Let’s Leave English as English

Resham Bahadur Bista

I joined my college and started to study English without knowing the real purpose of studying English. I was enchanted towards English because of its charming in my school. There was always the scarcity of the teachers of English in the school. The people who used to speak English were supposed to be great and unique in the context of the village. Many people of my village want to make their children prefect in English. Because of the latent influence of English in my immature psychology, I started to study English. With the passage of time, basically I knew that we get pleasure reading English and to be extra-ordinary in the society.

Now my realization is quite different about the influence of English. I think we waste our half of lives reading the bulky English books about European and American lives, arts, cultures, philosophies and the English language. Most of the students are enrolled in English department for the study of English in our universities. The Nepali language, arts, cultures, literature etc. seem to be ignored in our universities because there are very few students to study these subjects. We all are enchanted towards English to seek jobs, name and fame. We are lured towards it with a hope of being consumed in the international market. English has been taken as a subject to minimize the distance between the local and the global in the contemporary world. It brings the people of world close together, creates the global village as a contact language. It is an international language, spoken all over the world, and a medium of developing the bilateral and multilateral relationships among the countries of the world today.

These are the basic widespread assumptions of the English language which we share in our classrooms. After completion of my masters’ degree, I started to teach in schools and colleges and shared such assumptions of English that I had got in my studies. I am pursuing my career by teaching the English language, literature, culture, history and sociology of Europe and America. Our issues of classroom are the issues of dense technologically advanced society of Europe and America which may not match in our society. Now questions are raise in my monotonous mind influenced by English: Is our mind not colonized by the English language? Are we wasting our time and efforts by reading those bulky books of English which are intend to colonize our mind and body? Are we independent as the legacy of colonized mind? These unanswered questions always haunt my parasitic mind. Frankly telling, we are parasitized by the hidden agenda of westernization and Americanization.

Everyone knows that literature is the mirror of the society and should serve the society because human consciousness is always determined by the political, social and cultural phenomena of a society. But what the western literary texts teach us is that non-western people are vulgar, lusty, spiritual and uncivilized whereas westerns are calm, civilized and superior. They labeled us as uncivilized by creating dichotomy between the East and the West. Although we people always worship to westerners and imitate their life-styles and behaviors, we have forgotten our own socio-economic values and the smell of maternal soil but we only dream of Europe and America. What is our own academic uniqueness? European and American are in our schools and universities with disguised forms; we are coloring their notions in our ground and adopting them in the name of being enlightened.

Most of our universities have prescribed the English curriculum as designed by the west in the name of meeting the international standard. Bulky books of art, philosophy, literature, pedagogy and theory and teaching methodology developed and designed by the westerners are taught in our schools universities. To some extent, all these may not necessarily be suitable in our contexts. The ideas given in their books can not correspond to our local realities. What is the utility of those theories, philosophies, teaching methods, and techniques developed by westerns in our contexts, where almost half of the population is either illiterate or semi-literate? Why does our government not make any strategies to make them literate and cope up with the problematic situations of our context? What is the use of these different Isms to us who do not have even a nice pair of cloths to put on?

Such a condition of English has exploited our freedom and virginity. It does not lead us to freedom, prosperity, and liberty. Instead it corrupts our body and soul. We are absurd puppets dancing with the tunes of others. After 1950s, the formal colonization of the West was stagnated by the third world countries and the movements taken place in different epochs of history. Then the notion of imperialism starts to spread in the world in disguised forms to spread its knowledge, culture, and manner in the developing and undeveloped countries. It comes in the East to learn and support us in different sectors. They are imposing colonialists’ discourses through the English language. The influence of English upon the colonized people was started from the time of formal colonization. In this regard, Tyson mentions, “that so many people formally colonized by Britain speak English, write in English, use English in their schools and universities, and conduct government business in English, in addition to the local languages they may use at home, is an indication of the residual effect of colonial domination on their cultures. In fact, the dynamic psychological and social interplay between what ex-colonial populations considers their native, indigenous, pre-colonial culture and the British culture that was on them constitutes a large portion…”(p.419).

Tyson says that the influence of English was started during the time of British colonization period. Colonized people started to speak English because of the colonizers’ influence. So English does not depict our own identity. The long history of English in the non-western world is influenced by colonizers. Now the English of our classroom is also an indirect and latent form of colonization. So, let us be aware of this fact and not support imperialistic tendency. As we all know that the truth and facts of life are not solved by studying the Westerners’ arts, literature, and philosophy. There are no more rubbers than the Western hegemonic books and tendency.

