Teachers’ Experiences on shifting Medium of instruction to English in Nepal

Pitambar Paudel


English as a medium of instruction (EMI) in school level education across the country, Nepal is a debatable issue. The educational manual (2015) has made the provision of making English as a medium of instruction along with Nepali. Since Nepal is a multilingual country, so shift in EMI may provide access to the learners to the wide range of published in English and at the same time also prepare them to be a competitive candidate in the global markets. On the other hand, it may create obstacles to preserve and promote local tongues and cultures. In this context, this study tries to explore the teachers’ experiences in shifting medium of instruction to English. For this purpose, phenomenological qualitative research design was used and 10 teachers teaching English and other courses at school level from different schools of the country purposively selected. Semi-structured interview was used as data collection tools. The data was analyzed qualitatively. The data revealed that teachers have positive and optimistic experience towards EMI even if they face many difficulties and there is always a danger of losing local tongues.

Keywords: school education, EMI, teachers’ experience, optimism


Language is a means of constructing and maintaining social relations. The development of new technology has enabled people to maintain a relation to the people of far distance, who have diverse national, linguistic and cultural backgrounds. New technology has turned big world into a small village and further helped embrace the practice of globalization. Global communication requires not only the technological advancement but also the proper linguistic code. If the used linguistic code is not intelligible to the participants, there would be miscommunication or no communication.  To enable the learners exchange their ideas around the globe, they must be able to communicate through a global linguafranca, a common connecting language. In the world, they need to be imparted with a common language. Showing the importance of global linguafranca, Ke (2015, p. 66) argues that a common world language prevents miscommunication among the people who speak different languages.   Global language bridges communication among the people who have different native languages.

Since the mid of 20th century English language has gained foothold as the world linguafranca. It has become the language of international interconnectedness. Burchfield (1985, as quoted in Phillipson, 2007, p.5) concedes, “ignorance of English is equated with linguistic deprivation.”  He meant to say that a person without sound knowledge of English language cannot fit in world communication. It is used significantly by a large number of population throughout the world as a language of communication even if it is not the language with the largest number of mother-tongue speakers. It is acquired as mother-tongue only in inner circle world but not in outer and expanding circle (Kachru, 1985). Kachru meant to state that in inner circle countries, English is acquired as mother tongue and it is used as a language of communication and instruction. In outer circle countries, English is institutionalized and used in communication but not as mother tongue. In expanding circle countries, English is taught and learnt only for specific purpose. The medium of instruction has always been key issue among educational institutions across the world, especially in those nations where there is direct or indirect influence of cultural, linguistic, political, or economical colonization. Despite the unceasing global debate on English as the international linguafranca or more negatively as a “killer language” (Coleman, 2006), the adoption of English as medium of instruction(EMI) has been extensively preferred in higher education across the world.  English has become the language of hope and progress. Marsh (2006 as cited in Ryhan, 2016, p.4) mentions that between 1995 and 2005, a large number of international education institutions expressed a significant interest in adopting English as medium of instruction. Recently, almost all the courses in the schools and universities are being taught in English.  In this vein, Crystal (2004 as cited in Ryhan, 2016, p.4) has stated that the adoption of English as medium of instruction (EMI) has been sweeping across the higher education landscape worldwide. English has been introduced not only as English but Englishes. Gil (2005, p.73) mentions that the spread of English as global language has led to a number of local varieties as Indian English , African English, Japanese English, etc.  In reference of importance of English language in the present day world, Rahman, 2005) argues that English is the key for good future with human dignity where human beings feel secure of their rights, recognition, and desire.

English has not remained only as the properties of native speakers as it is more popular, standard in non-native speakers and countries. It has established cultural and lingual harmony among the people in diverse contexts. They enjoy the dignity, prestige, opportunities in English language. There is no country where English is not used. This shows that   English has become a pluralistic language creating homogeneity in terms of geographical location and it is being more diverse in its forms, functions and cultural associations, that is, English has been shifted from English to Englishes.

The use of English as global linguafranca has obvious advantages when it comes to intelligibility but at the same time, it has given rise to different issues. Phillipson (2007, p. 3) writes, “The forces of globalization and Americanization may be moving language policy in the direction of monolingualism.” This is the anxiety that the widespread motivation of English only is leading the world towards the path of monolingual community by discarding the local languages and establishing hegemony of the English language.

