Linking global with local

Linking global with local

Prem Phyak
Department of English Education
Tribhuvan University

I cannot say what exactly happened. I cannot say who said what. I cannot elaborate all important things discussed there. That was all about sharing professional ideas and experiences among ELT practitioners. This was voluntary aspiration and effort for the professional development of English language teachers in Nepal and around the globe in general. Moreover, that was all about breaking the barriers between the so-called dichotomies of senior and junior, novice and expert/experienced, researcher and applier, teacher and learner/student, native and non-native speaker and so on. In essence, that was a successful effort to establish a mutual bondage between local and global ELT practitioners.

The above background sets the foundation for sharing the experience of NELTA’s 15th International Conference held in Kathmandu on 19-21 February (I am sorry I could not go to Surkhet. We would be grateful if Surkhet friends can share about that). About 800 ELT practitioners from home and abroad not only attended the conference but also share many valuable ideas of teaching English. In fact it was a professional rendezvous place which provided English teachers a platform to generate and construct new knowledge. With the success of that mega gathering, I do not hesitate to say that English teachers have given a big lesson to the country, that is, if there is a benevolent collaborative effort, like we are doing, we can generate a lot of knowledge which can be used for the better future of not only English teachers but also of human kinds in general. Prof. Tirth Raj Khaniya, Honourable Member of National Planning Commission, in his speech said that NELTA is successful to make a significant political implication in Nepal. He reiterated that NELTA is not doing any direct political activities by following any political party’s agenda but it has become successful in giving a good lesson to all political parties. It has taught them how hardships and professional vigour can be translated into meaningful power in a difficult circumstance collaboratively. He highlighted that NELTA is successful in doing purely an academic and professional politics of English teachers. At the same time, Prof. Jai Raj Awasthi focused that we teachers should not put the hat of a teacher but that of a learner. He argues that teachers are always learners. We should learn, unlearn and relearn through sharing and collaboration. This implies that professional collaboration is needed without which learning may not become meaningful.

Let me highlight some significant issues which emerged during the conference. I will start with Rt. Honourable Chair of the Constituent Assembly (CA), Mr. Subas Chandra Nembang’s speech. I know, he was born in the Limbu community (one of the indigenous communities in Nepal) and his mother tongue is Limbu. Moreover, being the Chair of CA, all participants had expected that he would deliver his speech in Nepali as other leaders do. But beyond that expectation he addressed the ceremony in English. His speech in English has reflected his multiple identities constructed through the English language. He did not only deliver speech in English but also raised some crucial issue that we, English teachers, have to discuss. He said;
The importance of the English language has become universal. Undoubtedly, it has been widely used in the present day. Without the knowledge of the English language our access to more than half of the world would become inaccessible. Our ability to communicate with a large part of the world and do business with them would be extremely limited. We will miss al the nice opportunities that more than half of the world offers to us for our all-round development. Therefore, it is not wise not to have good command of English for all of us.
He focuses that we need to learn English in order to communicate with people from other parts of the world. This implies that our relationship (professional, business, political etc.) is based on the way we communicate in English. The tragedy of not learning English is hard to imagine. This idea is telling us that our linkage with the global community is possible only through the English language. At the same time, speaking English stands for the symbol of the civilisation on the basis of which a society progresses further. However, he contented;

I frankly want to tell you the fact that I am not satisfied with the knowledge or the skill that the majority of students acquire the English language out of their 20-year long studies in Nepal.

Of course this is true. And this leaves a significant implication for the mission of NELTA and our future initiatives. The issue which emerges from this is: How should we work to improve the standard of English in Nepal? This leads me to raise some other questions: Do we need to assess the method of teaching English we are adopting for our students? What methods fit in our context? Should we follow only one method or many methods? Are we promoting a sustainable learning or spoon-feeding students? Do we promote critical thinking skill? Do textbooks address learners’ identity, culture and values? Are we teaching the English language in isolation or making students able to link local with global issues? I am not answering these questions here because they do not have absolute answers and they cannot be measured in terms of a product. However, these questions may lead us to a process which helps us to lay a strong foundation to develop our students’ English ability and make them able to digest conflicts and differences.

David Graddol, one of the key speakers of the conference, said that “…two billion people [will] be speaking or learning English within a decade.” He highlighted that with the spread of globalisation, which includes technological advancements, global flow of people, multinational business etc., English has become a global language. He further said that the number of non-native speakers of English is increasing rapidly. However, he also mentioned that, the global spread of English… will lead to serious economic and political disadvantages in the future…. A future in which monolingual English graduates face bleak economic prospects as qualified multilingual young people prove to have a competitive advantage in global companies and organizations. This clearly indicates that monolingual knowledge of English will not be helping us to cope with the future need of the complex multilingual world. If I relate Graddol’s idea with the theme of the conference, English in Diversity, I could say that we should also make our students competent in other languages along with English. The importance and existence of English is realised vis-à-vis other languages. This argument is related to what the Chair of CA said, “Nowadays knowing only one language is not enough for our all-round development. We have to learn more than one language.”

