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.
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)