English in Nepal: From a Guest Language to the Best Language

*Kumar Narayan Shrestha


The history of English in Nepal was first recorded in the seventeenth century.Although English was adopted as a foreign language in Nepal in the past, it has gained multi-dimensional status such as an additional language, second language and even primary language. At present English language is indispensable part of Nepalese life as it has impinged on all the spheres of their lives. Currently a number of scholars have argued that a distinctive variety of English has grown in Nepal with its own unique features at all language levels because of its long tradition and wider use. This paper begins with demographic information of languages spoken in Nepal and subsumes different historical eras of English in Nepal.

Key words: Nepalese English, Nenglish, Standard English,


Nepal is a multiethnic, multilingual, multi-religious and multicultural country. The last census 2011 revealed that there are 123 languages and 125 castes and ethnic groups (CBS, 2014).However, Lewis (2009) and Yonjan-Tamang (2005) claim that there are 144 languages are spoken within the territory of Nepal (as cited in Rai, Rai, Phyak & Rai, 2011). Although, languages are sources of knowledge and icon of identity, the majority of indigenous languages spoken in Nepal are endangered due to various reasons.

According to the last Census 2011(CBS, 2014), the total population of Nepal is 26.5 million with annual growth rate of 1.35per annum. There are 84.56 percent males and 51.43 percent females. The literacy rate of male and female are 75.1 and 57.4 percent respectively giving on average of 69.9 percent.

There are recorded ten different religions, namely, Hindu, Bouddha, Islam, Kirat, Christian, Prakriti, Bon, Jain, Bahai and Sikha.  Similarly, there are four language families/genetic: Tibeto-burman, Indio-Aryan, Austro-Asiatic/Munda, Dravidian (Kansakar, 1996, p.1). But Rai (2016) says there are five families (Kusunda no family yet), fourteen scripts.Among them, Nepali stands as the official language of the country.

According to census 2011 (CBS, 2014) top ten mother tongue speakers are as follow: Nepali (44.6%), Maithali (11.67%), Bhojpuri (5.98), Taru (5.77%), Tamang (5.11%), Newar (3.20%), Bajjika (2.99%), Magar (2.98%), Doteli (2.97%), Urdu (2.61%). There are 19 ‘major’ languages (having 100,000 speakers) according to last census. English lies in the 76th position having 2,032 (0.01%) speakers in Nepal. Similarly, 81, 447 (0.30%) Nepalese speak English as second language.

English language in Nepal

The current decade has witnessed an unprecedented spread of English worldwide. This massive spread of English can be attributed to the various historical, political, cultural, economic and technological factors. It has led to the emergence of new varieties of English all over the world. Kachru (1988 as cited in Crystal, 2003) suggests that “spread of English around the world as three concentric circles, representing different ways in which the language has been acquired and is currently used” (p. 69). He has classified different Englishes as those used in the ‘inner circle’, the ‘outer circle’, and the ‘expanding circle’ where English language is used as ‘native language’, ‘second language’ and ‘foreign language’ respectively. Moreover, it has blurred the constructs like native speakers, non-native speakers, and Standard English and so on since non-native language speakers have outnumbered the native speakers.

As in the other parts of the world, a different variety of English has been growing in Nepal since its use has been spreading in the different spheres of life.It is known as ‘Nepalese English’, “Nepali English’, ‘Nenglish’, ‘Nepanglish’ and so on. The variety of English spoken in Nepal is quite different from even South Asian varieties. In this regard, Kachru (2005) says that English used in Nepal is different from even South Asian English because firstly South Asian English has been synonymous to Indian English with the heavy use of Hindi words and Hindustani accent that creates an identity problems among Nepalese English speakers and secondly Nepalese learners do not learn English to primarily communicate in South Asian context, but to communicate with a distant world: USA, UK, Australia, Singapore, Arabian countries and so on. But at present Nepalese English is used within Nepal and the other part of the world proportionately.

English language in Nepal does not have any vivid colonial legacy. However, Kerr (1999) states “Although Nepal had never been formally colonised by the British; there was some kind of colonial legacy” (p.2). Therefore, it can be assumed that the history of Nepal and history of English language in Nepal goes side by side.

Historical eras of English in Nepal

Poudel (2016) opines that the influence of English in Nepalese context is determined by powers. He has mentioned three historical eras of English in Nepal. They are: Era of colonial influence from 1767-1850, Era of English education expansion from 1851-1990, and Era of English professionalism from 1990 to present. But in my opinion there exist an era before 1767 too. Therefore, I divide the historical eras of English in Nepal into four phases.

The era before colonial influence (before 1767)

Historical records show that English was in use in Nepal as early as the seventeenth century (Giri, 2015). The Mall kings used English as a lingua franca while trading with Tibet and North India (Hodgson, 1864; Morris, 1963 as cited in Giri, 2015). Pratap Malla, one of the Mall Kings had boastfully shown his literacy of English through stone inscription. The first introduction of English in Nepal can be traced back to 1661 when European missionaries first settled in Nepal. They trained Nepalese people to work for them in Nepal and aboard.

