What-like what-like English?

Parmeshwar Baral

We have boarding schools now, imparting ‘education’ in English medium. Teachers use classroom routines in English, teach lessons in English, probably not paying attention to whether the learners understand them or not. Following are some funny Nepali-English expessions you might encounter in English medium schools in Nepal. I leave up to the Choutari readers to make their  interpretations in relation to what this means to our society, identity, and role of English in the Nepalese context.

1. There is no wind in the football.

2. I talk, he talk, why you middle talk?

3. You rotate the ground 4 times.

4. You did no homework? You go and under stand the tree with one leg and catch your ears.

5. I’ll give clap on your face.

6. Bring your parents with your mother and father.

7. Why haircut not cut?

8. Why are you looking outside at monkeys when I am in class?

9. Throw paper in dustbin or I’ll throw myself.

16 thoughts on “What-like what-like English?

  1. Thank you Parmeshwar sir for funny expressions commonly used by pre-pri
    mary and primary students during the course of learning English Language. This is how children start practicing spoken English. In our country, speaking in English is rarely practised in government owned schools. English itself is taught in Nepali language.
    I like Parmeshwar’s article in Nelta Chautari Dec issue. But we should take this type of expressions as natural mistakes committed by the second language learners. Such mistakes are even committed by first language learners in the early periods of their language learning.
    If this article was written by a European or an American, he /she would present it as ” the common mistakes committed by beginners in English medium Schools.” s/he would not present it sarcastically.

    Any way, thank you so much for your funny article.

    1. Ishworji, Thank you for your comment on the post. I hope that Parmeshwarji joins the conversation. I just wanted to contribute my experience. First, I agree with you that the funny expressions are presented with a critical tone about the English-mania in private schools, but as someone who both went to an English-medium school and taught in several of them for many years, I also agree with the author on the critique of the obsession with language in our private schools. If we think about it, there is no other explanation than our “underdeveloped society” mentality that puts the medium of teaching/learning above and beyond learning itself! I don’t think that to be critical about the equation of English with quality education itself that we have witnessed in our country in the last two decades is to be critical about the wonderful teachers and even the owners and administrators of the private schools; what is wrong is the mentality of the Nepalese society as a whole in this regard. Foreigners learn Nepali in a few months; students in Norway or Japan learn better English than our students (down whose throat we shove English for up to 16 years) in one or two years in or after high school; and very often we don’t see much difference in the English language proficiency of our public versus private school students by the time they complete college. So, if our private schools were spending the crazy amount of time, energy, and resource (not to mention torture and sheer absurdity) that they now invest for forcing students to learn the language towards educating the students better–through better resources, teacher training, etc–they would be able to uplift the country’s education to an great degree. But unfortunately, these otherwise amazing educational establishments have been producing students who speak what-like, what-like English and have been for that reason largely betrayed in many other ways: 1. they’ve learned to disregard local languages and cultures, 2. they’ve half-understood what their teachers often half-taught the content in a language that was unnecessarily ahead of their grade level, instead of the intellectual content being so, 3. they’ve broken their parents’ financial backbones for no other reason than to pay for a myth about language “as” education, 4. they’ve not passionately felt the real taste of the content of math and science and social studies because the screen of language was considered more important than the intellectual content of those subjects. Just imagine a private school where students and teachers are free to delve right into the theme of a lesson with whatever language they feel more comfortable with; just imagine students debating issues of their own lives in their own languages… I have personally benefited from the ladders of privilege that private schools gave me, but my knowledge and passion for learning came from elsewhere: the content of what I read or write, not the language. I feel guilty for punishing students for speaking in their home languages for many years; I wish I could right that wrong today. I think I have done a disservice to their learning and to the society at large. By sorting out the issues of learning and teaching from the need to teach English–a very real need–I feel better today, because I have learned better about the value of languages and cultures by coming to a foreign country where educated people would be so, so, so proud if they had the kind of multilingualism and multiculturalism like we have in Nepal. So, I think that by beginning to discuss the issue of language versus learning (unfortunately) however late, we are doing the right thing recently. I commend Parmeshwar for stoking the fire on English-mania in Nepal. And I should add that I think that such English is not only found in “primary” schools; I taught at two of the most famous schools in Kathmandu, and my high school students spoke no better. Seroiusly. I think that we should use the tool of humor and critique to think better than we have been about education–while having some good laughter as a bonus.