The people of Nepal speak different languages as they belong to different ethnic groups and they follow different religions. However, there exists a unified linguistic structure. The CBS (2011) records 123 languages spoken in the country merging a number of indistinct languages as others in the lack of complete information.

The mother tongue enumerated in the CBS (2011), (except Kusunda) belong to four language families; Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan, Austro-Asiatic and Dravidian. While Kusunda is a language isolate consisting of a single language without any genetic relationship with other languages (Yadav, 2014).  CBS (2011) records 82.10% (21,753,009) people belong to Indo-European language family. Likewise, Sino-Tibetan is spoken by 17.30% (4,584,523), Austro-Asiatic is spoken by 0.19% (49,858), Dravidian is spoken by only 0.13% (33,615), 0.09% people speak other languages (including English) as their mother tongue and 0.18% languages are categorized as language family unstated.  Taking reference from CBS (2011), Yadav (2014, p. 57) categorized the mother tongues of Nepal as major and minor on the basis of the number of speakers. In Nepal, there are more languages with few speakers and few languages with more speakers. CBS (2011) has made a provision of Nepali language as an official language, which is spoken by 44.64% population of the country as their mother tongue and others as a linguafranca. The most numerous mother tongues spoken by indigenous people are Maithili (11.67%), Bhojpuri (5.98%), Tharu (5.77%), Tamang (5.11%) Newari (3.20%) reported in the CBS (2011). Besides these languages, Doteli, Urdhu, Gurung, Rai, Sherpa, Achhami, Bantawa, Limbu, Baitadali languages are widely used as means of communication. English is used as means of communication only with foreigners and a means of instruction in the classroom. The CBS (2011) shows English is spoken by 0.01% people of the total population of the country.

Although English is spoken by a very few speakers in Nepal, it has occupied a significant position in Nepalese education system; it has been used from basic level to advanced level either as a core subject or an optional subject.  Nepalese schools are run in two models: private and public. In private model, medium of instruction is only English; however, in public model, Nepali is used as a medium of instruction.  The private models have won the heart of guardians and students which inspired   public models to realize that it was due to medium of instruction.  So recently, Public schools have started shifting their medium of instruction to English (author’s personal experience). Educational manual (2015) has made the provision of Nepali or English or both as the medium of instruction, however, primary education can be given in mother tongue.

Literature Review

English as medium of instruction (EMI) is a recent concept in Nepal and this is a policy of Ministry of Education according to which school and university courses are taught in English. Madhavan and McDonald (2014, p. 1) define EMI as “the teaching of a subject using the medium of the English language, but where there are no explicit language learning aims and where English is not the national language.”  Similarly, Dearden (2014, p. 4) explicates, “ EMI as the use of the English language to teach academic subjects in countries or jurisdictions where the first language of majority of the population is not English.”  From these definitions, it is believed that EMI is the process of teaching non-English courses in English basically in nonnative speaking countries.

Mash (1994 as cited in Madhavan & McDonald, 2014, p.1) states that applied linguists often discuss EMI in relation to content language integrated learning(CLIL), a language teaching methodology that emerged in the mid 1990s, with situations where subjects or parts of subjects are taught through a foreign language with dual focused aims, namely the learning of content and the simultaneous learning of foreign language. Though EMI and CLIL are relatively used, Dearden (2014, p. 4) has shown the significance different between them. CLIL is contextually situated and it does not mention which is second, additional or foreign language in academic subjects whereas EMI has no contextual origin and it makes a quite clear that language of education is English, with all geopolitical and socio-cultural implications that this may entail. CLIL has clear objective of furthering both content and language as declared in its title, while EMI does not have such objective.

Sociolinguistic Context, Language Policy and EMI in Nepal

Nepal, geographically is a small country, but it is linguistically diverse. Talking about the linguistic diversity of Nepal, Turin (2007, p. 27 ) writes:

In Nepal, linguistic and cultural identities are closely interwoven, and many of the country’s indigenous people define themselves in large part according to the language they speak. Language is often used as a symbolic badge of membership in particular community, and is a prominent emblem of pride in one’s social or ethnic identity.