The era of colonial influence (1767-1850)

This phase is considered to begin around the annexation of Nepal by Prithivi Narayan Shah and existed till 1850. It stretched within the absolute Shah before Ranarchy. English for the first time entered into Nepal via India. Initially, English entered into Nepal through the contact with the British people who colonized India. The elites and/or the ruling class who were in India or have access to Indian education to educate their children in English.

Englishman arrived India on Portuguese ship in 1579 (Sailaja, 2009). They gradually got hold of India and colonized it. In 1767 Prithivi Narayan Shah, the king of Gorkha attacked Kathmandu valley. Then, King Jaya Prakash Malla of Kathmandu asked the East Indian Company to send support troops to resist the attack of Gorkha. Captain Kinloch with a British troop came to support Jaya Prakash Malla (Levi, 1952 as cited in Poudel 2016). It was the first encounter of English people with Nepalese.  Later, Kirk Patrick came to Kathmandu as per the request of Nepal to mediate Nepal-Tibet war.  The East India Company signed the Sugauli treaty with King, Rana Bahadur Shah in 1915. It legalized the settlement of British in Nepal which ultimately allowed and invited the British people and scholars in Nepal. It created long lasting impacts on Nepalese linguistics. Mostly, the elites came under the influence of English language and began to learn it.However, the tenure of Bhimsen Thapa and Ango-Nepal war worsen the development of English politics and English language in Nepal.

But when Janga Bahadur Rana seized the power through the Kot Massacre and became Prime Minister, English education was recognized as a hot cake. Janga Bahadur Rana maintained friendly relation with East India Company to remain his power. For this he signed a treaty with the East India Company. He resumed sending Nepalese youth in British army although it began after 1814-16 war between Nepal and East Indian Government. These youth were supposed to take eight years of formal education in English (Kerr, 1999). It played significant role in the spread of English language in Nepal.

The era of English education expansion (1851-1990)

This era is supposed to begin with the rise of the Rananchy and end with the reintroduction of democracy. Another turning point in the history of English Education is Janga Bahadur’s visit to England. He was highly influenced by English education in England; therefore, he established Darbar School in 1853 after his visit.  He thought that western mode of English education would help his children maintain the status quo and strengthen their position (Vir, 1988 as cited in Poudel 2016). It was the first government-run English medium school in Nepal.  It was only for the Rana family as the Ranas saw an educated person as a threat to their control (Caddell, 2007).

The first post-secondary educational institution in Nepal was Trichandra College whichwas established in 1918. In this college, language of education was English. It’s purposed was to shelter students of Darbar School and to prevent them from going abroad (India). His underling purpose was to prevent Nepalese from getting radical ideas which could be by productive for them. Tri-Chandra College was affiliated to Patna University, India. It borrowed syllabus and assessment system fromthere; therefore, there was direct influence of British Indian system of education in Nepalese system too.

Rana rule ended in 1950, then, for the first time, Nepal’s government became interested in cultural unification. According to Rai et al. (2011) Panchayat government imposed their political goals through the slogan of ek bhasha, ek bhesh, ek dharma, ek desh (one language, one way of dress, one religion, one nation), which attempted to spread Nepali, Hinduism, and other symbols of nation throughout the country to create a unified national identity. Its goal was to assimilate people of different culture and linguistic background into a Nepali identity based on the cultural practices of elite, high-caste hill Hindus (Onta, 1996a, as cited in Weinberg 2013). In the Panchyat period, the role of English was changed from medium of instruction to a subject of study.

After the introduction of democracy, new educational policy of language was formed considering the recommendation of Nepal National Educational Planning Commission (NNEPC).The report of the NNEPC strongly supported Nepali as the medium of instruction for schooling, largely for purposes of national integration. The report advocated the use of Nepali language not only in classroom but also on playgrounds and in all spheres of life.

NNEP followed Hugh B. Wood’s personal view and practice of his country (English as medium). Another educational policy was proposed by National Education System Plan (NESP,1971). It advocated the use of only Nepali in administration, education and media. Although English was not medium of instruction throughout the Panchyat era, it was taught as a compulsory subject from Grade 4 onwards.

English language education policies, especially in developing countries like Nepal is, mostly based on political motives rather than academic one (Coleman, 2011). It is illustrated by ELT Survey of Nepal in 1983. Overall it aimed to study the ELT situation in Nepal. Regarding English language teaching it recommended that it is better to start from Grade 8. Despite its findings, the ELT Survey reveals strong socio-political pressure to start English from Grade 1. Finally, the survey team had to continue the exiting policy; that is, starting English in Grade 4.

The Ministry of Education in 2005 via National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE) states that Nepali, English, or both can be the medium of instruction for school level; however it also states that the ‘mother tongue’ will be the medium of instruction for elementary education (Grades 1 -3). Later, in 2009 School Sector Reform Plan, the Ministry of Education stresses on the mother tongue as the medium of instruction for Grades 1 to 3 (Ministry of Education, 2009a). The Ministry of Education also mentions that “English will be taught as a subject from grade one” (Ministry of Education, 2009a, p.81). Owing these different policy documents, it can be inferred that in a way or other English language has got space in languagepolicies in Nepal.

