Language Planning in Nepal: A Bird’s Eye View

Kumar Narayan Shrestha

Kumar Narayan Shrestha

Introduction

Nepal is a multiethnic, multilingual, multi-religious and multicultural country. According to the latest census (2011), there are 123 languages and 125 castes and ethnic groups. However, Lewis (2009) and Yonjan-Tamang (2005) claim that there are 126 and 144 languages spoken within the territory of Nepal (as cited in Rai, Rai, Phyak & Rai, 2011). Although, languages are sources of knowledge and icon of identity, the majority of indigenous languages spoken in Nepal are endangered due to various reasons.

There were recorded ten different religions viz.  Hindu, Bouddha, Islam, Kirat, Christian, Prakriti, Bon, Jain, Bahai and Sikha. Similarly, there are four llanguage families/genetic: Tibeto-burman, Indio-Aryan, Austro-Asiatic/Munda, Dravidian (Kansakar, 1996, p.1). But Rai (2016) says there five families (Kusunda no family ye), fourteen scripts.

According to (CBC, 2011), the major five mother tongue speakers are as follow:

 

1. Nepali 44.6%
2. Maithali 11.7%
3. Bhojpuri 6%
4. Tharu 5.8%
5. Tamang 5.1%
6. Newar 3.2%

 

According to Yadav (2007) many indigenous languages of Nepal have spoken form only. Rai (2016) says there are 14 scripts: 1. Nepali 2. Lepcha 3. Kirati 4. Tamang 5. Sherpa 6. Newari 7. Santhal 8. Gurung 9. Maithali 10. Bhojpuri 11. Magar 12. Sunuwar (Koich) 13. Dhimal 14. Muslim (Urdu)

According to Yadav (2007,10) Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Hindi, Maithli, Newari, Sherpa, Tamang, Tharua and Urdu have all kinds of publications, whereas Bajjika, Chepang, Danuwar, Jero, Kumal, Lohorung, Nawa, Nuhbri Ke (Larke), Santhali (Satar), Surel, Tokpegola/Dhokpya and Uranw/Kudux have no publications and other languages have some publications available.

Language Planning and Methodology

Language planning is inevitable for any government since it is associated with the notion of national language. Language as an identity can be a source of national unification as well as source of dispute in a country. Therefore, in the multilingual situation like in Nepal, proper initiative needs to be adopted to build a unified nation.

For the first time, the term ‘language planning’ was coined by Einar Haugen in the 1950s to elucidate the process of language development. It is “a government-authorized, long-term, sustained and conscious effort to alter a language’s function in a society for the purpose of solving communication problems” (Weinstein, 1980, p. 56.). Conclusively, following Cooper (1989) it can be understood as deliberate efforts to influence the behaviour of others with respect to the acquisition, structure, or functional allocation of their language codes” (p. 183). Mostly, language planning is carried out by authorized agencies but to restrict it to the work of authoritative institutions is to be too restrictive (Cooper, 1989).

Different scholars suggest different stages of language planning. Such as, Haugen (1966) proposes four aspects of language development: selection of form, codification of form, elaboration of function and acceptance by the community. On the other hand, Cooper (1989) suggests three stages of language planning: corpus planning, status planning, and acquisition planning.  The stages mentioned by Cooper (1989) can be described as follows:

Corpus planning

Corpus planning deals with the reform within the language structure. Most commonly, a language or one variety of a language is picked up by the government to standardize it. Cooper (1989) states it as the “the creation of new forms, the modification of old ones, or the selection from alternative forms in a spoken or written code” (p. 31). It focuses on the internal condition of a language or language variety. It aims to standardize a variety of language and change its condition. It generally includes the development of orthography, new sources of vocabulary, dictionaries, and literature, and the deliberate cultivation of new uses so that the use of language can be extended to government, education, trade and link language and so on. It may include creation of new forms in spelling, pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. As Corpus Planning of Nepali language, British Scholars such as J.A. Ayton (1820) and Sir Ralph Turner (1931) began the standardization process by producing grammar and dictionaries of Nepali. (Kansakar 1996, p.3)

Status planning

Status planning changes the status of a language either by raising or degrading the status of a language. It may deprive or allow the speakers of a minority language to use it in government, education, and trade. It deals with efforts undertaken to change the use and function of a language. It is the allocation of new function to the language in question. Conclusively, for Cooper (1989) it refers to ‘changes in the systems of … speaking’, ‘changes in a language’s functions, ‘language use’, ‘use of language’ and ‘organization of a community’s language resources’. It is concerned with the relationship between language rather than changes within them.