Turin meant to state that Nepal is a multi-ethnic country where each ethnic group has its own language and culture. They take language as a means of reflecting their cultural and ethnic identity.

Harmony among diversities is the identity of Nepalese society. It has introduced English language teaching with the establishment of Durbar school in 1854. However, it has got its formal recognition only in 1971 with Nepal national education plan. At that time, it was introduced as a foreign language along with other languages as Chinese, Tibetan, and Hindi. Since then English has been taught in curricula from grade 4 to graduate level as a foreign language in Nepalese universities and educational institutions. (Giri,2009, as cited in Sing, Zhang, & Besmel, 2012, p.373). After the restoration of democracy in 1990, Nepal government has introduced English from grade 1 in place of grade 4. Gradually, it has been used as a foreign language in Nepalese education system. (Giri, 2009, as cited in Sing, Zhang, & Besmel, 2012, p. 373).

In the education system of Nepal, the medium of instruction was Nepali language for other academic subjects except English. However, Private schools have been teaching only in English for years while public schools have instructed only in Nepali. The medium of instruction has remained a debatable issue among the scholars inside and outside the country. With the restoration of democracy in Nepal in 1990, Nepal government realized the need of mother tongue education (MTE) in consonance with the UN declaration made in 1951. As a result, the constitution of the kingdom of Nepal (1990) has made the provision of mother tongue education in primary level. Likewise, National commission for language policy (1992) has recommended mother tongue as medium of instruction at primary level education system. Taking the reference from NCF 2007, Sing, Zhang and Besmel  (2012, p. 371) mention that  different policy documents under  national plan  like  education for all, vulnerable community development plan(2004) have opened  arenas for structuring school education encouraging inclusive education through mother tongue education.

Education for all (EFA) (2004-2009) adopted the use of students’ mother tongue as a medium of instruction from grade 1 to 3 in monolingual situation while from grade four  onwards the medium of instruction is Nepali.  In the process of introducing mother tongue education, Basic and Primary education Project (1991-2001) introduced seven languages; Newari, Maithali, Tharu, Awadhi, Limbu, Tamang and Bhojpuri at primary level as optional subjects.  Later, Center for Research, Education and Development (CRED, 2005) has introduced Sherpa, Magar, Gurung, Chamling, and Bantawa in the list of mother tongue education at primary level.. (as cited in Sing, Zhang, & Besmel, 2012, p. 373). The Education Manual (2015) has made the provision of making English or Nepali or both as the medium of instruction, however primary education can be given in mother tongue.

These all sources show that EMI is still a debatable issue in Nepal. On one hand, the policies and practices have been made to promote MTE in the multilingual countries like Nepal and on the other hand, English, a world linguafranca, has been motivating a huge mass of non- native speakers as they take it as the language of progress, identity and dignity. In this motive, Nepalese schools have been shifting medium of instruction to English.

Baer (2008, p. 3) opposes the use of English as a medium of instruction in non-native countries and writes:

The dominant language medium of education prevents access to education because of linguistic, pedagogical and psychological barriers it creates. Most indigenous people and minorities have to accept subtractive education where they learn a dominant language at cost of the mother tongue which is displaced and later often replaced by the dominant language.

This shows that mother tongue education builds a good relationship between school and home of the students and provides relief to a child from  having psychological shock of classroom performance as s/he can expresses ideas in his/her  mother tongue comfortably. In the same vein, Kangas and Dumber (2010, p.51) argue, “it would be appropriate to educate the children in their mother tongue in order to make the break between home and school.” Benson (2016, p.3) concedes:

The mismatch between home and school language has long plagued education system worldwide, but is particularly, problematic in low income countries those whose colonial legacies burdened them with exogenous language in formal and official domains… the use of learners’ own language for literacy and learning across curriculum provides a solid foundation for basic and continuing education and for transfer of skills and knowledge   to additional languages.

This view supports mother tongue education which has potential to maintain harmonious relationship between students’ home and school environment and it also can make students feel comfortable at school as they can express what they want and think in their own languages. Mother tongue education can be used for making foundations of knowledge in economically poor countries.

Contrary to Baer and Benson’s idea, through the research findings entitled “exploring and assessing effectiveness of English medium of instruction courses: the students’ perspectives” conducted in Taiwan, Huang (2015, p. 77) mentions:

Most of the participants were motivated to take EMI courses to strengthen English ability and professional knowledge and they agreed EMI courses are helpful for interacting with the speakers of other nationalities and languages.