      1. Shyamji,
        Absolutely, I am in line with you but I would like to suggest the followings as the causative factors behind the productions of such erroneous input by our future pillars of the nation:
        a) The first reason behind the production of such erroneous utterances is the INFLUENCE OF MOTHER TONGUE. As Benjamin Whorf rightly says “World view of a person is shaped by the language he uses……. we dissect the nature along the line given by our language”. So there is no difference between “wind” that we find in the atmosphere and that we keep in the balls, as for example. On the other hand, still we know “khanu” is incompatible with “drinking water” but we happen to use in Nepali language being the native speakers of the same. So such phenomena persists even to native speakers of the language as well and in the process of learning second language such naturally happens like Onty nine for twenty nine.
        b. The second reason that I found is SEMANTIC OVERLAPPING: If there is only one word for two concepts in source language but eh target language has more than one signifier, the occurance of similar responses can be found. Consider the example of ‘Khanu” in Nepali language which can be used for ‘pani, ausadhi, dhoka, churat, raksi, kasam, etc. and skin shoe and skin problem as well.
        c. According to the input we give, our kids produce the similar output. The tradition of asking ‘go..go’ is prevalent in the academic circles in Nepalese context and students also produce the same as the beginning phase of their learning career starts from imitating.
        d. Lack of proper training to teachers which is a self evident factor regarding the case of rural part of Nepal.
        I hope that we will be able to extract similar issues in the coming days and hope get similar constructive comments in the future as well.
        Thank you

        1. Parmeshworji,
          This is a very interesting conversation–to come out of a few humorous expressions by young learners. I agree with you about the causes. I think that as teachers of the English language, we should address those causes in order to teach correct English to our students. There is absolutely no doubt about that. I have spent more years in my life than I can believe today in teaching grammar and then linguistics–so the scholars and theories and explanations in your writing are familiar and convincing. That said, I am not sure that we can solve the problem of poor English even if we can educate our teachers about the theories behind those errors, even if we train them to death how to teach grammar better. Believe me or not, what our “English” education lacks is substance, relevance, and engagement. If we teach language for its own sake forever, we will be lost in its maze: our students need exciting substance to read and write with the language we teach. If we teach all the subjects of elementary and secondary education IN a foreign language while most students (and many teachers) struggle to fluently speak or fully understand the content of those disciplines, we will disconnect the learner from the object of learning in all those subjects: we need to reconnect learning to the learners, whose imagination and intellect need to be rekindled by taking off the screen of the medium. If we continue to impose content without regard to engagement and motivation among our students, we will be investing our efforts into sand: and refocusing on content and its relevance and wow factor among our students will help us put engagement back into the game. When I read language about language, I only say yeah–in a boring voice.
          Now, if you ask me how then I would teach English, get ready to disagree and be shocked–just kidding–I will only teach it in the English class, I will let my students listen to English programs on radio, and I will let them engage in informal/popular forms of communication where they can get exposed to English. My three year old has learned almost fluent English by watching TV; I learned it AFTER coming out of a torturous English medium school; and if you give me a 14 year old and ask me to teach him English, I will only need about 12 months–not 12 years, and no systematic suppression of his other linguistic/socio-cultural resources. That is why the English mania in Nepal rubs the wrong side of me.

      2. Shyamji,
        Thank you for the prompt reply on the issues I have raised. In deed, the suggestions that you have envisioned are first rate which one way or another yield better performance to our pupils. In the mean time, the problem is implicational. As you also might have experienced that there are a few teachers in our country who are updated with latest methodologies and technologies being practised in ELT arena in the world.
        On the other hand, as you talked about substance, relevance and engagement, I also do have the similar experience but, above all, we are planting a foreign tree in our native soil which speaks more than the mere words that we have been using in these discussion. By this I do not mean to say that we cannot produce people like Moti Nissani or Shree Dhar Lohani but these are some cases who got proper soil, watering, manure and a bless from the climate; as for example. But still there are teachers (whose name I should not mention in this public web portal) in our schools and even colleges who teach English in Nepali.
        I want to share my own experience that I got before joining Prithivi Narayan Multiple campus, Pokhara. Once I was making a casual visit (in deed I was job hunting at that time), I found one of the teachers of English teaching to the students of I. Ed. first year major English in which he was writing rules in English language but his sole explanation was in Nepali language. In the beginning I took it casually, but later on when I retrospected, I could not digest it. As we ( I along with that teacher) are colleagues now sometimes I crack joke to him if we meet together only. Since then i determined that whatever circumstance be, I will try to make my students speak Engllish and I wont use any mother tongue at the time of imparting knowledge to students.
        To be honest, it was a horrible experience to me at that time but still students were enjoying the class of that teacher. later on, when I asked him -why he did not use English language? His reply was that I was taught in the same fashion so I continued it.
        Still your thougths are mind blowing and lets continue similar discussions in the coming days which sharpens our ideas about Nepalese ELT scenrio and lets us know more about the same as well.

        1. Parmeshworji,
          Of course, I would teach English in English. With reference to your anecdote, to teach English in Nepali because one is too lazy to learn English is quite a different thing than what I was trying to say. My point was about the bigger picture of education imparted by the private school system–and more precisely the Nepali society’s forgetting of the difference between knowledge/education and language.
          Must add: I was totally surprised by your solid commitment to never use Nepali in the English classroom. I laughed (sorry). Are you sure that it is so bad to even allow students (or yourself) a little Nepali or Maithili or Newari for expressing something that you can better/only express in those languages? You said: “I wont use any mother tongue at the time of imparting knowledge to students.” I hope that you will not completely prohibit the use of local languages if you were teaching other subjects than English, say social studies?! I was even more surprised when you said that “it was a horrible experience to me at that time but still students were enjoying the class of that teacher.” To be entirely honest, I may disapprove of that teacher’s use of non-English languages as the primary medium of teaching English (or was he teaching some “ideas” in the field of education in general?), but I don’t understand why you were horrified to see someone using a local language to communicate the contents of a subject (again, assuming that was not an English language class), ESPECIALLY IF “still students were enjoying the class of that teacher.” This statement in your writing made me start wondering whether that was a better teacher than we are! I’m having fun talking to you today–in a very intellectually satisfying way. 🙂