Acquisition planning

It aims to expand the number of speakers of the language in question. Following Cooper (1989) “When planning is directed towards increasing a language’s uses, it falls within the rubric of status planning” (p. 33). It focuses on the teaching and the use of language. Cooper (1989) mentions three types of acquisition goals:

  1. Acquisition of the language as the second or foreign language;
  2. Renativization or revitalization of the language;
  3. Language maintenance.

In case of acquisition planning, the learners are provided with opportunities and incentives to attract their attention. Acquisition planning becomes effective when the language in question serves all the functions desired by the speakers or learners.

Phases of Language Planning in Nepal

Weinberg (2013, p.63) has mentioned three phases of language planning in Nepal.

Periods before 1950 (As rare as snakes in Ireland)

This phase is considered to begin around the annexation of Nepal by Prithivi Narayan Shah and existed till 1950. It stretched within two absolute reigns of Nepal, absolute Shah before Ranarchy and Ranarchy itself. The use of then Khasa language has become Nepali language now which was supposed to germinate politically during Shah Regime in Gorkha. This very language was nurtured by Ranas later. However, “The Rana rulers were not interested in developing the feelings of nationalism that often inspire the imposition of national language policies” (Burghart, 1984 in Weinberg 2013, p.63). They were also opposed to widespread education therefore there was no need to set language in education policies.

First language policy in Nepal was made in 1905. Then, Nepali language was made as language of law and government. However, Hutt (1988 in Weinberg 2013, p.63) claims that no documentation of this declaration has been published.

On the other hand, though Nepali was only permissible court language, Rana (Janga Bahadur) wanted English-language education for his children. He established Durbar School for Rana family. It was the first government-run English medium school in Nepal. However, Hindu Pathshalas and Baudha Gompas were using Sanskrit and Tibetan respectively as medium of instruction from the time immemorial in Nepal.

Later, Dev Shamsher opened 200 Nepali language schools. Likewise, in 1905 Chandra Shamsher started a Nepali-medium school to train civil servants. In 1934, Nepali was declared as the official language of education (Caddell, 2007 in Weinberg, 2013, p. 69).

Padam Shamsher’s regime is marked as a turning point in the history of language policy of Nepal. He proposed ‘vernacular’ schools inspired by Gandhi.

The first post-secondary educational institution in Nepal was Trichandra College, established in 1918. In this college, language of education was English. Its purpose was to shelter students of Durbar school and to prevent them from going abroad (India). His underling purpose was to prevent Nepalese from getting radical ideas which could be dangerous for them.

From 1950-1990 (Panchayat Era: one language one nation)

After 1950 for the first time, Nepal’s government became interested in cultural unification. According to Rai et al. (2011) Panchayat government imposed their political goals through the slogan of ek bhasha, ek bhesh, ek dharma, ek desh (one language, one way of dress, one religion, one nation), which attempted to spread Nepali, Hinduism, and other symbols of nation throughout the country to create a unified national identity. Its goal was to assimilate people of different culture and linguistic background into a Nepali identity based on the cultural practices of elite, high-caste hill Hindus (Onta, 1996a, as cited in Weinberg 2013)

Education was taken as a tool for teaching the end. After the introduction of democracy, new educational language policy was formed considering the recommendation of Nepal National Educational Planning Commission (NNEPC). The report of the NNEPC strongly supported Nepali as the medium of instruction for schooling, largely for purposes of national integration. The report advocated the use of Nepali language not only in classroom but also on playgrounds and in all spheres of life. It states:

The study of a non-Nepali local tongue would mitigate against the effec­tive development of Nepali, for the student would make greater use of it than Nepali – at home and in the community – and thus Nepali would re­main a “foreign” language. If the younger generation is taught to use Ne­pali as the basic language, then other languages will gradually disappear, and greater national strength and unity will result. (NNEPC, 1956, p. 97).

NNEP followed Hugh B. Wood’s personal view and practice of his country (English as medium). Another educational policy was proposed by National Education System Plan (NESP,1971). It advocated the use of only Nepali in administration, education and media. Stressing the need of monolingual situation, it states the goal of education as”

“to strength devotion to crown, country, national unity and the Panchayat system, to develop uniform traditions in education by bringing together various patterns under a single national policy, to limit the tradition of regional languages…” (Ministry of Education, 1971, p.1)

Throughout Panchayat era Nepali language speakers got privilege as the goal of education was to unify nation under one language and one culture.