Students were positive and energize to learn in English because they have seen English as source of knowledge and a linguafranca of connecting people of different nationalities.

Similarly, Rahman (2005, p. 243) also writes:

English is still the key for a good future- a future with human dignity if not public deference; a future with material comfort if not prosperity; a future with that medium of security, human rights and recognition which all human beings desire. So, irrespective of what the state provides, parents are willing to part with scare cash to buy their children such a future.

People enjoy the dignity and opportunities of English language. They take English as the language of hope, progress and modernity. It is taken as a means of reflecting dignity and identity in the society. People feel confident and secure if they know English. All these factors inspired parents to send their children to learn English without considering what the state policy states.

English language as pluralistic language has been creating homogeneity in terms of geographical location as almost all the countries have introduced English in their education system. English is becoming more diverse in its forms, functions and cultural associations, that is, English has been turned from English to Englishes and medium of instruction from vernacular languages to English language.


As a part of qualitative study, I employed a descriptive phenomenological research design. Finlay (2009, as cited in Kafle, 2011, p.181) states that phenomenology is the study of phenomena; their nature and meanings. It provides a rich textured description of lived experience. In this study, I took English as a medium of instruction (EMI) as a phenomenon and chosen 10  secondary level school teachers (Appendix B) teaching both English and non-English courses from 10 different public schools of  Pokhara valley, the city in the central Nepal purposively as it was convenient place for me. I delved their experiences, in particular seeking their understanding and feeling towards medium of instruction shifting to English.  The information was collected using a set of semi structured interview questions. First interview questions were sent to the teachers in their email and were asked to answer in the given time duration. After receiving answers from them, they were interviewed individually using the same semi-structured interview questions and some other probing questions.

Results and Discussion

The study explored how school teachers understand and experience shifting medium of instruction from Nepali to English. The results are comprises of the teachers’ voices and their perspectives. To study teachers’ understanding and experiences on shifting medium of instruction to English, I explored the three basic questions:

How do teachers experience the EMI?

How does the shift impact classroom practices and students’ performance?

What are the challenges in implementing EMI?

Before analyzing and interpreting the data, I coded the recorded interview and triangulated them, with the written responses. Then, I categorized them in to different themes and criteria. Finally, I entered into phenomenological reduction by delineating the data into five themes.

Preface of EMI implementation

Policy makers make the policy which the agents who use experience its effect first. English, a global language, has become the hope of progress for all in the countries like Nepal. Education manual (2015) has made the provision of making English as a medium of instruction along with Nepali. Most of the public school which had made Nepali as a medium of instruction has been shifting their instruction to English.  All the respondents were very familiar with the concept of EMI.  Sharing the experience of the concept of EMI in Nepal, participant 1 conceded:

EMI is a method of teaching non-English courses in English. It was very good to change from Nepali to English for our environment to make the students able to cope the challenge of world communication. English is obliged to know world politics, business, economics, science and technology and other worldly changes.

 This account reveals what Rassool (2013) said, “English has become the key for socio, political, economic prosperity”. The teachers seemed to see that without a sound knowledge of English, the students would be at disadvantage in comparison to others in the world. The next participant added the notion of shift as:

Our country, linguistically, is very complex where 123 languages spoken. One language community does not understand other language communities even Nepali. In this context, shifting medium of instruction from Nepali to English is the demand of the classroom teaching. If the students know English, they can compete in education, business, and politics with the people from other countries.

This experience of teachers is reflected in Held, McGrew, Goldblatt, and Perraton’s (1999) view of “interconnectedness” of the world. They meant to state that where there is linguistic diversity, English becomes the language of connecting the people having different linguistic codes.  The teachers are aware of the significance and implications of using English in different sectors like education, politics, business, economics etc. and that this language has a wide reach .It shapes various concerns of the society that similarly or directly affect the lives of the people. It has created   the feeling of equality within the people of minorities in the multilingual and multicultural context of Nepal. Both majority and minority are being instructed English and have got the same resources which made them not to feel deprived of any facility given by the governmental and non-governmental sectors. They are taking English as a means of reflecting their dignity and identity.