In such situation what should be done? Do we avoid the English or not in the context of non-western? In Nepal, it is very difficult to adopt the English absolutely because Nepal is very rich in diverse culture and language. There are many languages communities in Nepal like Tharu, Kirat, Newari and Maitili, etc. There is a danger of elimination of Nepali and indigenous languages unless the proper policies and their effective implementations. On the other hand, the craze of English is expanding day by day because of the hegemony of westernization. So, non-westerners are in the ambivalence position about the adopting the English.

In Nepal English was once the language of elites and rulers but now it has reached the access of mass from urban cities to remote village. It has become the indicator of civilized, educated and qualified persons in the context of our country. Whether rich or poor each class has tested the fruit of English. Now people of third world cannot separate from English because it has hallucination to them. America produces the coca cola and sends it in third world, people of third world start to drink it. They are habituated with its taste. Now, they have forgotten the taste of MOHI (local drink made by curt which is replaced by coca-cola). In the same way English in our context is in the form of coca-cola, which is replacing our indigenous languages.

In Nepal, thousands of English academic institutions are mushrooming day by day treating their areas as an ‘English speaking zones’. Nepalese literary texts; poems, essays, fictions etc. have also been written in English. Likewise, mass media- FM radios, newspapers and online editions have accelerated towards the use of English. A number of journals, books and periodicals are produced in English. The professional organizations such as NELTA, GAN have been enhancing the use of English in Nepal. Even in government funded schools children start to study English right from the grade one. Many such schools are shifting their medium of instruction from Nepali to English. The middle and high class families of Nepal prefer to send their children in English medium schools to government funded schools, not because the public schools do not have good infrastructure, teaching staff, environment etc., but because of the medium of instruction. Whether or not we like the spread of English, it is spreading with its leaps and bounds all over the world.

The use of English has also created some questions. What types of English Nepal should adopt either American or British? Does Nepal develop the Nenglish? If we adopt American or British English certainly it will kill the local dialects and harm for indigenous lives and culture. Nenglish in Nepal is not possible to exercise because of the limited resources and small population. So in this situation English is not adopted as its American and British form in the context of Nepal. It is essential to advocate local varieties of English, because a language cannot be taught without properly knowing the account of socio-economic and cultural system of certain places. In one of the training sessions of NELTA, a professor from the west is taking a class about how to teach color to the deaf child. He pointed out that it is necessary to explain the activities of wedding ceremony to tell about the white color to the deaf child. But it is not suitable for the people of Hindu community because Hindu people wear red dress in the wedding ceremony. So the socio-cultural and geopolitical conditions should be considered for the excepted outcome of using English.

There are different varieties of English because of which the teacher also gets confused. An event of my life, I went to a school to apply for the post of a +2 level English teacher with my resume. I handed my resume to the principal and said, “This is my resume, sir”. He winced on his face as soon as he had a glimpse on it. He told to me, “You do not know how to write bio-data and I provide you a sample of it”. Our conversation broke down and I returned home from there feeling embarrassed. I had formed it in American format so he did not like it. It should be developed in British format for him. Recently my 10 years nephew, Anil, was angry and blamed me for that because I had recommended him to write color, center and sox instead of colour, centre and sock respectively. His English teacher crossed those words in red due to the incorrect spelling. I tried my best to convince him about the variation of English words but he never believes me. Now he never comes to learn English with me thinking that my English is faulty. There are variations of words in British and American English like cab or taxi, center or centre, organization or organisation, underground or subway, gas or petrol, fall or autumn, candy or sweets, cookies or biscuits, movies or film etc. If we ask questions to the professors of English about the difference between British, American, New Zealand and Australian English, they say that there is no difference in the use of those words. But when a student writes program instead of programme, do we accept? So, to my knowledge and understanding, English is itself a contradictory and deconstructive means because of its nature and variations. It is the symbol of western hegemony as mentioned by the Antonio Gramsci. So let’s leave English as English.

12 thoughts on “Let’s Leave English as English

  1. English has grown everywhere in the world. But I do not think it obstructs other language to grow. I remember our Guru Prof. Dr. G R Bhattarai had once said “I have been teaching English for many decades, English is here, there and everywhere in my life but I have not dreamed in English. I dream in Nepali, my mother tongue”. Whichever language it be it cannot substitute ones’ mother tongue until on is totally out of the mother language speaking community i think.
    So far as the superiority of the western culture is concerned, it s not only because of English language. We can see many countries and societies in the Europe exposing their superiority even without English language. For me Western domination, either this be philosophical, psychological,cultural, social, economical, political, or intellectual- is not caused by language. it is only the medium of expression. They are not dominating us less even after they change their language. This is not the linguistic issue that has made us inferior to them.
    A fox may lose its teeth but its habit…?
    We can develop our own texts in English to replace the western thoughts, and contextual examples. Let not think about one particular variety of English. We are at the stage of International English among many Englishes. International English should be our focus that is not the native language of anyone.
    Varieties in language is universal. We do not have to worry about the varieties of English. Our own native language Nepali also has many varieties from the east to the west and in different genres and fields, let not count the individual varieties: idiolects.
    This is my belief. I honestly respect the ideas reflected in the article.

