English as an Official Language in Nepal

In this time of growing tension of the status of languages in Nepal, I believe we need to discuss some issues related to English. English is not mentioned in debates among the public or in the government nor in the speech of political leaders. But we can see that English is using more and more in banks, markets, products, email, etc. Sometimes code-switching used too much.

In this context, should English be another official language in the era of globalization? What might be its positive and negative consequences? Can Nepal be empowered with English?

Please response yourself. I request all our gurus and gurumas, all nelta executives and members, all well wishers, all subscribers to write thier views. I hope writing will relish oneself. Let’s make this discussion.


Sincerely yours

Santosh Bhattarai

9 thoughts on “English as an Official Language in Nepal

  1. Very interesting topic for discussion. Accept it or not, English is creeping into our daily tasks. People in Nepal are using it for communication, media, education, research, tourism, etc. and it subtly is working as a link language in written language, particularly when information technology is involved. Its use will be expanding more in the future. I understand Ganga sir’s interpretation of the neutrality of English because it does not belong to a particular group in Nepal . For example, the Tharu language seemingly belongs to the Tharu community or the Newar Language to the Newar community but English seems to be equal to everybody because no particular ethnic community claims its ownership. In the context of burgeoning political conflict in language issues, English seems to be more neutral for all.

    Before we accept English as our official language, I believe we need to ask three questions to ourselves:

    1. In another sense, English education is not neutral. It carries with it a lot of cultural and ideological baggage. We as users of English need to appropriate its use according our needs and context. We are using foreign-produced textbooks that have examples and questions like ‘have you ever been kissed by a stranger’ or ‘do you prefer ham or steak?’. These examples per se are good illustrations of language use, but they might be wired or sometimes offensive for us to make our students engage in pair or group works. Therefore, before we go for an increased role of English in our context, we need to produce our local teaching materials, knowledge and pedagogy for teaching of English.
    2. English in the past was largely confined to a handful of elites, but now it has been more democratic. But still I can see that it has class implications between haves and have-nots created by private English-medium schools and public vernacular-medium schools. English in itself is doing no harm, but the way we are putting it into use possibly has negative consequences. Now almost every job ad. asks two essential skills: proficiency in English and excellent computer skills. We need to ask whether making English an official language marginalizes a big part of nation’s population coupled with digital divide. Then it will not be fare for sojhasajha Nepali janata. Therefore, we need to make sure that English is for everybody and it does not exclude people on the basis of socio-economic status of the people.
    3. Another important issue is to investigate the spread and increasing use of English for our local languages. If English becomes the official language and works a lingua franca, is it going to replace the local languages? Why should a child be motivated to learn her/his local language if English and Nepali are the languages of communication, job and education? I am not sure if English is subtracting or adding multilingualism in the present context, but it certainly will have implications if it becomes the official language in the future.

  2. Very interesting discussion on the role of English in “New Nepal”. This is also a topic of my interest. As we can see at present, there is a hot discussion going on in the national politics about language and there are also some issues about which language should be used as the official language.
    No doubt, all the languages in Nepal are equal and they are our assests. We need to preserve them in order to maintain the rich linguistic diversity of Nepal. The initiative of the government to promote multi-lingual education at primary level could be taken a noble beginning to make primary education more inclusive in approach and by preserving language we not only preserve the culture of the given language but also contributes to the educational achivement of the learners. Thus, mother tongue education at primary level and learning of Nepali as a subject for lingua franca is the kind of model people have been talking about. So far English has been remained as an international/ foreign language. But in the near future, I can see (this is just my anticipation) that English will occupy the role of link language together with the Nepali language because of its neutrality. English/Nepali are likely to be accepted as a common languages among the different federal states (in New Nepal) and a languages of official communication among them. So English might gain the status of Second language and if this is the case, we have to have tri-lingual policy in our education system. Mother tongue primary education (for learners of non-Nepali speaking communities) along with Nepali and English as subjects at primary level might be the vialble model for Nepal’s education system.
    These are just my wild thoughts and please share your thoughts and as Kashiji said, by doing this, we might be able to offer some suggestions to the policy makers when this topic comes into their discussion during the state restructuring.
    Thank you very much.


  3. As you I have also been reading postings regularly. Now I feel that we’re really in a global village where we exchange our idea/s instantly. I agree with both Kashi Sir and Ganga Sir that we can discuss and introduce some innovative issues on role of English in New Nepal in order to enable the lawmakers.