Dr. Numa Makee, another key speaker, highlighted that not only the population of English speakers is increasing but also the varieties of English are increasing rapidly. This implies that the distinction between native and non-native speakers of English is breaking. We have different varieties of English in different countries and within a country. In this regard, Dr Markee highlighted the implications of World Englishes (WE) in the context of Nepal. “In the complex linguistic, geographical, ideological, and sociocultural ecology that characterizes WE, Nepal is in perhaps a uniquely difficult position,” he said, “Geographically, it is a small, under-developed country which is sandwiched between the world’s largest emerging economic super powers of the 21st century, India and China, respectively.” This indicates that the variety of English we are speaking should either be influenced by Indian English or Chinese English. Moreover, he raises a question: whether we have Nepalese English variety? How feasible is it to use as a medium of instruction in schools? These are important issues we Nepalese English teachers should explore. At this moment, I can only make a hypothesis that, based on the notion of WE, one day we will have a separate variety of English, Nepalese English. This may emerge with the publications of textbooks and materials in Nepal by local authors instead of importing books from India and other parts of the world.

Likewise, Markee’s presentation indicates that we, English teachers, do not only have the responsibility of teaching English but also have a key role in formulating the language policy in order to promote the status of English. At this moment I would like to put what Markee exactly said;
Nepal is in the process of developing a new constitution. Nepalese applied linguists and ELT teachers should take a leading role in framing the discussion of language issues that is bound to ensue. In particular, what (quasi) official role (if any) should English play in relation to indigenous Nepalese languages, and in particular sectors of the economy, education, science, business, and tourism?”
This profound observation has added another great responsibility among us. This indicates we do have responsibility of discussing the issue of language policy which guides the whole profession of ELT. But we need to contemplate on some other questions which are embedded in the issue raised above. Should we take this role? Are we ready to take this role? How can we be successful in taking this role? In addition to this, Markee discusses another responsibility of Nepalese ELT teachers. He asks a question: What steps should Nepal take to maintain its linguistic and cultural heritage from the potential “killer” characteristics of English? This question has a great implication not only for ELT but also for the whole notion. This indicates that being ELT practitioners we should also look after a unique linguistic and cultural diversity we have. This is our responsibility to address the values, skills, attitudes, and cultures of people while teaching English. In that sense, English becomes a tool to empower learners and maintain social harmony. When we empower children they know the local issues and build a strong base for exploring global ideas. What do you think?

9 thoughts on “Linking global with local

  1. What I like the most is almost all the speakers agreed to focus on meanings rather than forms…

  2. This is an excellent account of what went on in the NELTA’s recent conference held in Kathmandu. Thanks to Mr Phyak. Through this short anecdote, not only did he summarise the seminar outcomes, but also signalled how the ELT professionals and practitioners have been striving in the himalayan Kingdom to scale up the quality of teaching, research and innovation within the broder domain of ELT. It is in fact true that for most of the rural students English language is a hindrance for success both at the school and the higher education level. In this context, this kind of conference raised our hope that the professional bodies like NELTA would come up with more action-oriented programs to empower all English language teachers, not least in the rural areas of Nepal, in the days to come.

  3. I was expecting to be there personally but i could not. The gap between I and the conference is now linked by Phayak’s collactive gatherering.

    That is for sure that the imprtance of English language cannot be limited in this globalized community. Nepali professionals now need to have changed commitment on ELT.May be changing the vision of academic english to survival english( daily purpose).

    Thank you Mr Phyak for the cruk on ELT international conference.

    milan poudel
    stuockholm university


  4. Prem Phayak and all your panch pandav,
    First of all, thank you for your summary of NELTa, 15th conference. I read the presentation of Awasthi, David and so on. Among all of them, Awasthi’s sir is very crucial for English teachers as well as other subject teachers. His presentation makes us more and more to read and learn the students in the class. Anyway, thank you providing many presentation of Nelat and others in future.
    With best regard,
    Birendra K. Sah.

  5. Think Locally, Please

    Prem’s critical synopsis of the 15th International Conference of NELTA is worth reading in that it has raised some contemporary Nepalese ELT issues that this conference has given rebirth to. As a presenter and participant, I have realized that, in addition, the talks in the conference have set some crucial agenda for NELTA, as a responsible language based association. I would like to spend the following paragraphs on what those issues and agenda are and how NLETA should proceed further to deal with them in the days to come.