Schooling After 1990: The Right to Education in the Mother Tongue

After the restoration  of democracy in 1990, for the first time new constitution recognized Nepal as a multicultural and multilingual country. The Constitution of 1990 states “All the languages spoken as the mother tongue in the various parts of Nepal are the national languages of Nepal. (His Majesty’s Government of Nepal, 1990). For the first time language in education policy was stated in the constitution. It paved a way for running school in mother-tongue and even teaching at least up to primary in mother tongue.

In 1993 a commission for formulating policy for national languages was formed to promote national languages and their use in local administration, primary education and media.

Rai (2016) claims that as a result of ‘Education for all (2015) campaign’, textbooks are published in twenty two indigenous languages. Quite recently, the constitution of Nepal (2015) has provisioned the right of language under fundamental rights and states, “Every Nepalese community residing in Nepal shall have the right to get education in its mother tongue and, for that purpose, to open and operate schools and educational institutes, in accordance with law. (The Constitution of Nepal, 2015, Part 3, Article 31)

The School Sector Reform Plan, 2009-2015 provided supported use of mother tongues in grade one through three (Ministry of Education, 2009). The government has approved a set of guidelines for implementing multilingual education and commissioned a report on teaching Nepali as a second language to speakers of other languages in Nepal (Yonjan-Tamang, 2012 in Weinberg, 2013, p.67).

Conclusion

Language planning tries to develop the uses of the country’s national language for the purposes of education, trade, technology and so on. Language planning is ideally based on language policy. Language planning mainly embraces corpus planning, status planning and acquisition planning. In the history of language planning in Nepal has gone through many ups and downs, from monolingualism to mother-tongue rights which still lack feasibility and ground based reality in planning and implementation. Since it is the era of local identity, the government has accepted its spirit through linguistic inclusion.

 

Kumar Narayan Shrestha, M.Ed. and M.A., is a faculty at Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He is an M.Phil. scholar at Kathmandu University. He has been associated in teaching for seventeen years. He has published articles in different journals and presented papers in national/international conferences. His professional interests include ELT, research and translation.


References

Central Bureau of Statistics. (2014). Statistical pocket book of Nepal. Kathmandu: Author.

Nepal Gazette (2015). The Constitution of Nepal (2015). Kathmandu: Author.

His Majesty’s Government, Nepal. (1990). Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 2047 (1990). Kathmandu: His Majesty’s Government.

Kansakar, T.R. (1996). Language planning and modernization in Nepal. Nepalese Linguistics, 13 .1-13.

Ministry of Education. (1971). The national education system plan for 1971-76. Kathmandu: His Majesty’s Government.

Nepal National Education Planning Commission. (1956). Education in Nepal: Report of the Nepal education planning commission. Kathmandu: His Majesty’s Government.

Rai, G. (2016, August 26). Ojnelma chaltika anya lipi [Other prevalent scripts in shadow]. Kantipur, p. 11.

Rai, V.S., Rai, M., Phyak, P. Rai, N. (2011). Multilingual education in Nepal: Hearsay and reality? A report. Paper commissioned for UNESCO. Kathmandu: UNESCO.

Weinberg, M. (2013). Revisiting history in language policy: The case of medium of instruction in Nepal. Working Paper in Educational Linguistics, 28 (1), 61-80.

Weinstein, B. (1980). Language planning in francophone Africa. LPLP, 4 (1), 55-77.

Yadava, Y.P. (2007). Linguistic diversity in Nepal perspectives on language policy. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/ 237459920

So What, If Not Mother Tongue?

Karna Rana

Karna Rana

“Probably I’m the only person here who speaks one language. I wish I could speak more languages.” – An English native.

Why language matters in our daily life becomes a hot chilli at teatime, at lunch break, on a journey and at other round tables. One day on a fifteen-minute teatime break, one of my workplace colleagues who speaks only English said, “Probably I’m the only person here who speaks one language. I wish I could speak more languages.” His statement caused laughter among the four of us who used to sit at the table, and they were from different countries. All of us except he could speak at least two languages. There were other colleagues from China, Taiwan, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Korea, Samoa, Fiji, Somalia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Jordan, and some other countries. I was among them from Nepal. He was the only English native in the group of about fifty-five people excluding the supervisor. Those who were from different countries could speak their mother tongue as well as English. Most of them had colleagues from their own countries and majority of them were females. The environment obviously allowed them to speak in their own  languages. There were four of us (only males) not having colleagues from our countries. The English native who used to sit beside me could only understand English. When others were talking in their own languages, he used to look at their face and smile, which was unusual for English native living in the English country.

