelak” has been published giving the mistakes that should be avoided in writing official letters.

There is a special focus on Police and railway officers. Police officers were given awareness programmes. A four day’s training course ws given for 35 announcers in the Department of Railway.  Complaints have been received from time to time by Official Languages Commission that the announcements are not done in trilingual and therefore a training course on trilingual announcements was conducted after having several discussions with officers in the Department of Railway.

Language audits are conducted by the Official Languages Commission to   see whether the language provisions are carried out by bilingual Divisional Secretariats and Police Stations. The objective was to support the language rights of public via proper implementation of the Official Languages Policy in Government institutions. In these language audits,  the use of official languages is physically checked and recommendations with regard to non-compliancesare issued to the  head of the institution and a follow up done. Forty four language audits were conducted by Official Languages Commission in 2016. 16 DS and14 police stations were examined.

The Language audit looked at the following to see whether the trilingual policy as followed:  i. All boards displayed for public within premises of the institution (name boards, information boards, instruction board) ii. All documents used for public service iii.Awareness with regard to the official languages policy iv.  Communication ability of officers v. Sinhala/Tamil language training courses vi. Language proficiency of officers vii.Special matters relevant to the institution (E.g.: recording complaints at Police Stations, issuing certificates in official languages at the office of Births/Marriages/Deaths Registrar).

Official Languages Commission was also expected to investigate public complaints; this was one of its ‘key tasks.’ One hundred thirty three complaints were received by Commission in 2016. The annual report gave two examples.  A complaint received with regard to the name boards pertain torules of lanes displayed for public by Colombo Traffic Police Division were only in Sinhala and English languages and this was inquired from the Inspector General of Police. The relevant boards have been prepared in trilingual and displayed for public. Spellings of the digital name board in Colombo Fort Railway station were incorrect and it has been corrected.  (continued)



  1. dingiri bandara Says:

    Irrespective of any laws, rules or regulations, my personal view is that it would in the best interest of the Sinhalese to learn all three languages namely Sinhalese,English and Tamil and any other language possible. I know they are capable of doing so.

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