    Mr. Subhash Nemang’s dissatisfaction with the quality of English that we have been offering, which Prem has raised, is genuine and worth contemplating for us. By and large the same issue was raised by Mr. Devi Prasad Ojha, the then Education Minister a couple of years ago in NELTA conference but perhaps we did not take heed to it. We found it very objectionable for the Education Minister to address the ceremony of English teachers in Nepali. We squeezed our nose and found it disgusting for letting our heads bow down in front of foreigners. Today, I realize that Mr. Ojha was right (as Mr. Nemang is) and perhaps we were wrong and we are wrong even today because we used highway yesterday and we ply on the same today ignoring the reality of subway. Their remarks reveal the bitter truth of ELT quality of Nepal. Even after graduation, the majority are unable to communicate in English. Often English teachers are requested to prepare speech (for others) in English, write application letters, prepare resumes, go through proposal, theses in English, and prepare a project and so on. Very often, high ranking officials are reluctant to deliver speech in Englis the h. What is the need to learn English for 20 years if that does not even enable one to communicate in it? Questions particularly on methodology and materials raised by Prem are reasonable. Nevertheless, a critical assessment of not only our practice but theory seem to be important, I believe. Think globally and act locally. This seems to be the most hegemonic slogan. This is the time we did the reverse as this catchphrase has only promoted Native speakerism and nothing else but we must not ignore the fact that we cannot be native speakers without being reborn. Global changes and local realities are poles apart. All pedagogy like all politics is local. We must also realize that expertise does not necessarily come from abroad. This is the right moment to empower the local knowledge of teachers, deriving from their years of accumulated experience, wisdom, and intuitions about what works best for their students. Decades of experiences have revealed that we have remained unsuccessful in our mission. The time demands us to develop context sensitive and community specific approach to language pedagogy. We are required to become more sensitive to local classroom and socio-cultural contexts. We are required to “theorize from our practice and practice what we theorize” The most important thing is that Nepalese ELT is philosophically unbalanced with its concentration on linguistic rather than educational and social theory. Our ELT seems to be too centralized at all levels, its evolution being driven by developments in Britain and the USA at the expense of local culture, identity, socio-political contexts and values. As Prem remarks, multilingualism is our reality and essence of today’s era, we cannot and should not think of escaping it because there is life in it, there is identity in it, and there is value in it. Monolingual mindset only confines our horizon. Similarly, educational values of ours are distinctly different from others and therefore, teaching of language which is an ideology based practice cannot foster along with other educational values. All these infer that NELTA needs to take a lead to resituate ELT in accordance with Nepalese contexts. Deconstructing the global practice is the most pressing challenge awaiting solutions.

    Likewise, Numa Markee’s indication has raised another key issue for us. At the time when we are claiming to have our own distinctive nativized variety of English, he pointed to the possible influence of Indian and Chinese ones. This gives us a big challenge upon our shoulders and that is to move towards standardization of Nenglish through corpus planning to avoid the possible imposition. It is important to think on how to teach English in a responsible way that minimizes any harmful impact on local, regional and national languages and cultures and values. It is with the Nenglish that we should be thinking of identifying ourselves, not with others. Again localization of English is the cry of the day. In the age of globalization, we cannot think of Nepal without English. Owning English, we can inhibit the killer characteristics to a greater extent in that it will embody Nepalese cultures and values. However, again owning English needs a lot of planning and deliberations.

    Altogether, I think we should think locally to address our local ELT issues, should n’t we?

  6. The ELT scenario, I believe, is tricky in our context. I always see this contest of “Who teaches English better — the Departments of English Education or the Departments of English? Have we ever willingly accepted the inevitability of the role of both? So, for me the challenge lies in finding some ways of sharing the resources across these poles.

    Sajan’s concerns, I think, come closer to inviting all of us practitioners of English to look at each other first before preparing ourselves to stand globally. This is for resolving the oft-quoted dichotomy between English for communication and English for scholarship. Nepalis need to walk along both these domains to escape from the hurdles of living by leaving English.

  7. Mr. Kafle’s concern is very valid for me. I also think that there might be an implicit competition between these two English programs at TU as English teacher production factories regarding which department produces better English teachers. There are certainly ways that foster collaboration between these two 1) working collaboratively in a common professional organization like NELTA, 2) designing some English (Education) common courses where students from both departments can work together, 3) sharing both human and academic resources across the departments, among others.
    The old generation failed to do that. I wonder if the new generation will be able to address this issue.

  8. Thanks for a great observations, Prem. They are truly important issues for Nelta and Nepal to address. One that touches me infinitely is what the heck are we doing by teaching a language for 10, 12, or 16 years. But the idea of using English as a vehicle for broader education reminds me of another, more tragic situation–as Hem indicates already–the status of the English Studies in the Humanities. When we argue that English should be a means for teaching ideas, skills, and outlooks–rather than teaching it as a language (like some say is what English Education does), English Studies comes to mind. Alas, the field of English Studies in Nepal is half-sleeping with a pre-packaged stagnant model of education on its lap. Abhi Guru writes with his regular positive spirit about the Nepalese English education scenario in general and we in Nelta must appreciate his appreciation of our work, but I don’t know whether to cry or what when I think of professional work in Humanities English–imagine that it would either join hands with Nelta or create another platform and add to/multiply the promotion of English education in Nepal.
    Well, but the conversation in this blog makes me so proud of Nelta, so proud, I don’t know how to express it.

  9. Prem Ji’
    You are definitely a hero in Nepal in the field of ElT, and every initiation by you is targeted to flourish ELT in nepal in particular, and ELT abroad in general. Go ahead, we are there to follow, though not being able to support!

    My special request is that, as my research shows, let’s develop “Nepanglish” as our own variety of Emglish.

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