It is an example to understand the scope of multiple languages. The place of language as a situation has a connection with several social and cultural aspects. Whether the right to language matters or not, the place where someone is, has a value of speech. The smile of the English native would not often deliver his thoughts when other language speakers used to communicate in their own languages. The situation requires a link language (lingua franca) for verbal communication between the different language speakers. It is still not sure whether the link language can fully transmit their understandings, feelings and meanings. It often happens that two different language speakers using a link language get confused and misunderstand each other. Moreover, the link language may not transmit the feelings of the speakers. When we talk about feelings, it is one of the main characteristics that makes us distinctive, i.e. human being among the creatures in the world. The human feeling is associated with the place where he or she is born and grown up. Thus, beyond than the right to language, there are other human-related important aspects that need to be understood before imposing any other language on the speakers.

“It often happens that two different language speakers using a link language get confused and misunderstand each other. Moreover, the link language may not transmit the feelings of the speakers.”


It may be worthy to write about a seminar on e-Learning and language development that I recently attended in New Zealand. Although the seminar was intended to focus on the research related to digital technology and language development of preschool children, the atmosphere gradually emphasised the socio-cultural aspects of language. A professor from Samoa used Taro (Colocassia in English and Pidaloo in Nepali) farming as a metaphor to develop language in children. His childhood story of planting baby colocassia in a wide land in the right season and harvesting thousands of tonnes of colocassia reflected that the children are the seeds of language which grow in a wide range. When he focused on the right season to plant, it indicated the age of children when they start their social life and acquire language. His words ‘harvest tonnes of colocassia’ represented the growth and development of language. His metaphor was sufficient for us to understand how we can save several indigenous languages in Nepal. In the seminar, the further interaction emphasised that the children’s cognitive development depend on their culture. Another professor remarked that the children conceptualise in their own language other than English in the classroom. She added that the children think in their language and communicate. She suggested that it is necessary to promote the children’s mother tongue from personal, community and national levels. For knowledge, New Zealand has a number of immigrants from different countries who have their languages.

I recently visited Linwood College ( a secondary school with year 13) in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was my second visit to the school to observe the classrooms with a group of Teaching Quality Improvement (TQI) project trainees from Bangladesh. In the interaction with the principal,  head of English Language Learning and other three teachers, Navjot, the head of English  Language Learning, briefly explained about the school environment and classrooms. She stated that the school had students from 21 countries including Nepal. She further explained that the children from different countries and socio-cultural backgrounds speak their languages. However, they have to speak the next language ‘English’ and write in English. She specifically focused on their two different varieties of English, that is, heard language and eye language. She added that the children from different language backgrounds in her school also learned English in their communities or countries. However, they faced difficulties to understand native English at the initial stage. She gave an example that the immigrant children have eye language as they learned English by reading books in their countries. She said that the children learn English from the books, but they think in their mother tongue and try to express in English. It was an example for me to understand why second language learning and speaking becomes so complicated. She also mentioned that her school encourages the immigrant children to use their language. She said, “I encourage them to speak their language and strengthen their language. Use the language as much as they can.”

When I stand on the socio-cultural ground of Nepal, I see a number of indigenous communities, their cultures and different languages. The census of 2011 recorded 125 languages excluding dialects in Nepal. We know that Nepali is the primary language in school education where English is the next language in the community schools. However, the private schools, as well as some community schools, have imposed the English language as a medium of learning and instruction. It is wise not to criticise against the schools’ English language policy without in-depth study in this field in the country. However, it requires the government authority to consider mother tongue as a language of thought and expression, as well as the right to the mother tongue. It is the only way to save the culture, community and the national identity.

Does the above example suggest the education planners in Nepal consider school teaching in those dominated languages in Nepal?

Mr. Rana is a PhD Candidate in School of Teacher Education College of Education, Health and Human Development University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. 