In this era, different factors played in the spread of English language in Nepal. The first one is the establishment of Darbar School itself. The next is the recruitment and the retirement of the Nepalese British army. As English was mandatory for their recruitment in British army, the youngsters willing to be British army leaned English. After their retirement, these armies returned to their homeland and inspired their young generation towards English. Similarly, when Janga Bahadur established friendly relationship with the East India Company, the British diplomats began to reside in Kathmandu. It influenced the rulers and the elite groups in Nepal (Poudel, 2016). Gradually they are lured towards western mode of education.   Peoplewho are conscious towards education consider English education as a means of escape for their children from the hardships and privations of their own lives.Like in other South Asian countries “English is viewed as a language of power and as a means of economic uplift and upward social mobility” (B. Kachru, Y. Kachru & Nelson, 2006, p. 90). It led to the establishment of many private schools and colleges and made English indispensible in Nepalese curriculum.

The era of English professionalism (1999- On)

After the reintroduction of democracy in 1990, for the first time new constitution recognized Nepal as a multicultural and multilingual country. The Constitution of 1990 states “All the languages spoken as the mother tongue in the various parts of Nepal are the national languages of Nepal. (His Majesty’s Government of Nepal, 1990). For the first time language in education policy was stated in the constitution. It paved a way forthe proportionate development of all languages spoken in Nepal including English.

The craze of English is so elevated that without English it is tough to obtain any job at present. Following Jha (1989), about ninety percent of jobs in Nepal require command over English (as cited in Eagle, 1999, p. 304). In this regard, in the poor communities like in Nepal, English is considered the knowledge in itself and a sole liberator from poverty. After 90s, Nepal became open to the outer societies. There took place political, social, cultural, educational and commercial changes. The establishment of world organizations like United Nations Organization (UNO) and regional organization like South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) have excelled the cry of English. After the reintroduction of democracy, Nepal’s active participation in such organizations made English vital in Nepalese society. It has served as a link language or lingua franca between people of different regions with different languages. Although it has a sort of colonial liability, “now it is now accepted as an asset in the form of a national and international language representing educational and economic process” (B. Kachru, Y. Kachru & Nelson, 2006, p. 90).  As Kachru (2005) opines that Nepalese learners do not learn English to communicate in their homeland but they learn to talk in their workplace in abroad. Now this view is partially true since mostly Nepalese learn English to talk in their workplace either it can be home or abroad. Therefore, from the time of inception of English education, English was learned for the purpose of professional development. Following Crystal (2003), it can be inferred that following factors led to English professionalism in Nepal: scientific and technological knowledge, international communication, mass media, travel and tourism, education, English as lingua franca.

The craze and vitality of English in the different sphere of common life let to the establishment of different educational and professional institutes in Nepal. The Central Department of English (CDE) at Tribhuvan University (TU) played an important role for English professionalism. Especially the visit of experts like Allan Devies in 1969 and Hugh D. Purcell in 1979 influenced the policies and practices of English professionalism in Nepal (Poudel, 2016). Similarly, British Council and American Embassy have helped Government of Nepal and TU in great deal to form language policy and impart English education although they have ideological drive behind it. The scholars who studied in English speaking countries with or without scholarships have also contributed English professionalism in Nepal. Different professional organizations like Nepal English Language Teachers Association (NELTA), Literary Association of Nepal, The Society of Nepali English Speakers and Linguistic Society of Nepal (LSN) have provided platform for the English practitionersand professionals to gather together and share their knowledge and professional experience to enhance their professionalism. There are few vocational and language training institutes such as Orbit International, Universal Language Institutes which are individually trying to impart English education.


English is a living language and spoken all over the world. Its wider geographical spread has enabled its native and non-native speakers develop different varieties of English. In Nepal too, fromthe Malls period to present, English has diluted with different socio-political milieu. Now it is learned and spoken as one of the best languages in Nepal.The history is testimony that English entered into Nepal as a trade language at first in the Mall dynasty (seventeen century). English language got a great privilege in the Rana regime. It can be said that the seed of English was sowed in the Rana regime as they began English education. It grew and flowered in the Pranchyat and early democratic eras. The phase after reintroduction of democracy is synonymous with English professionalism which is supposed to bear and provide fruits from flowers through professional nexus and growth. For example, NELTA organizes one the biggest professional conference in Nepal annually. Prof. Dr. Jai Raj Awasthi in his inaugural speech in the 22ndInternal Conference of NELTA metaphorically compared the conference with Kumbhamela (a huge festival). He further states, “This is a form for meeting the minds, networking with colleagues, developing professionally, rejuvenating academically, and collaborating with the peers” (J.R. Awasthi, inaugural speech, February 24, 2017). Although there were many policies and practice level ups and downs, English has got central concern among the language issues throughout the different eras. Now English has intermingled with Nepalese life in such a way that it seems almost impossible to detach from their life because of its long history.


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(*Kumar Narayan Shrestha, M.Ed. and M.A., is a faculty at Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He is an M.Phil. scholar at Kathmandu University. He has been associated with the field of teaching for seventeen years. He has published articles in different journals and presented papers in national/international conferences. His professional interests include ELT, research and translation.)

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