    However, if we taunt for the importance of English to link different language groups in Nepal, people might suspect us that we are part of anti-Nepali language campaign. Obviously, that’s not our objective. Moreover, English can get strengthened by Nepali. I do not mean if they do not know Nepali they can not learn English, but my claim is we can not sideline and ignore Nepali. For Example, if Nepali is burden to “Tharu kids”, English won’t be the other way.

    If we really going to the federal system, we ought not to play double roles. Therefore, I think they can learn the best if they are given primary education totally in their mother tongue; and both English and Nepali can be introduced in High School. In Nepal where literacy percentage is slightly over fifty, making English a lingua franca is not so plausible. I do not know if I am a reactionary or status quoits, even new Nepal should be bound by Nepali. There are hundreds of reasons for that.

    Why English can not give life to local language is not stigma. Particularly, non-western writers at least agree now that no translation is complete. You may give me examples of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Those are exceptions. Reading the original texts and reading translated English texts is different. For example, I have read Mahabharat epic in different languages. First, I read it in Sanskrit. Then in Nepali. Finally, for two years I have been reading Jean-Claude’s and Peter Brook’s version. Although there are few differences in Nepali and Sanskrit, there are vast variations in English. For example, in our culture grandson never gives order or shows irrespective manners to elders. Nor Jean-Claude’s and Peter Brook have understood the exact relationship of the characters. Above all, most of the scenes are unnecessarily sexualized artificially. So I could not find Mahabharat in Mahabharat although I have been reading it for two years.

    Someone has said change is inevitable. I agree with him/her. However, time, place and people are more important to bring any new change. So is the case of English.

  4. Great.

    I am responding to your posting because I have also had similar thoughts and, in fact, it is the interest of my research now. As many of us would believe, the idea of practicing languages cannot happen in isolation. None of the major languages, including Nepali or English, can stand alone. They have to be complementary, one to the other. All the more, in case of Nepali, since it is the official language of the Republic of Nepal, of which one has to and should be justly proud. In this very diverse linguistic scenario, when English alone is not sufficient, language learning has to be impelled to the top of the educational agenda. At this point, language planners’ need to address, two different issues with separate challenges, is strongly felt; highly ambitious quality education with focus on mainstream language/ languages for global competition and peer group assimilation,

    Or- mother tongue education for survival, for life as to preserve local culture through L1. For us facilitating a child in learning is more to encourage children having different mother tongues having equal access and for continuous schooling that helps them from dropping out of the schools.

    Dear Santoshjee and Friends,

    let’s start to share what we think in this issue, may be in some way, we can contribute to the entire process of language policy/planning of this country. Being a very serious and sensitive issue, let’s talk from our perspective while I also have a lot to talk about my experience from Magar tongued Rolpali hills to Tamang basti of Upper Rasuwa.


    Kashiraj Pandey

    Asst. Professor (English)

    Department of Languages and Mass Communication

    Kathmandu University,


  5. Of course it is a genuine issue that English should be another official language in this era of globalization. We have heard of other countries making use of more than one language for official use. India, our neighbouring country, also uses English for its official purpose besides Hindi, its national language. I have heard of Canada using English and Spanish as its official language. So let us talk about why Nepal can’t have two official languages. The issue we English Teachers, NELTA, and ELT Practioners should be — “Why not English?” rather than “Should” We must all disscuss this issue great concern. Who knows our discussion and concern might one day be crowned with success.

    With Regards
    Eka Dev Adhikari

  6. Dear colleagues,

    Good that you all have shown great interest in this topic,


    Language plays significant role in students’ educational journey and education is key to development. Country’s development is possible only when there are abundant literate, skilled, informed and educated people. It is education that creates such human resource. Global experiences have shown that nations that focused more in education have moved ahead in social and economic development. The level of education reflects the level of economic and social development of any country in the world.

    Nepal, politically, culturally and linguistically, during present days, is at the crossroads. At this moment when Educational policy is also at its making, language policy is also pervasively discussed and its need urgently being felt. Medium of instruction has become the major issue of discussion, be it in primary schools or from socio-political and cultural aspects as well.

    The purpose of language in schools is to make the interaction possible between teachers and learners, which is one of the most powerful factors in promoting learning; interaction among learners is another.