He can be reached at karna.maskirana@pg.canterbury.ac.nz

Language Planning and Policy Should Embrace Inclusive and Co-learning Practices: Dr. Phyak

Teaching English as a language is different from using English as language of instruction

Prem Phyak

Prem Phyak

Prem Phyak (a PhD from the University of Hawaii, USA) is a lecturer, at department of English Education, Tribhuvan University, Nepal. His area of PhD is Second Language Studies, with a focus on multilingual ideologies, policies and pedagogies. His research areas cover identity, agency, and social justice in the intersection of language, space and education.

Our Choutari editor Jeevan Karki has spoken to Dr. Phyak on the area of language planning and policy in the context of Nepal. 

1. Welcome and congratulations Dr. Phyak for your fresh doctoral degree from the University of Hawaii. What are you doing these days?

Thank you, Jeevanji. It took me sometime to settle in Kathmandu. I spend most of my time teaching at both Masters and M.Phil./PhD programs at the Central Department of Education, Tribhuwan University.  Besides, I am working on a project Art, Language and Public Space. I am looking at the enactment of multilingualism in public space of Kathmandu and exploring both the reproduction and resistance of monolingual ideologies through the use of languages in city space.

 2. As we know, one of your areas of interest is language policy in education. For our readers, can you explain what language policy and planning is and why does it become crucial in Nepal, a multilingual country?

Yes, my research draws on interdisciplinary approaches to language education.  There are multiple perspectives of language policy. Traditionally, language policy has been defined as what different bodies of government decide about the use of languages in various agencies like education, mass media and government offices. This perspective is top-down and constructs language policy as a normative (establishing, relating to, or deriving from a standard or norm) practice, which may not necessarily recognize complexity of linguistic diversity and multilingual practices in real life situations.  But my perspective on language policy is bottom-up approach. For me, language policy is what and how individuals, communities, and institutions practise languages in their real life without any censorship and symbolic dominance. From this perspective, each individual is taken as an agent of language policy. Since each individual and community can decide, what language should be used where and for what purposes. It is important to understand on-the-ground language practices. More specifically, language policy is simply a legitimacy of actual language practices on the ground. This perspective goes beyond language-policy-as-text idea to language-policy-as-practice.

“Language policy is simply a legitimacy of actual language practices on the ground.”


In Nepal, language policy discourse is dominantly guided by a top-down and normative ideologies. In other words, government tends to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach in the creation and implementation of language policy. Yet, such a policy does not work in multilingual contexts where languages across their boundaries and practices become fluid and dynamic. Therefore, language policy should be grounded on multilingual ideologies as experienced by bi-/multilingual speakers and epistemologies of language minoritised people.  For me, language policy is ‘plural’ and ‘multiple’ and should recognize language practices of all individuals and communities; it should not impose monolingual ideologies in the guise nation-state and neoliberal ideologies. This perspective on language policy is crucial in a multilingual context like Nepal for two reasons. First, this perspective recognises bi-/multilingual identities of each individual. Second, while taking language policy as a multiple and agentive process, this perspective challenges normative boundaries between language that create hierarchy and unequal power relations among languages. Most importantly, it is necessary to situate language policies within local language practices in various domains, particularly at home and an immediate community of interlocutors.

3. So, regarding the language in educational planning is concerned, do you think Nepal is following a right model? I make a reference here, many children start their early foundation of schooling from English in Nepal.

A great question, Jeevan-ji! Yet, I should be careful when I say ‘a right model’.  The notion of ‘right model’ in language-in-education planning can be hegemonic and may reproduce linguistic inequalities. Developing one ‘right model’ of language education planning may support a deficit view of language education that considers particular languages, mostly minoritised languages, problem while giving educational value to other languages. Rather than saying ‘a right mode’, I would like to use locally appropriate and linguistically sensitive approach.  This approach to language education planning recognises all children’s language practices as resource for learning, both language and academic content.

“We should embrace locally appropriate and linguistically sensitive approach for the language in education.”


