Nepal: Need to scrutinize the language policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Jun 1 15:30:26 UTC 2008

ELT Survey: Need Of The Country
Sajan Kumar Karn

English Lan guage Teaching (ELT) began in  Nepal in 1854 when the then
prime minister, Jung Bahadur Rana, opened a school in Kathmandu,
popularly known as Durbar High school. Since then, the English
language has been taught and learnt as a foreign language in the
schools and colleges of Nepal. In the olden days, it was used for an
extremely specific purpose, i.e., for academic purposes.


When we scrutinise the current status of the English language and its
teaching, we find that little attempt has been made to document its
present state of affairs. The use of English has extended by leaps and
bounds. English language institutes, English medium schools and
colleges are mushrooming. Some 50 regular publications, including
dailies, weeklies and magazines, are regularly published in English. A
large numbers of books, journals and periodicals are produced in
English. Nepali literature - stories, essays and poems have been
translated into English for wider readership. Cyber culture has
fascinated the younger generation immensely and, therefore, the use of
English has considerably gone up. What's more, in the Nepali society,
speaking in English adds to one's status. All these have ultimately
led to a craze among Nepalis to learn and speak English.

Nevertheless, English language teaching in Nepal does not seem to have
drawn the needed attention of the authorities concerned, in
particular, and the government, in general. The government has not
formulated any policies yet for its use and promotion. Of late,
English teaching has started from grade One, and today it is a matter
of heated controversy among the politicians as to whether to start
teaching English from grade One or from grade Four as in the past. The
decisions that have been made so far lack study and research.

In 1984, a survey of English language teaching was carried out in
Nepal. The report clearly pointed out the lack of required proficiency
among the English language teachers. Several other studies indicated
the low standard of English teaching in Nepal. Only about 50 per cent
of English teachers of Nepal are trained. We can not expect better
results from the remaining 50 per cent untrained teachers.
Until recently, English was taught as a foreign language.
Nevertheless, its enormous demand and use have made it a second
language. Today, English is not only a subject taught in the academic
institutions but is also a medium of instruction, means of
communication between students and teachers, and the language of
trainings, seminars and conferences. English medium schools have
treated their territory as 'English speaking zones'. This has
transformed the role of every teacher to be an English teacher first.
A considerable number of interviews on TV take place in English. FM
radio stations beam a good number of programmes in English.
Recently, some presentations (by V. S. Rai at the 11th international
conference in Nepal) and articles claim that a different variety of
English is developing in Nepal. The Nepali variety of English, or
Nenglish, shows not only remarkable disparity from the native dialects
like British, American varieties but also from the Indian English,
comically known as Hinglish (as it is influenced immensely by the
Hindi language).

As a matter of fact, English spoken in Nepal has considerably changed
over the years. It has been observed that the way Nepalis speak
English differs from the way other nationals speak, not only in terms
of vocabulary but also structure and meaning and pronunciation.
Loktantra (a political system devoid of a monarch) is preferred to
democracy as democracy was used to refer to prajatantra which included
a monarch. Dot pen is used for biro and copy is used for exercise
book. Likewise, 'no' is used as a filler and 'isn't it?' is a
multipurpose tag for Nepalis.  However, it is unfortunate that neither
the constitutions in the past nor the newly inked interim statute make
any mention of English, which has taken space in most of the Nepalis'
hearts. A New Nepal is in the making. May my pen awaken the
constitution makers!

     The role of the English language in a New Nepal can hardly be
exaggerated as this can stand as an icon of unity and national harmony
since all other languages have been alleged to belong to specific
communities. English can be an instrument to strengthen loktantra and
promote human rights. As the nation is undergoing a transitional
stage, everything is in a state of flux. This is the time for the
nation to ponder over a language policy, in general, and ELT strategy,
in particular.

ELT survey

Whenever our lips utter the word 'English', NELTA (Nepal English
Language Teachers' Association) instinctively follows. English and
NELTA have become so inseparable that it is impossible to think of one
in the absence of another. Today NELTA has developed into a big
umbrella that can accommodate one and all English language teachers
from primary to university levels. Recently, NELTA has proposed for an
ELT survey to bring to the fore the present situation of ELT in Nepal.
This is a venture taken by NELTA to help the nation formulate
scientific policies for the English language and its teaching. The
initiative will contribute to finding out the standard of English
language teaching in Nepal. It will also explicitly sketch an outline
of the variety of English emerging in Nepal and will guide ELT in the
days to come. On behalf of NELTA, I urge the stakeholders of ELT in
Nepal - concerned authorities like the Ministry of Education and
British Council Nepal, to join hands with NELTA in its undertaking of
the ELT survey.

(Karn is an English teacher educator at Thakur Ram Multiple Campus, Birgunj)

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