    1. But, Rajan, English is the tool/means–whether people and societies consciously intend to use it as such–through which the “domination, either this be philosophical, psychological, cultural, social, econonmical, political, or intellectual” happens. Let us say that our “intention” is to use Khas Nepali as an official language of Nepal, as medium of instruction, etc as a neutral and the only available common language for the speakers of Rai, Magar, Tharu, Khas Nepali and all the other language communities in Nepal. Let us suppose that in enforcing Khas Nepali as the common medium we are “purely” interested in coming together for engaging in philosophical, cultural, social, economic, political… discourses. Okay, but this is impossible, right? Consider what happens to the Limbu teenager who is far better able to express her ideas about culture in her own language, the Tharu old man who needs to defend himself against his Khas speaking adversaries in court, the Magar woman whose marketing skill as a medical representative depends heavily on the proficiency of a language she is at a disadvantage. The intention of the Khas speaking majority may not be to cause all these challenges for others, but this is an inevitable reality of language dynamics. No, we cannot reject or resist the use of English. But we can acknowledge the problems it causes in the area of political, cultural, social, economic discourses and activities.

      1. You may be right there but my instance was that English as a second or foreign language does not do any harm for any language to develop and we should not hesitate to acknowledge English as a lingua franca.
        Let us develop all the indigenous languages together. They should also be the medium of instruction, communication and all the official affairs. But scolding English does not work. This is only what I mean to say. And the English that I wanted to highlight was not the mother tongue of any nationality.

  2. Rajan, I do not accept the way Resham has applied postcolonialism to the argument about language policy in the essay either. Specifically, I don’t think we need to resent English as some kind of colonizing force. Nothing is free from the dynamics of power; in fact, even resistance (like the intellectual resistance I think we need to cultivate against those who’d like to embrace English and obliterate local languages and epistemologies) is a mode of power. So, while English is a tool of power (it can’t help being otherwise), the power of those who appropriate, resist, adapt, etc is also significant. Thus, I think that we need to distinguish resistance from resentment, critical outlook from rejection. Resham’s argument gives me the impression of rejection and resentment rather than urging a critical outlook and productive resistance.
    That said, I also find the other end of that argument, as in your response to Resham’s critique of English based on postcolonial theory–that to cultivate a critical view of English medium’s displacement of local languages is simply “scolding” English–is rather unconvincing. Societies of all kinds around the world now claim ownership to all kinds of Englishes and they are all at different kinds of advantage due to that claim. But that claim of ownership doesn’t make some of the realities change. For example, English IS the first/home language of people in a few “first world” countries, which also happen to have too much political clout over the world; in trying to promote their language, culture, economies, lifestyles, technologies… they may not “intend” to do anyone any harm (indeed, many English speaking citizens of the Western world are some of the best promoters of languages, cultures… and mutual respect and peace and harmony in the world). But vehicles of power like language and culture, and money, don’t need bad intentions. Languages of dominant communities dominate other languages, and so do cultures and economies and political systems.
    Fortunately, power almost automatically gives rise to resistance, and resistance leads to richer, better, fairer discourses and practices in any field. The question is not whether we should blindly accept English as the language we too own and we too benefit from. We can feel that way if we want. The question is how do we teach, learn, and develop academic policies and cultures without letting it trample the place of other languages. The question is how do we promote multilingualism in a country that has always been multilingual.

  3. I’m going to be pretty short here.
    All these discussions are party inconclusive and party meaningless (and may be just an ego-trip in some ways) because these discussions never talk about the most crucial factor, which is – what a learner wants. There ARE learners/students/people who are also informed and make a choice suitable to their desire/objective/aim. They are not some mute obedient sheep, are they! Educators and teachers have been talking about ‘student-centeredness’ for a while now. How about ‘what-a-learner-wants-ness’ too.