Nepal’s current language education planning is extremely narrow and unable to embrace real multilingual practices. Although there is some level of awareness of the importance of multilingualism in education, at macro level, both language policy discourses and pedagogical practices reproduce monolingual ideologies of language. For example, I had an opportunity to attend two language policy-related discussions in the last five months in Kathmandu. Both discussions were attended by linguists, teacher educators, government officials and teachers. Although those programs were organised to analyse issues concerning multilingual policies in education, the discussions could not challenge rather reproduced monolingual ideologies. Mostly because the discussion questions were framed by upholding monolingual perspectives, the panelists could not go beyond linguistic boundaries and neoliberal language ideologies. For instance, most often, in one discussion, the panelists were asked to express their opinions about the use of English against multilingual education. In another discussion, panelists were focusing on a ‘trilingual policy’ (English, Nepali and one ‘mother tongue’) and analyzing that the use of minoritised languages in public domains (e.g., education) is a problematic. Both perspectives see multilingualism in education as problem and construct binary oppositions between languages. For example, in the first discussion multilingual education is presented as anti-English language teaching while the second discussion, which was intended to discuss legitimacy of ‘mother tongues’,  simply wrongly interprets ‘trilingual policy’ as multilingual policy. Such discussions invite tensions, but do not lead us to decision-making processes that are informed by academic research and on-the-ground language practices and meaning-making processes.

The increasing use of English as medium of instruction and its teaching from the pre-primary level should not simply be celebrated as a panacea, as seen in the current language education policy discourses, rather it should be understood as a part of broader ideologies, pedagogies and policies of multilingualism. I don’t mean multilingual education is anti-English, but it is, as studies have consistently shown, an incredible resource for learning English and any other languages. More importantly, it is important to understand that teaching English as a language is different from using English as language of instruction. Our policies have given space to teaching English as a compulsory subject from the first grade. Teaching of English and any other languages is not a problem, but reproducing monolingual English ideology is a grave issue.  The body of literature from language learning and teaching from multilingual contexts have identified that using students’ prior linguistic knowledge (home language) in classroom pedagogies has a transformative impact in student learning. It is important to understand that students’ communicative and academic literacy knowledge in their home language plays a foundational role in learning new languages and academic content. In the current policies and ideologies of English language teaching, we have not been able to embrace students’ multilingual competence. While embracing outmoded the-earlier-the-better and the-more-the-better ideologies, the current language policies and practices are supporting subtractive model of language education. This model eventually leads to multilingual students’ lack of access to knowledge.

4. While having research on medium of instruction, I had a talk with some of the parents from Sherpa, Rai and Magar community. I asked them what if there was a provision of educating their children in their mother tongue in schools, they said there was no scope of their language for the future of their children and hence they were not enthusiastic about what you called ‘students home language in classroom pedagogies’. Therefore, if the community feel that multilingual approach to education is not necessary for them and even not possible, why do we need this? 

I think the problem lies in how we frame our questions about language, but not with what parents and communities think about language. The problem lies in power relation constructed in our language education policies that have reproduced the dominance of particular languages, backed up by political and economic reasons for long, rather than educational and socio-cultural relevance. As you have said, parents are often asked whether they see the relevance of their home languages in relation to Nepali and English. They are asked which language(s) they prefer to be used in education. Such questions create a binary relation between languages and are deeply influenced by a monolingual ideology. But we have not asked parents what multilingual education actually is nor have they been engaged in understanding what multilingual education actually is. We have not asked an inclusive question about language and discussed with them how multilingual education is relevant to supporting quality and effective learning of all children. In other words, our questions make parents think that their home languages do not have value in education. It is not uncommon for parents to have negative attitudes towards home languages in the context where language education policies are guided by political economic rather than educational rationale.

5. The national and international policy documents assert the use of Mother-tongue-based Multi-lingual-Education. However, the practitioners say, it is next to impossible to practise it in Nepal, where more than 125 local languages are recognised. Therefore, what can be the practical solution for it? Or has the time come to look for another alternative approach?

I don’t think ‘practitioners’ are saying that multilingual education is ‘next to impossible to practice’. Indeed, in the context like Nepal, what is impossible is not to have a multilingual policy. I know that there is a dominant ideology, based on 18th/19th century European monolingual ideology, which portrays multilingualism as problem in education and other public spheres. However, as multilingualism is our reality, it will be costly, from both educational and socio-cultural perspective, to imagine and impose monolingual policies and pedagogical practices in education.  The argument that multilingual education is impossible to implement due to a greater number of languages is fundamentally flawed and reproduces a deficit view of language education. More importantly, such a view is ill-informed and not supported by any educational and language learning studies, but it is politically motivated (supporting status quo and maintaining power relations among languages). What is true, as I have mentioned above, we have not been able to engage in informed discussions and decision-making processes. Seeing multilingualism as problem in multilingual country is the byproduct of ill-informed discussions. There are schools, communities and states, around the world, that have been using multiple languages in education successfully.