One of the participant teachers was very worried about the entry of English in all the subjects teaching in public schools of Nepal and said:

We have students from varies linguistic and cultural backgrounds. They enjoy and understand more learning in their own languages even if they are happy in learning in English in its beginning phase of implementation. But we, teachers are compelled to force them to learn in English. This force does not give good result. We cannot give as much as we want and they cannot understand as much as they want. As a result, we have poor achievement in each subject after the implementation of EMI.

This account reveals dissatisfaction of some teachers towards EMI. They are worried about local tongues and students’ achievement. EMI was introduced to make the learners good communicators in the world and build their career accordingly to face the challenges in the world but the achievement would possibly be negative.

Teachers’ attitude

This is the core theme of this study. The most noticeable trends that was seen during interviews and responses in the questionnaire was that teachers wanted to share how difficult the shift was in public schools of Nepal and how they worked and dedicated to implement it in their schools. Shifting from Nepali to English was very difficult for the teachers. The expression of participant 4 indicates the difficulty of shift for teachers:

It was very difficult for teachers because we had to learn English first before we go to class as we were used to in Nepali. Students were very happy to learn in English only due to the feeling of becoming the students like boarding schools. But it was very difficult for us teaching in English due to lack of vocabulary, grammar and habit of teaching in English.

All teachers in the study expressed how difficult it was to teach non-English courses in English by the teachers who did not have enough proficiency in the English language. The difficulty in implementing EMI was frequently highlighted by the teachers. This shows that the policy makers and administrators decided to implement EMI without preparing teachers for it. Despite this difficulty, the teachers were optimistic to maintain and implement it for the betterment of themselves and students. In this context, participant 2 expressed:

Things are getting better than in the beginning days. I think…I think we try, we try again and again to use this language. The books and materials will help us to make capable in teaching English. We have to do hard work for the betterment of students’ future. Teachers have to read and well planned before they go to classroom because this is a new experience for them and they have to build up new habit.

Teachers’ effort was very complicated. They were ready to take any risk out of their interest if it would work for the students. Their effort and eagerness showed that it only makes sense when their effort will eventually turn into effective improvement in pertaining quality education. Grysman and Hudson (2011) call this phase as “turning point” where teachers are turning their medium of instruction from Nepali language to English.

Impact of EMI in classroom practices

The shift from Nepali to English has directly influenced the teaching methods and methodologies of classroom. Almost all the participants responded that their teaching methods due to EMI had been indeed changed. Participant 10 expressed the impact of shift on methodology as:

Before the inception of EMI, teachers were very active, we had to deliver everything in Nepali and students used to listen to us and did as instructed. But with EMI, our methodology is different by making students more active than teachers. They do more exercises than we do. EMI has encouraged learner centered teaching method. But it does not mean that teachers remain passive.

The next participant added more ideas on this as,

I think, in the beginning of English as medium of instruction, teachers were for giving contents. Yes, I like that because it made students contentful and teacher resourceful. But slowly-slowly, we are able to teach students by taking ideas from themselves. We prefer learners’ vices more than imposing our ideas.

These accounts of sharing reveal the change in their teaching method from teacher centered to learner centered. EMI allows learners voices to be hard and shape the activities accordingly. As Hardman, Ackers, Abrishmain and O’Sullivan (2011) concede that the global spread of English will often favour the learner centered methods, with a large amount of donor groups advocating for this type of classroom instruction to dominate.

Implication of shift on students’ performance

Students are the ones between two active classroom participants. The ultimate goal of making change in any education system is to allow opportunity to the students and bring change in their behaviours. Students’ performance incorporates their result and the participation in classroom activities.

In this study, all the respondents were very optimistic about the improvement of students’ linguistic and communicative ability due to EMI even if in it’s beginning days. Participant 7 who is teaching social studies in English medium shared experience on the improvement of students as:

Students now study in English from primary to class 10. They learn Nepali subject only in Nepali language and other academic courses in English. They are happy with learning in English as they have got feeling like the students of boarding school. They are becoming more serious, curious and punctual in their learning. They do homework regularly. They try to talk in English even if they are not competent in English.

