The debates over the use of mother tongue and English as medium of instructions in the schools of Nepal have often led to the question whether the discussion on the status of English is considered while making policies in this regard. This blog post mainly attempts at exploring the issues related to language policy and English language teaching (ELT) in Nepal.
I divide this blog into three different sections. The first section deals with my
own experience of leaning different languages as a multilingual speaker. In the second section, I draw on the insights from making language policy before I conclude with a proposal of three languages policy as used in developing countries for an option of language policy in Nepal.
My Journey of Multilingual Speaker
I was born and brought up in a rural village of Terai region of Nepal. It is a monolingual community of Maithili speakers. When I reflect on my journey as a multilingual speaker, I find that I have never realized the need of learning language until I got enrolled in school. By then, I had already acquired my mother tongue without being aware of it. Then, I realized that my mother tongue was not sufficient to pursue formal education since Nepali was the medium of instruction (MOI) in the school. Consequently, I learnt Nepali language throughout schooling. Besides being the MOI, Nepali is a compulsory subject which is prescribed in the school curriculum with a view to develop knowledge and skills in Nepali language among the students. Yet, I admit that I have not been able to develop my proficiency in Nepali language despite a decade of learning language.
On the other hand, my nephew and niece were taken by maternal uncle at Hetauda in Makwanpur district for their schooling. Unlike my home town, Hetauda is a community of Nepali speakers. Just after a couple of years, they became fluent speakers of Nepali. They speak Nepali better than me even though both of my school and college taught me Nepali. Their accent is similar that of native speakers. I have a kind of Maithilized accent while speaking Nepali while they have developed mastery over it.
As far as my journey of learning English language is concerned, it appears to be more difficult than learning Nepali. In fact, I started learning English when I was a fourth grader. There was a limited exposure and practice in English classroom. Even as a school graduate, I was unable to express myself in English. I could not write a couple of paragraphs effectively. Later, after I decided to pursue English language as major subject at intermediate level, I worked hard to improve my English language proficiency. Despite the hard work, I failed to secure good score. Nevertheless, it boosted my confidence and I started teaching English in an English medium private school. The experience of teaching English proved to be significant in enhancing speaking skill in English.
Reflecting on the experience of learning language
Reflecting on the experience of language learning would be worthwhile for further discussion. As a student of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), I find these reflections quite useful in terms of learning language or to ignite the discussion.
First, the exposure and opportunity to practice plays a key role in learning a language. My nephew and niece got sufficient language exposure and opportunity to practice the language in and outside classroom. They got authentic language exposure from native-speakers of Nepali, whereas I got limited exposure and most often from non-native speakers of Nepali in formal settings.
Next, the duration of formal instruction does not matter most in language learning. Although I spent longer duration in learning Nepali language, I could not get mastery over it. However, my nephew and niece became proficient speakers within a short period of time. The third important factor in learning language is the need to speak target language. In case of learning Nepali, I, as someone from a monolingual Maithili speaking community, did not feel the need of using it outside classroom throughout my school and college level.
Finally, acculturation equally seems to be the most important factor in learning a language. My nephew and niece were benefited in learning Nepali since they lived in the target language community and have adopted the target culture.
Language Policy and ELT
For a multilingual country, making language policy has always become a debatable issue, and Nepal cannot remain apart. It is more than a linguistic discourse since it is also associated with culture and identity. In that sense, language becomes a political issue. A single or monolingual language policy may have significant impact on many of the indigenous languages. That is to say, an appropriate language policy can determine the fate of 123 languages spoken in the country. Hence, there must be a comprehensive language policy that can preserve local languages, respect national language and incorporate English as a global language.
Before discussing on a possible language policy in Nepal, looking into four different aspects of ELT — status of English in Nepal, English as medium of instruction, the level to introduce English language and indigenous languages, culture and identity — will be noteworthy.
1. Status of English in Nepal
The status of English seems to have influence on language policy. Sometimes, English is taken as a library language, generally used for academic purpose (Poudel, 2016) but other times, English is claimed to have multi faces as it serves multiple functions like instrumental, regulative, interpersonal and creative (Giri, 2014). This shows that there is lack of consensus on whether English is used as a second or foreign language in Nepal.