    1. Umes, As a former editor and current reader of this blog, I like to read your comments. They are sharp and thought-provoking. For example, your comment above about the need to recognize agency and will in the learner is an extremely important one. When ELT scholars theorize issues about teaching/learning or language/literacy they do tend to forget the learn-er altogether. Your kind of commentary helps people stay on the ground. But I also have to admit that I don’t understand why you find this need to bash the blog, its contributors, and its editors. We don’t need “conclusive” discussions, do we? Let’s encourage people to join the conversation, and let the conversation continue–inconclusively if it will. In fact, I am not sure this blog is out there to resolve any issues in a “meaningful” way; I mean different people will say different things, and we should let people to also post half-baked thoughts (which may not seem very meaningful to more knowledgeable people). So, I must add that we don’t need to insult people by judging their contribution by using such language as “ego trips.” Even if you think that that is the case, may I ask, as simply another reader of the post and a fellow member of NELTA, that you please do not actually use such language on the site? Let us be polite in public space, my friend. It is just us, fellow teachers, and we can afford to be friendly even as we are critical of one another’s ideas. Please correct me if I misunderstood you about your use of the apparently insulting phrase (please don’t explain it, because anyone can say such things about anyone else, and we shouldn’t be judging intentions). Again, as a reader, I find the other element of your comments–the critical but head-on response to the content of the entries–very useful.

      1. Dear Shyam sir,
        I was just being short and direct.. and never intended to ‘insult’ anyone. I was not being particular about this post or contributor, I was talking in a more general way.

        I could have said the same thing in 3000 words meandering from here and there (just as most of us are accustomed to do so) and could have published the same in a newspaper column, but… if my comments/posts seem like a “let’s bash them up for nothing” session to the contributors of the blog, I feel really sorry for that.


        I wonder, if this is a truly Nepali construct – to infer anything direct and curt as an insult or a challenge to someone’s authority and intelligence. I guess it is not a part of Nepali discourse 🙂

        1. I don’t know, Umes Sir (or, let’s just use first names, if that’s okay). I am a big fan of brief and direct points, the latter more than the former when separate. I will admit that I may have read your comment through the lens of skepticism based on my memory of one or two of your previous comments which were almost hurtful to contributors. I shouldn’t have done that. When you used the term “ego-trip,” you might have meant to make a light and funny point about all of us on social/professional networks, where we all post responses, updates, images, and somehow self-promote ourselves. It may be that as teachers and scholars who like to be connected, we all are prone to that human weakness of self-marketing, in more or less subtle ways! But we could also accept that as an inevitable part, indeed part of a larger beneficial consequence, of social/professional networking–as you might have meant to indicate. If that’s the case, I’m sure that this is not the only site that phenomenon occurs. And, yes, as you indicate, it’s possible that we Nepalis don’t like direct and curt messages, but in my experience, people in other societies where I’ve lived often tolerate that even less, I mean in the professional spaces. You ask how I know that? I too have that tendency of making blunt responses 🙂 and hoping 🙁 that no one will be offended! But I can assure you that it’s not just Nepali, it’s what people want the professional domain to be like. Thanks again, for the conversation. Your posts make Choutari a richer place! Hope to read more in the future.

  4. Few questions to the writer and to everyone:

    “In the same way English in our context is in the form of coca-cola, which is replacing our indigenous languages.”
    Why do you resent this fact?

    “to advocate local varieties of English”
    As a teacher, how would you handle differences in English varieties, for example, the spellings programme vs program, centre vs center, colour vs color?

    “But when a student writes program instead of programme, do we accept?”
    Well, what do you do? Do you accept both spellings?

    And, most importantly, what do you suggest the ELT community of Nepal should do about these issue?

    1. As a teacher, I too don’t hesitate to enforce a consistent standard. Consistency makes everyone’s life easier, especially the students’. The idea of local variety can be very problematic if people begin to excuse their poor language skills with “Oh, this is local variety” (and I’ve seen a lot of situations like that). Local varieties are “recognized” by those who “study” language, after they’ve become widely accepted in the public domain, but in the academic setting, there are not many uses/reasons for accepting any and every variation. Here is one situation where we should accept features of local variety in the classroom: the learner is aware that those features are local, has a rhetorical purpose for using them, and he/she is capable of using the standard alternative first.
      Regarding the argument that English can replace/weaken local languages, I think that this is a real concern and educators should be the last group of people to call resistance to the power dynamics of language “resentment.” There is a difference, and resistance is often extremely valuable. As language teachers and scholars, we are perhaps the best qualified people to explore that dynamic and not seek easy answers, like whether we should have it all or give it all up. We may not be able to reverse larger social patterns, but we can at least remember this: there may be benefits of adopting a “world” language in life and learning, but there are NO BENEFITS of giving up on local languages. As I jokingly tell a ten year old son of a Nepali friend: “If you start speaking English only, I am going to tell your dad to have you learn a third language. Which one would you like to learn–Spanish or Chinese?” Even that young boy understands the idea.

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