Friday, 24 September, 2021

Perceiving English Language In Nepali Context

Rajendra Baral

It is almost universally acknowledged that English is the most common global language today. It is widely read, spoken and written than any other language. David Graddol in his book, 'English Next' classifies English into four stages viz. Old English, Middle English, Modern English and Global English. Global English is dominating the pedagogical and socio-political arenas today. During our school days, English was a foreign language, the language of the White skin or Kuhire, as we used to say and it was that only British English was a standard one.
But now, with the learning materials made available and teachers' exposure to the outside world, English is becoming a passport to success and various opportunities and there is a growing use and demand of English publicly and institutionally. Officially, it is still a foreign language, yet due to importance and popularity, it is becoming second; English has been in everyone's mindset, in speaking habits, eating habits, visiting habits etc. in Nepalese context, English, as a medium, is a means of communication and going abroad; as a subject and discipline, it is taught and learned from primary to tertiary level.
Now, the Federal Republic of Nepal has undergone several changes in social and political sectors and in linguistic plans and policies. Nepali is the mother tongue and official tongue whereas English is second and foreign language in our context. Even then, it is felt that English has overshadowed other vernacular languages or indigenous languages of the country. Nepal falls in the third concentric division as referred by Kachru (1992) which is called expanding circle. The other two circles he refers to are the inner circle and the outer circle.
The inner circle refers to the context of core countries like the USA, the UK, New Zealand, Canada and Australia where English is the first or native language. The outer circle refers to the countries where English as the second language has got entry through colonisation like in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria among others. The expanding circle that Nepal also belongs to represents the large linguistic context in which English is treated as a foreign language (EFL). This classification has blurred and debunked the constructs like native speakers and non-native speakers, standard and non-standard English and non-native language speakers. Nowadays, non-native language speakers have outnumbered the native speakers. Ours is also a non-native context.
Although English entered into Nepal as a trade language at first in the Malla dynasty (17th century), yet, English education came into use since 1892 with the Rana regime using it as the status symbol, power and prestige of the elite like the Ranas. English soon became the symbol of status, power and prestige and a means to divide people into the rulers and the ruled. Let it be: Nepal has no Nepali-specific variety of English as British, American or Indian variants. It is heavily influenced by the Indo-Aryan languages of Nepal and it has its own nomenclature as Nepaenglish, Nenglish and Neplish in colloquial sense.
However, it is different from South Asian English which is synonymous with Indian English as Nepalese speakers learn and speak English not to communicate with South Asians but with the people of the USA, the UK, Singapore, etc. Through currents and under currents of continental history, Nepal has now practised English from primary to tertiary level at both private and government levels. It has now served as a link language or lingua franca between people of different regions with different languages. English has won its domination now to acquire scientific and technological knowledge, international communication, mass media, transportation and education.
There is a critical discourse regarding Nepaenglish that with the rise of globalisation and Neo-liberalization, the English language is also being commodified and practised in some sections of the society as a source of hegemony, power or domination over other languages. No doubt, in terms of local realities and practices, English has gained popularity as an additional language and second language among several other languages (123) and ethnic groups (125) according to the last census 2011 of the country. It also shows that Nepal has multilingual and multicultural settings with different ethnic groups.

Problems and Possibilities
Although English is widespread in many areas of Nepali life and is seen as a passport to a better future, yet, digital proficiency and availability of logistics and learning tools is a pressing concern in communication and pedagogy. A number of challenges have also been noted in terms of the use of teaching/learning resources both at school and college levels.
It is a general tendency in Nepal that private boarding schools are for promoting English and equipping students with English and government-run schools are for both Nepali and English. Lightly speaking, Nepali is the mother tongue of the mothers; children most of the time speak to mothers in the kitchen at home in Nepali and indigenous languages.
English is the father tongue and children tongues of private schools! Many mothers and women with little or no education and outside exposure are deprived of speaking English at home. English is a compulsory subject at schools but optional at home!. It indicates that the English environment at home and schools or workplaces is different. It is still a challenge to position and balance both mother tongue and other tongues or native and non-native context. Nepali speakers of the English language are bound to either imitate foreign accents and tongues or make compromises with Nepaenglish.
However, the ecology of language and ecology of learners contend that any language we practice should be brought into local contexts, local realities, local communities and local needs so as to reclaim the power of language and adapt it to suit the context.

English and English Dichotomy
English should be only a means to communicate or express the rich human experiences, diverse cultures and religious practices, environment and learners’ life. English is a tool or means and not the end. However, there is a trend in Nepal of "only English" or "English zone" or "Englishization" as in private schools and colleges. Despite that, there is a growing trend of recognising English. English is no longer monolithic. Now, the standard has become a myth and an ideological construct. No English is standard or non-standard, British or American. English today is at a crossroads! For instance, TESOL refers to Teaching English to the Speakers of Other Languages. In Nepal, English is also one non-native variety of English like Australian English, Canadian English etc.
A professionally prepared teacher should be proficient in teaching deconstructing and demystifying the native and non-native labelling of English and its speakers. It is generally perceived that a proficient and efficient teacher tries his/ her best to expose students to local context through local pro-environmental behaviors, values, beliefs and norms, language games, pictures, realia, role plays, examples and demonstrations, smaller tasks like English camps, language games, community services, sanitation programs, and even code-switching to a strategic purpose. What is important is creating a natural and supportive environment for the learners of English. A French linguist Ronald Barthes in ''The Death of the Author'' opines that this is the age of readers/learners and not of the authors/ teachers.

Balancing Language Ecology
It is not bad to invest time and money in English but it is better to draw parallels to local languages too. We have our own people group’s language to lay golden eggs. It is really complex and multifaceted but it is a high time to rethink, reformulate or adapt our present way of teaching and learning English and develop a new language learning model – maybe multimodal(visual/oral) analysis or eclectic method or heuristic method. Only methodologies should not overload the teaching and learning strategies of English.
Ecological approach viz. local ecology of language, learners' ecology, classroom ecology and situatedness or local texts and local multilingual contexts to promote language skills should also be taken into consideration. As an English teacher, a teacher is bound to speak English or create an English environment. Even then, there is a velvet hangover that many English teachers in Nepalese context speak English not as mandatory but additional; they very often code-switch and code-mix in the classes.
English as a medium of instruction is not a big deal. But if it is imposed, it fossilises and engulfs other languages and target learners cannot be proficient in both their native and second language realities. One thing is sure whether English or any foreign language is not a panacea to all ills but just a tool. As for current English Language Teaching (ELT) practices in Nepal, we have noted three main areas viz. globalization, localization and interdisciplinary collaboration. Therefore, it is a teacher's job to integrate and balance mother tongue, other tongues like local dialects, idiolects, indigenous languages etc. and English as a second and foreign language and maintain equilibrium in Nepalese context. English as a language is being deconstructed and now it is dependent on its many varieties and forms, even Nenglish or Nepaenglish itself! That's a wrap for now!

(Baral is an Associate Professor of English and NELTA Chair, Ilam)