    Let’s see whether this attached news and an article published in a national daily make us worried or urges us to focus our discussion more in language issues as something very urgent…

    Or, How do we see language/ languages? what would happen if we make it more political?


    Kashiraj Pandey

    Asst. Professor (English)

    Department of Languages and Mass Communication

  7. Dear everybody,

    A lot of good discussions going on. I am happy about this. kashiji’s post both were really informative. I now feel that we are going through a real transition in deciding important matters in language issues. The following excerpts from Pramod Mishra’s article were really stimulating for me:

    Almost every VDC, at least in the Tarai, now has an English medium �boarding school� where anybody who can afford sends his or her child to study in English medium. In the past decade, there has already been a sizable number of young folk who use English. hat will be the role of their English in Nepal? Only tourism, English teaching and English journalism, science and technology, and manpower export to the English-speaking West? What about their role in the state structure as civil servants, security officials and politicians in a globalized world?

    b. It�s not just the foreign ministry that needs English-capable personnel. Almost every ministry now needs personnel fluent in English. And especially those ministries that need high ranking officials to interact with our neighbors need to be efficient in the languages of the neighbors. There are examples of Nepali officials in the border areas where they have to sit in meetings with Indian or Chinese officials, but they know neither Hindi nor English nor Chinese enough to serve the interest of the state well. As a result, they cannot effectively accomplish the international tasks.

    In this nelta forum, let’s decide what role english plays in nepal now. This mail almost has all supreme people in English education in its list, and if all people are interested to contribute to write something, we will have some document from Nelta’s side. Remember that when you have a Nelta board meeting you will have 9/10 people, but we are 200 now. Please write something.

    I am in favor of making english the official language because nepal now has to compete with the rest of the worl and that is possible only through english.. I like Ganga SIr’s neutrality of English because recognizing english will not invite conflict among the ethnic groups. Englihs will simply empower us. We can be proud of this in the world. You know that library has books in english, technology and internet is using english, major broadcastings are in English; and if we do not grab english and make our own, we will be alineated from this technological world.

  8. Two important issues that I want to discuss are: the issue of ‘should English be another official language?’ (Posted by Santoshji) abd ‘which English’ (posted by Bal in the August issue of NELTA Choutari).

    Can English be another official language? Both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. ‘Yes’ because, as all the previous postings have indicated, English is being used not only by elites but also by commoners in education, technology and daily life especially in urban areas. However, as Bal and Shyam have pointed, we have to look at the political aspect too. Declaring a language an official language is concerned with the broader language policy of the nation-state. Such a status planning is often made on the political ground. At the same time, we also need to analyse side effects of making English as an official language. We have many minority endangered languages which are not only identity and heritage of the concerned language groups but also of the country. The endangerment of languages is due to the monolingual hegemonic language policy of the nation-state. In addition to this, if we add another official language and suppress minority tribal languages (directly and indirectly), ethno-indigenous groups will further be marginalised. Of course, there is commmodified view of language i.e. we may argue that English can provide access to both local and global markets which is not possible through the tribal languages. But it is true that without making people who they are they cannot access any kind of opportunity. In this regard, the commodification of language may not fit in the context where linguistic stratification is prevalent like that in Nepal.

    Why should we make English as an official language? is another important question we have to discuss. Are we making it official to empower or marginalise people? One basic requirement of an official language is that it should be the language of wider communication (LWC) which can serve the function of lingua franca. English? It can be a link language only among the elites, educated and urbanites. But, is an official language only for elites and urbanites? Of course not. Moreover, we need to analyse the protectionism of the English language by rules and elites in the past. Another issue is that language planning and policy based on the top-down approach often marginalise the minority linguistic groups and create social inequality by privileging haves and marginalising have-nots which is clearly seen in the present private and public school education system in Nepal (Bal has mentioned it too).