Furthermore, it also leads to the further question where Nepal lies in ‘Three Concentric Circles of Asian English: The Inner Circle, The Outer Circle, and The Expanding Circle’ (Kachru, 2006). Can we claim for own variety of the English, often termed as Nengish instead of trying to fit in the above category? As he suggests, the pluralistic nature of English might bring numerous possibilities in our context. Thus, it is necessary to decide the status of English and make English language policy and implement it accordingly. For instance, if we limit English for academic purpose, the present notional-functional syllabus used at school level may not work. Instead, we need to bring reading and writing skills in the light.
2. English as a Medium of Instruction
When we look at the language policy at regional level, it is found that English is used as the medium of instruction in non-language classes across school levels in four Asian nations (Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Sri Lanka) where English is used a second language (Choi & Lee, 2008). It can be noticed that English is used as the MOI only in those countries where English is spoken as a second language. However, it cannot be taken as second language in Nepal. Arguably, it would not be justifiable to use English as MOI in the schools of Nepal. This can be used in the tertiary level but not right from primary level.
3. Appropriate level to Introduce English Language Teaching
In neighboring countries, there are differences in the level/grade of introducing English language teaching. English is taught from grade one in most of these countries such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the UAE, Taipei in Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand. Similarly, Korea and China begin teaching English from grade three, Israel from grade four, Iran and Vietnam from six, and Japan and Indonesia from grade seven (Choi & Lee, 2008).
In Nepal, English in now taught from first grade (even in pre-school) in community schools and from kindergarten in private schools. The decision to use English from grade one lacks any substantive researches. Interestingly, many argue that a handful of non- academic people made the decision based on their own judgments. This suggests that the issue of appropriate level of introducing English language teaching needs to be explored, analyzed and discussed as a part of ELT research.
4. Indigenous Languages Culture and Identity
The growing demand of English has significant impact on indigenous languages. Philipson (1992) considers global English as a medium of linguistic imperialism stating that the spread of English is one of the many factors contributing to the tragic loss of indigenous languages around the world. Nepal cannot be an exception. Many of the languages here are found being extinct or not given due attention to preserve it due to the dominance of English language. This, furthermore, has also effect on the local culture and identity. Speakers of such languages find loss of identity and recognition. Thus, there is a growing concern to give due respect to local culture and indigenous languages. This can be done by bringing such a language policy that can balance the role of international, national and local languages in multi-lingual community like ours.
Possible Language Policy in Nepal
From the discussion above, it seems to be clear that making language policy is a serious and delicate issue as it is also related to culture and identity of the language speakers. Hence, it would be better to look at the language policy of multilingual countries. From a close study, we can find that mostly the developing countries across the world seem to have used three languages policy. Regarding this, Keeves and Darmawan (2007) state that it is necessary for young people to learn at least three languages, namely their mother tongue (L1), the national language (NL), and a foreign language (FL), that is rapidly becoming English in non-English speaking countries. In case of Nepal, the policy includes mother tongues, like Maithili, Newari, Bhojpuri, etc. as L1, Nepali, as the NL and English as an FL. This would give students from developing countries like ours an opportunity to obtain the benefits of globalization and engagement in trade.
Yet, challenges ahead are to implement such a policy since there are 123 languages in the country. The effective implementation of this policy needs proper curriculum design and preparation of teaching materials and trained language teachers.
About the Author
Gyanendra Kumar Yadav is a lecturer of English at a community college in Lalitpur. Recently, he is pursuing his M. Phil in English Language Education from Kathmandu University School of Education. He is also a life member of NELTA (Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association) and has presented papers in NELTA conferences. His areas of interest include teaching English through literature and teachers’ professional development, and critical pedagogy.
Choi, Y. H., & Lee, H. W. (2008). Current trends and issues in English language education in Asia. The Journal of AsiaTEFL, 5(2), 1-34.
Giri, R. A. (2014). Changing faces of English: why English is not a foreign in Nepal. Journal of World Languages1(3), 192-209.
Kachru, Y., & Nelson, C. L. (2006). World Englishes in Asian Contexts. Hong Kong
Keeves, J. P., & Darmawan, I. (2007). Issues in Language Learning. International Education Journal, 8(2), 16-26.
Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Poudel, T. (2016). English in Nepal from colonial legacy to professionalism. ELT Chaoutari.
retrieved from https://eltchoutari.com/2016/01/english-in-nepal-from-colonial-legacy-to