11. An English Teacher’s Dilemma

[This article appears on the Aug 2012 Issue of NELTA Choutari journal.]

Late became!

This is one of the common expressions students in my school use. I’ve been teaching English in a secondary school in Lalitpur for over a year, and here are few of the problems I have come across. The first one – the students, both juniors and seniors, have the habit of speaking in “progressive” almost all the time. For instance:
Sir, he is beating me and taking my book.
He is pushing for me.
She is pushing for him, and beating for him. And he is crying. (Their use of ‘for’, too)

I am not so sure how the students picked up this sort of English speaking habit in the school. But I think they might have picked it from the teachers in the first place. A common logic says – students learn from the teachers. May be from the English teachers, or may be from other subject teachers.

The school system says, we need to create English environment. Everyone must speak in English, both the teachers and the students (except for in the Nepali classes). This system is followed in most of the private boarding schools. I don’t know how far the system has been effective. But, I can’t change the system. If it was up to me, I would give the students a choice between learning other subjects in English or their mother tongue Nepali. I’m not sure if that would work either. Until that happens, the teachers need to stick with the system and try to be better at it somehow.

Coming back to my situation, the second problem – the students speak a weird form of English; a version which is a direct translation of Nepali to English and mixed with incorrect/unusual sentence structures. Some call it “nepanglish”. Some say its okay, and that we should use English in our own Nepali context. It will even help develop a new dialect of English, they say. Some, just like me, frown over it.

I’m facing this crisis in Class 9 and 10, every single day. I’m stuck in this strange dilemma – whether to finish the course in time and prepare them for the SLC exam or to teach them right from the basic grammar and basic English expressions.

May be the whole concept of teaching English in the schools has to be redefined. May be the system (like, English Speaking Zone) needs to be discarded. May be we’re giving pointless importance on English as a foreign language.

Or may be, we should be able to use English without grammatical errors and we need to strive for it. May be, we don’t have to speak correct version of English at all and we will still do well in future.

Lots of may be-s, lots of opinions.

Meanwhile, here’s a list of some “nepanglish” expressions I’ve heard students (and teachers alike) use in the school.

Homework became. /Give fast. (Fast giving.)/ I am not beating him and. (Yes, they end the sentence with an ‘and’) / Book give. / Headache making. / Homework show. / Fall downing. Take outing. Get upping. / I am catching book. / Shouting much yeah? / Have must go home. / Have you pen? / Angry coming for me. / Nonsense fellow, Hero becoming? / Late became.

Well, how is it at your school?

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4 thoughts on “11. An English Teacher’s Dilemma

  1. Oh my goodness, what a terrible rule – that “English only” 😦
    Why does history always have to repeat itself?
    In 1928, there used to be a sign in schools in the North-west of France – the region called Brittany, which used to have its own language, “Breton”. – Those signs said “It is forbidden to spit on the floor and to speak Breton”. So the teachers who spoke Breton at home had a “French only rule” which they applied so meticulously that the Breton language almost died out. Now, everyone is trying to resuscitate it thanks to the establishment of bi-lingual schools, where the children go to LEARN Breton.
    The same thing happened in Wales in the UK. Their language, welsh, was on the point of dying out, when it was resuscitated by means of bilingual schools and a strong television channel.
    M.A.K. Halliday’s theory of “social semiotics” from the 1970s has found much theoretical backing from all the philosophy of “fuzzy grammar” and the likes and demonstrates the importance of the the language of instruction.
    Yes, it’s important to speak the international language (English) but only as an additional language and not a medium of instruction.
    Using English (any variety of English that is) as the primary language of instruction is signing the death of Nepali – relegating it to the status of secondary (inferior) language in it’s own country – and, personally I find that very sad.
    As you say yourself – should you take time off teaching the SO MANY other things which children can benefit from learning, in order to teach them English in some sort of standard (whose standard) form.
    I teach in a non-English speaking environment, and I am constantly fighting to keep it that way.
    Apart from anything else, we English teachers would be out of a job LOL

    • Hi Elizabeth, thanks for the comment and sharing your experience.

      The education system (and concept in many educationists) in Nepal is based on confusion. Schools and colleges (especially the private ones) focus way too much on English as a medium of instruction. On the other hand, the government run schools have English as a subject, not necessarily as an instruction medium.

      But that’s the system and there’s not much I can do individually.

      I’m quite curious to know about your own class, and how you manage to teach English in a non-English speaking environment. Hope you can share some stuffs.

  2. This ‘English only’ rule is a big problem to many students. I remember that my friends could neither speak correct English (ultimately using nepanglish in their writing) and could not develop communication skills in Nepali as well.

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