The Fear of English
Nov. 15, 2021
Punam got distracted when a student started constantly disrupting her class. The student was notoriously shy to speak in English but when it came to disturbing classes, Punam sometimes used to get furious over his acts. But seeing the teacher angry he got nervous and he forgot all his inhibitions towards English and blurted out “Don’t mind me miss, I was just joking!” Upon hearing the child speak a grammatically correct line Punam’s frustration dissipated. “I was shocked when the child spoke a perfect sentence in English,” she said.
Punam’s shock does not come off as a surprise. English is merely a language for many in her placement school in Ghermu, which is an older route to a famous trekking trail to Manang. But for the students in the community schools in the region like these, English is still considered a dreadful subject that haunts the students. It is a daunting task for the students to write and speak in English. For many students, English is their second or third language.
Ideally, English should not be a marker of intelligence for a student from the Gurung community in Lamjung. But due to the lack of knowledge production and translation of existing knowledge in the Nepali language in higher education, the students need to have a good grasp of English.
English Fellows are laying a foundation so that the students in a not-so-distant future can master reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills.
Many students in Lamjung dream of joining the army one day. Their dreams are reflected in their wrists as many kids are seen wearing G-Shock watches, gifted to them by their dad or uncles who are serving in the British Army or Singapore Army.
One of Punam’s students Narayan (name changed), despite understanding the English lessons taught in the class, replies in Nepali. To become an army one day he will require English.
English for these students would not only serve as an additional language but it will aid them in providing a layer of security that will help them to make their dreams come true.
Another student Asmita (name changed), aspires to become a doctor one day. Despite several attempts to speak in English, she backs off fearing being mocked by her classmates. She realizes to become a doctor she would require a good command of the language.
Students not speaking in English was not an isolated incident of one particular school. Similar patterns could be seen in various schools.
Even though the students understand English while the teacher is teaching, yet they refrain from answering back in English. The students fear becoming subject to mockery if they pronounce the words incorrectly. Therefore, just the thought of speaking in English made the students jittery.
At Ganga Milan Secondary School, Punam is using various techniques to help the students overcome their fear of speaking English. “Students lack a basic foundation of the language and they are not confident when it comes to speaking. Some students write well but lack speaking skills due to zero practice in and out of the class” shares Punam.
She has prepared posters of common phrases for the classes and the students have slowly increased the usage of short English phrases in their daily conversations. The class has a ‘zero tolerance’ rule when it comes to mocking and teasing. No student is allowed to laugh or tease another student no matter how wrong their pronunciation is. This helps to create a safe space for students to express themselves without any hesitation.
Punam speaks in English throughout her class and students are constantly trying to pick up pronunciation from her and even try to copy her accent.
Sabina Bista, another English Fellow at Shree Prem Milan Secondary School, Chhap, which is a three-hour downhill walk away from Punam’s school, saw that the students shied away from speaking in English. She then initiated the ‘English Song Project’, where the students had to sing English songs in the class. The students were primarily reluctant. “How will we sing in English ma’am? English is not even our second language”, said a student.
Sabina’s goal was to make English fun for the students. But the students were not convinced that they could sing in English. After a week of convincing, the students agreed to give it a try. Sabina told them that it does not have to be perfect but they have to give it a shot.
Soon the reluctance transformed into intrigue and the students were enthusiastic. After dinner, the students would knock on Sabina’s door asking her to teach them the lyrics. Some students would be at her door before sunrise, asking her to help them with the pronunciation of certain words. “Miss I will sing the song, do you want to hear it?” said a student who had walked to Sabina’s home from another village.
The students were now singing English songs in the class. They were enamored with the idea of learning English through songs. The students even reflected on how they were mispronouncing certain words.
The project helped the students to get over their fears of speaking the English language. The students who would frown upon the idea of speaking in English are now humming and playing English songs during family functions and ceremonies. Speaking in Nepali in some of the private schools is considered to be a sin. Students who speak in any other language apart from English are fined for speaking in their language. While the private schools are imposing such stringent measures to make students speak in English, the students at public schools are struggling to speak English in the English language class itself.
English is not a superior language by any means. But for the students who are relentlessly pursuing their goals, mastery of the English language can take them one step closer to their goal.
Punam Gurung and Sabina Bista are English Fellows placed in Lamjung. Punam completed her Masters of Public Administration from John Jay College, City University of New York, USA, and after a few years of working experience joined TFN Fellowship in the year 2020. Likewise, Sabina Bista completed her Bachelor of Arts (Journalism and Major English) from Padma Kanya Multiple Campus and joined the Fellowship. While Punam is serving as an English Fellow at Shree Ganga Milan Secondary School, Ghermu, Lamjung while Sabina is serving at Shree Prem Milan Secondary School, Chhap.
Currently, 107 young leaders from diverse educational backgrounds are working as Teach For Nepal Fellows in 55 schools in Lalitpur, Sindhupalchowk, Dhanusa, Parsa, Lamjung, Dang, and Tanahun.
You can sponsor Fellows like Punam and Sabina by donating to Teach For Nepal and support their work.