The English Language’s Indispensable Position in Nepali Life: Is (not) it a problem?
It is not uncommon that most boarding schools in Nepal give high priority to the English language; it is also not uncommon that most of us tend to speak English more than our native language itself. Considering the popularity of English as the “global language” in Nepal, I sometimes wonder if it is unofficially the second language of Nepal. Although the language was once considered to be foreign in the country, it now has a multi-faceted position as an additional language, a second, and even a primary language among many. The language has now become an indispensable component of being a Nepali, affecting all aspects of their lives.
It is a common fact that most of us, those who studied in English-medium schools, have gotten in trouble with the teachers when we accidentally spoke in Nepali, were scolded harshly for, and were even made to pay a certain sum of money as a “fine“ for speaking in a language, a dialect native to us and that most of us had grown accustomed to. Thus, it is a “system” in Nepal that if you speak English, you can conquer anything you wish to; if you speak it well, you are smarter; if you are fluent in English but cannot speak some Nepali words, you are somewhat cooler. Nowadays, even the first words of a toddler, if uttered in English, make their parents proud.
Most might ask, “What’s the problem with it? Isn’t it much better if a language is spoken more?” Well, it is a huge problem, isn’t it? Especially among the present youth and even grave for the upcoming generations. Forget the younger generation, it has been a problem for me to begin with, when I fail to understand a lot of phrases spoken by my parents or whilst communicating with my local vendor when I ask “Could you repeat it…in English?” While some may argue that learning an international language can certainly be of no harm, it is often overlooked that by doing so, we may be forgetting our identity as a Nepali, we are forgetting our language, the language that will unite and comfort us even in a foreign place. And it is of particular irony, given that the first answer when asked “Who do you call a Nepali?” is most certainly “anyone who is from Nepal and speaks Nepali.” This stands to be true for not only Nepali but for dialects and mother-tongues that are spoken in other parts of Nepal as well, that have long been forgotten or are in the face of being so.
What we should be doing instead is learning both languages and prioritizing both equally. But what has and might become a problem is the acceptance of a foreign language while neglecting our own, at the cost of our history, our cultures, traditions, and our national heritage. But where does this gap start from? For me, the gap between us learning more English and beginning to forget Nepali has started with my parents and my school. Despite Nepali being a compulsory subject in school, most of us, and especially the students of private schools, hardly ever internalized the importance of the subject. Hence, it seems to be the students’ fault, the fault of the schools that prioritize English over Nepali. It is also the fault of our parents who take pride when we speak the global language but would not mind the carelessness that is shown to the native language. And most importantly, it is our fault, who do not find disliking our language as being problematic and fail to realize that prioritizing a foreign language over our own will prove to be difficult for us.
The current decade has witnessed an unprecedented spread of the English language worldwide. The popularity of the language has grown to the point where it is difficult to find any work without it. The irony is: this article could have been written in Nepali, but it is in English. Why? It is because the writer finds Nepali terribly difficult and could not even imagine doing it.