In the same vein, next participant added:

The students who were very lazy in past time are becoming very active participant. They are trying to speak and write in English even if it is just communicative. They are losing their shyness which makes me optimistic towards their result and future career. They borrow some books from school library and ask various questions from them in English even if the content and context are irrelevant. I am very happy with them seeing their curiosity in learning English.

The accounts of these teachers’ experiences reflect that the teachers were fairly positive about how students had been working with EMI. They were very optimistic to see the good position of their students in future as they found some changes in students’ behaviours and classroom performance.

Challenges in EMI

Being a multilingual country, Nepal has also an obligation to have strong provision of respecting, preserving and promoting its local tongues and cultures. On one hand, it has to cope with spread of English and rapid advancement of technologies in education, on the other hand, it should preserve its local tongues. In this complex situation, EMI has been introduced in the public schools of Nepal. All the respondents   agreed with possibility of losing mother tongue. They also mentioned that, physical management of the classroom, class size as the major challenges in implementing EMI in Nepal.

Nepal is a country having many languages spoken and we have the students from varies linguistic contexts. They are very happy and inquisitive to learn in English. But gradually it may lead them to forget their culture and language. We teachers are always worried about searching a midway path to use EMI and promotion and preservation of local tongues but it’s the case of policy makers. We, teachers are helpless in this manner.

This account seeks of   making appropriate language policy. The use of English as a medium of instruction may create a conflict between local tongues and English language. It may lead the local tongues to death. The anxiety of teachers reveal Baer’s (2008) argument that is “dominant language displaces mother tongue.”  Besides this, the teachers also mentioned that they did not find the appropriate physical structure and class size to implement EMI in Nepalese context. Participant 9 expressed:

EMI has been introduced which requires pair work, group work but our classes do not have enough benches, desk, no proper ventilation and we have to keep more than 60 students in a class. We cannot do what we want and plan.

This account reveals the poor infrastructure of public schools of Nepal. The government has formed the policy and given school management committee the right to implement it but the authority has not thought about the setting where the policy is implemented. This condition may lead EMI implemented in Nepalese school system to failure any time.

Conclusion and Implications

English as a medium of instruction (EMI) at Nepalese public school for teaching academic courses has created positive attitudes on the teachers and students. The school teachers agreed that instruction in English can promote learners to be more successful in terms of both their academic and social dimensions of life. The sound knowledge in English makes the students to grab any opportunity in the world because English as world linguafranca makes them not to feel handicapped in communication. Teachers’ experiences on EMI reveal that the authority decided EMI without delivering any training to the teachers who implement in the classroom. So, the teachers felt difficulty to implement EMI at the initial stages. Due to positive effort of teachers as well as students’ eagerness to learn, the implementation of EMI has come to be materialized.  There is another big threat which is the implementation of EMI in public schools can rule out local tongues and cultures any time. Thus, the government, or the policy makers need to be very conscious in the aspect. The experiences of these teachers have to be understood when looking at broad impacts of EMI on educational practices. EMI has both positive as well as negative impacts. Considering the consequences that it creates in multilingual classroom context like Nepal, it has to be brought in to discussion among government, curriculum designers, political leaders, teachers, students, parents and other stakeholders who directly or indirectly are the parts of education system.


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(Pitambar Paudel, is a Lecturer of English Education at Tribhuvan University, Nepal.  He has published more than two dozens of articles in different journals. He has published books, edited journals and presented papers in various conferences and facilitated different training sessions in English Language teaching. His areas of interests include applied linguistics, translation studies, SLA, research and ICT in ELT.)


6 thoughts on “

  1. Nabaraj Neupane

    Outstanding performance is obvious in this article, Pitamber Paudel sir! Congratulations on entering the wider arena of readership!
    This article opens up the avenues for open discussions on the use of EMI!
    Keep on addressing such issues on the days to come!


    1. Pitambar Paudel

      Thank You Dr. Neupane for your worthy words. Its the result of your inspiration, encouragement, and feedback. I assure you that I will continue addressing such issue in the days to come.


    2. Pitambar Paudel

      Thank You Dr. Neupane for your worthy words. Its the result of your inspiration, encouragement, and feedback. I assure you that I will continue addressing such issue in the days to come.


  2. Pitambar Paudel

    Thank you very much for your valued words. I assure that its the beginning not the end.There are many more literature to be studied which will be milestone in my search and research.


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