    So far as ‘which English’ is concerned, I agree with you, who have argued that there is no ‘pure’ English and there is no any prescription for whether to follow this and that English. The implication that we can draw from the academic discourses of varieties of English is that now the English language no longer belongs only to the native speakers (i.e. British, American, Australian, New Zealand). This suggests that arguing in favour of the notion of ‘native speakerism’ seems to support the colonial political history of the English language and in a way it does not support the diversity of English language learners and increasing numbers of its varieties all around the world. The statistics has already indicated that native speakers are outnumbered by non-native speakers of English. Moreover, when we are concerned with (language) pedagogy, the issue of learning languages in a local or native way, appropriate or non-appropriate way etc. come into fore which has to be addressed by us (English language teachers). In this regard, what we can say is that until we do not remove the dichotomy of native vs. non-native speaker (as Shyam has argued in this thread) we cannot define the exact goal of language teaching. For example, what will be the goal of teaching English? Whether to make students able to communicate with native speakers of English or to make them communicate with non-native speakers? Or all of them? If we are in favour of the native-speaker- norm, we might focus on native speaker varieties of English e.g. American English, British English and so on. But if we are in favour the non-native variety of English, we might resist native varieties and teach or promote own variety of English (It happens directly and indirectly). I think there is no harm in doing both. All is determined by our way of interpreting language teaching.

    For me, language teaching is not only teaching aspects of language but also the matter of constructing our identity (national, individual, social and professional identity). The way we speak and teach English is not only determined by what we wish but also by our culture and society. In this regard, I would argue that English can be taught in our own way and develop new variety of English. There is no point in following only American and British English thinking that they are standard. However, when academic reading and writing has to be dealt with we need to follow them because we have not discussed much about our variety of English (e.g. Nenglish) in academic discourse. However, it does not mean that we do not have our own variety of English. This clearly indicates that we need to research and look how much difference exists between American/ British English and Nenglish. It takes time to develop the corpus.

    The debate of native vs. non-native speaker can be dissolved if we analyse what Ben Ramptom (1990) says about the term “native speaker”. Ramptom argues that language is not only the matter of inheritance but also of expertise (proficiency of a language) and affiliation (attachment or identification) . This indicates that if we claim ourselves as a native speaker of a particular language on the basis of our inheritance, we may ignore the proficiency and the desire of individuals to identify themselves in different languages. This implies that there is no direct link between our inheritance with proficiency of language, which is important in language pedagogy. But, proficiency of which variety? We need to research.


    Prem Phyak

  9. Thank you, Prem, for a very thoughtful post on the issue of language policy. Your ideas drive the nail on the head of the politics of English-medium of education about which many of us want to bury our heads in the sands of our mainstream identity/opportunity y of class, education, urban dwelling, and even caste, and go on to smugly focus on the “benefits” of the language even when we do talk about it. Indeed, many of us are absurdly disinterested about the issue of how Tamang, Badi, Tharu, or Kami children are oppressed in multiple ways by their “education,” by the fact that they cannot learn and produce knowledge using their mother tongue, by the fact that education has become a commodity their parents can’t buy any longer because education that is worth the many years of investment is no longer available in their language–not even in the national language they also had to struggle to learn. We know that language is not education and education is not language. We know that education doesn’t always empower people; we’ve raised issues of oppression that have changed the education of other countries for a long time now, including Freire’s ideas from Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Stuckey’s Violence of Literacy. Most of us just don’t care how those issues of oppression due to educational and language policies are relevant to our society at this time. English language is not only empowering our students–yes, they can use it when they become lahures in the future, they can understand the world outside through it, they can join the global intellectual pool, and yes there are a thousand other benefits. But imposing a language, like Sanskrit was imposed on all religious books in the past, can be disempowering. We should be ashamed of constructing a new caste system when the previous one is barely out of sight. Learning a language that will increase access and opportunities is good, BUT the point here is that that process is being blocked by the need of huge financial resources, by unequal access, by unequal pre-school input/opportunities , by geographical differences. .. then the good new language increases gaps of (relative) opportunity and in the long run constructs new caste/class systems that take the nation decades to correct, if at all the nation corrects them. No sensible person will dispute the beauty of learning English, or the beauty of the opportunity to go to a boarding school (I was lucky too), but that’s the beauty ONLY FOR THOSE WHO CAN AFFORD. And since education should not be given to only those who can afford, it is the duty of intellectuals like us to talk about the ugliness of how some people have become the bastard children of a bifurcated education. In practical terms, the Nepalese government should either make private schools universally accessible to both the rich and poor, or at the least should have a mechanism in private school culture that will make education the cause of equality and social justice rather than allow it to do the opposite. I mean when did we begin to accept education as a luxury, as something that only those who can afford should get it? The next thing we might be doing is to leave public health care system, the police, the army, and the government to the profiteers. America is currently debating whether their health care system should have a public option which will make the free market competition in the private sector more fair than just free. The country is way, way below other equally developed countries in the index of health; too many people are obese, most people do not have the capacity for preventative care, there are few primary public health care opportunities for the poor, thousands of people go bankrupt due to medical bills every day, and the insurance companies have been able to abort any reform in favor of the needy in the last six decades. But even this country, which is shockingly capitalistic in many areas like health which it should not be, has a public education system. Very few people in this country would say that BECAUSE the public education system is not as effective as the private schools they must stop investing in the public schools. In fact, most people have a religion-like faith in the public education system and even millionaires send their children and give donations to the public education system. In Nepal, when we talk about people being unable to pay for their children’s boarding schools, we hear other people just say that the public schools aren’t doing well enough. We are good at thoughtless thoughts, just mouthing the facts. In fact we hear even really nice and educated people saying that private/English medium education in Nepal has brought about general improvement in education and increased every child’s future opportunities. When I heard that, I ask them to be less stupid for one moment and think about the less visible but more long lasting and more dangerous social consequences of using a foreign language at the cost of people’s mother tongues and local knowledge-bases.