    2. Dear Ishworji,
      First of all thank you very much for the invaluable comments you have made in my article and you might have read more similar instances of Neglish from Surendra Raj Adhikari as well.
      Obviously, learning a second language is a tedious job to the students where they get limited exposure, say 45 minutes out of 24 hours in a days in the case of Nepal and teaching second language by the non native teachers is also a very challenging job which we have been facing and witnessing since last some decades,
      The experience that I got to collect those instances are very funny and the grave of seriousness is also heavier as well. On the other hand, the reason behind such errors will be discussed in Shyamji’s comment’s reply from my end.

  2. Shyamji,
    What I was talking in my anecdote was that we are just teaching about English language not the language itself.
    Above all, I also enjoyed discussing with you about such trifle matter and hope that similar discussions will be done in the days to come as well.

  3. Shyamji,
    Most importantly I forgot to mention that the teacher was teaching Major English and if it would be the case of other subjects, it would be fine. As for example, the communicative method (approach) also advocates the judicious use of mother tongue at the time of teaching second language but you might have imagined the case that I mentioned in the example that I witnessed

    1. Oh, if the colleague was teaching major English, then that was too bad. And I think I know one good (or bad, actually) reason why that happens. The only objective of the teacher and his students was to “pass the exam” and the easiest way to do that was to understand the content in whatever way possible and… oops, wait, what did I just say? Did I say that they were trying to understand the “content”? Aha, then I think that the problem lies somewhere. Maybe the problem lies in “why” the teacher had to use a local language to teach say John Keats’ poems. Again, I always (or almost always) taught John Keats and Shakespeare in English, and I certainly won’t encourage anyone to teach major English in Maithili or Nepali, but if the students will much better understand a poem, a philosophical thought, or a linguistic concept in Nepali, I might use that “almost always” to make an exception and launch a lecture in jharro Nepali and amaze the students, before coming back to use English–looking at the window to see if the Principal is walking by 🙂

      1. Dear Parmeswor ji/ Shyam ji,

        Thank you so much for your valuable ideas, experiences in language teaching, and the anecdotes. The time spent together at Choutari was superb with dohori regarding English language among Nepali students. The reference started from whorf and arrived up to signifiers (FDS). The one and only thing we language teachers have to do is to provide enough environment to use English language and develop the interest in using English language so far side by side their native language as well. Children learn by doing something. Committing mistakes is also learning process. Cultural influence from mother language stands as a big stone at the construction site of English language learning. So the best way might be to use the stone of native culture as a wall of the building than to think more on removing the heaviest stone from the site.
        This is my first time attempt at Choutari. I am curious enough to spend some evenings at Choutari having Dohori in ELT issues.
        Thank you both of you for your quick response.

        1. Surendraji,
          I loved the conversation too–especially taking strong positions on an issue arising from a humorous entry! You are right about using our students’ different languages as positive assets, rather than roadblocks to good education–and even the process of teaching/learning English. We really want our students to speak and listen and read and write in English, as any English teacher knows. What we don’t want is to be stupid enough to believe and enforce an English Only policy. Yes, this policy is very, very common (and it will upset a lot of people when I say this out loud), but people (including me in the past) somehow absurdly believe that if you force students to “not” use other languages, they will learn the one that you force them to use. What-like, what-like thinking so many of us have bought into! I watched for twelve years in school as a student and twelve years while teaching that that doesn’t work! I debate the issue so passionately because I think the prohibition is pragmatically worthless, ethically irresponsible, culturally insensitive, and intellectual inept… विद्यार्थीलाई मज्जाले सप्पै थरिका भाषा बोल्न दिऊँ मनका कुरा खोल्न दिऊँ अनि हेरौं तिनको सोचाई, संसारको बुझाई, र सृजनशीलता फक्रिन थालेपछि अंग्रेजी भन्ने कुरा कति चांडो सिक्छन कति चांडो ! माने बुझ्नु ओर्नु छैन खाली पत्र पत्र बोक्रे वाक्य बोलेपछि भाषा जति सुद्ध भए पनि के गर्नु . खास भन्ने हो भने गुदीको विकास नभएर पनि त्यो व्हाट-लाइक व्हाट-लाइक अंग्रेजी बोलेका हुन्सक्छन वर्षौं वर्षसम्म .

  4. This is the best discussion ever in this blog yet.

    I really enjoyed reading all the comments. Looks like we have a ‘dohori’ going on here. These comments have enlightened me in my views towards such twisted-English-expressions (if I may) but have equally put me into lot of doubts.

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