Although multilingualism in education is indispensable to support effective teaching learning, the existing multilingual education policy has two major issues. First, the transitional bilingual education model which gives space for using students’ home languages (other than Nepali) up to Grade 3 only does not support students to develop academic competence in multiple languages. This model, which eventually focuses on learning of dominant languages, does not contribute to develop multilingual competence of students. Second, the policy does not provide clear guidelines towards adopting multilingual pedagogies. We can see that, both in policy documents and pedagogical practices in schools, the existing multilingual education, unfortunately seems to support monolingual ideologies. For example, I have observed that most teachers and government officials interpret multilingual education as teaching of three languages—Nepali, English and one mother tongue—separately in school. While embracing this kind of separatist ideology, teachers are discouraging the use of multiple languages for pedagogical purposes in the classroom. Teachers are not educated and empowered to use multiple languages to achieve pedagogical goals in a planned and systematic way. My point is that we have to discuss what alternative pedagogical approaches, which embrace basic principles of multilingualism in education, that do not support a separatist ideology rather embrace an inclusive and co-learning practices could an effective approach. Two-way bilingual education programs, content-integrated multilingual education, inquiry-based learning and translanguaging pedagogies are some of the alternative practices that could appropriate in Nepal. These pedagogical approaches recognize linguistic and cultural capitals of all children in teaching-learning processes. Rather than considering multilingualism as a problem, these pedagogies take all students’ languages and language practices as integral part of learning language and academic contents. While saying this, I would not argue for a one-size-fits-all approach rather I focus on the need for working with teachers, students and communities in developing pedagogical tools that best address their linguistic, cultural and educational needs.

6. How do you evaluate the English language teaching (ELT) policy and practices in Nepal? What kind of policy should be developed to fit our context?

ELT policies and practices are unplanned and deeply shaped by global neoliberal ideologies. I have always argued that learning English is necessary; however, the construction and imposition of monolingual ideology as panacea for addressing educational issues is counterproductive for both ELT and learning academic contents. Second language acquisition and literacy studies have clearly shown that students cannot learn both language and academic content effectively if they are taught in a language they are not fully competent. In this regard, there are two major issues concerning ELT in Nepal. First, a dominant misconception takes ELT and the use of English as medium of instruction (EMI) synonymously. Considering ‘compulsory English’ (as a subject of teaching from the first Grade) insufficient, there is a growing trend to adopt EMI policy to teach content area subjects such as science, mathematics, and social studies. This policy is grounded on the assumption that students learn English better if all subjects are taught in English. However, what is lacking is critical and informed discussions and analysis whether or not this policy contributes to students’ cognitive and academic investment in learning processes. A growing body of literature has suggested that teaching students in a language they are not fully competent leads to lack of access to knowledge, cognitive investment and creativity in classroom.  So the current monolingual view on ELT should be critically assessed and adopt a multilingual approach to English language pedagogy. In doing this, it is important to engage teachers in pedagogical planning to create space for multiple languages for an effective learning process, while achieving the goals of lessons.

“English is necessary; however, the construction and imposition of monolingual ideology as panacea for addressing educational issues is counterproductive for both ELT and learning academic contents.”


7. Finally, what do you suggest to a critical mass of scholars in the field of linguistics, applied linguistics and language education and ELT in Nepal?

I would like to highlight two major points. First, linguists, applied linguists and language educators, including ELT practitioners, should engage themselves in discussions that are informed by theories and findings from second language acquisition, language policy and illiteracy studies. This engagement includes understanding of both policies and practices from other multilingual contexts and critical assessment of whether or not language policies and practices are supporting students’ agency, identity and existing linguistic and cultural capital. This kind of engagement is necessary to make informed-decisions in language policy and develop alternative pedagogies in language education. Second, it is important to engage teachers, students, parents and other stakeholders in analysing language ideologies and pedagogies in order to raise their awareness of multilingualism and its importance in language education. For this, concentrated efforts should be invested in developing pedagogical tools and materials in collaboration with teachers, students and communities and implement in the classroom. Doing this will shift our attention towards embracing multilingualism as an integral aspect of education. For this, we should discuss how teachers can use multiple languages in the classroom in a planned and purposeful way. I would argue that rather than reproducing monolingual ideologies—both in policies and practices—our emphasis should be how to bridge gap, created by separatist ideology, between languages and discuss in what teachers can tap in students’ existing language competence. In sum, there is a need for reframing our language policy discourses and focus more on learners and their identities in language education.