    The general impacts of imposing a language as a compulsory medium of education brings us to an even larger issue: language policy is not just about the linguistically marginalized minorities. Just consider what happened to the thing called “education” in our country when good education began to be equated and confused as English education in the past few decades. It is not that public schools were good before boarding schools came along. But boarding schools have gradually and successfully confused us about what is good education. The foreign language in which children learn new things not only alienates their parents from the substance of their learning, it also gives students a false sense of achievement. For example, compare two students with the same proficiency in math or science in a public and a private school and most people will automatically consider one as an absolutely brilliant person, the other as somewhat smart. But many of us don’t want to talk about the new caste system created by the work of profiteers in education, by those who can afford “English” education for their children and will not bother about others’ children, by teachers who can use their knowledge of a foreign language to make a living and not bother beyond that, and by foolish politicians who wait and cry for decades to become a (prime) minister. Few of us are willing and passionate about sorting out that socio-political consequence of “English” education. Consider the way even good public schools are no longer considered worth sending their children by most people. Did we need THAT MUCH of change in our education system? If English is the “language” that will increase people’s opportunities, why is it not OPTIONAL? Why is shoved down the throat of every student for 12 to 15 years? How much benefit have we (students, parents, society, not boarding schools) gained from students (and sometimes teachers) half-understanding the content of education? What is the benefit of not studying concepts of social studies, science, and math in our own languages? If language is the whole point, why not call our schools language institutes? Let students learn the content of education later in life–unless we believe that learning increasingly complex concepts in a foreign language is a proven method of effective education.

    Language policy is not about theory that a guy named Prem Phyak reads in a nice book while being in the University of London and writes an email about. Language policy is not something that only education ministers, officers in Bhaktapur, researchers in Kirtipur must be concerned about. Language policy is what happens to generation of our children, to the identity of the diverse communities, to the increasing gap of economic opportunities created by education, to the brains of intelligent people called teachers most of whom are convinced that this is beyond our control or concern. Language policy is about profit motive hijacking a developing country’s fundamental need to publicly construct the most important social foundation: EDUCATION. That’s what language policy is about.

    Thank you, Prem, for connecting the complex and apparently not so interesting/ relevant issue of language policy with the issue of minorities, identity, and politics. You come from a minority background and there is a deep truth about this thing when you say it–you say it out of experience, perhaps with some pain. I come from the mainstream and I feel ashamed when I find myself subscribing to silence and complacent disinterestedness on social issues like this; because the turn of events will always benefit me and my kind, the best I can do is to use my head to try not flow with the stream. To feel guilty and just wish I could be part of a change of heart and mind, which might in some way make a difference about the injustice of English=education. I know more than enough about the justice side of it (I’ve enjoyed a crap load of that side myself), and I mean to insult the hell out of the “as is” mentality among Nepalese intellectuals/ teachers. The opportunities that English (medium) education give a few people among us is a tiny speck of a difference that English instead of education is making if we consider how many thousand people have failed SLC due to compulsory English, how many thousand are unable to compete against other equally or less proficient people who come out of English schools, how many thousand languish in the fear that their public school education is no good, how many entire communities are bankrupted while trying to chase the confused hopes of English education instead of education itself.

    Thanks so much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *