English as an academic language in Bhutan. Language policy implementation issues

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2012

15 Pages





Literature review
Language influence
Language sensitivity
National language
English advantages
Drawback of English incompetency
Remedies to improve language


Individual´s view on the introduction of language policy
Language/dialect spontaneously used in the premises of school
Help rendering practices
Dzongkha/English speaking barriers
Strategies to help children speak Dzongkha and English
Reprimand to language defaulters
Viewpoint on vernacular language






This study was planned to investigate Gonpasingma Lower Secondary School teachers and students’ reflections on a required Dzongkha English language policy. The study was made through the use of notes on observations and expressed concerns which were intended to develop a consensus with regard to the required amendment. Phenomenology was employed since this design helps in knowing abiding concerns regarding the “language policy” and of lived experience. Data were gathered through formally written answers from all the twenty-four respondents. Earlier language policy was established through strict regulations imposed by the school authority. Soon after withdrawing the existing practice, students returned to their habit of speaking their own vernacular languages. Compared to English, students did feel comfortable to speak Dzongkha (the national language). Our findings are that in spite of well-known difficulties, teachers need to provide adequate guidance by being role model whereby students will understand the correlation of native language and second language, and the adverse effect of avoiding Dzongkha and English.


From the time joining this school in 2010, it was observed that Class IV and above were constantly reminded to speak the two literacy languages. English speaking was given extra caution due to the fact that most curriculums in Bhutan are taught in English. Accordingly might not find hard to deal Math word problem which many Bhutanese students felt this as setback.

Students in broader spectrum however were reluctant to cooperate to the initiative taken that evidenced from the way they speak local dialect (Tshangla-lo) in the nooks and corners. For going against, teachers had to use quite number of reprimands. For example - hang language tag, clean toilet, cut grass, and make them stand in front of the assembly. As per compiled language policy; students are to speak English on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; Dzongkha on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday the language of their choice. If students preferably speak English in all the six days of the week is to give with recognition and reward.

In an undeniable setting, a few girl students showed enthusiasm to start to converse in English. Analyst could notice how these girls made attempt. The intonation they exposed alike mother tongue. They used some jargons and vocabularies of mother tongue due to inability to locate right terms in English. Kelman (1971) accepts this as not really a committed error, because “…in which he/she communicates with his mother and with immediate environment serves to think, and link him/her with a wider group” (p.31).

Students who did not wish to speak English were staying silent. That is why, on English speaking days, school use to remain with not much of noise; be it in classroom, play ground or in dormitories. Nonetheless, students in majority speak Dzongkha frequently as compared to English. Even smaller children (Classes PP - III) liked joining elders to speak with pride.

The language policy as a result has more or less become one essential element of school chores that cannot be easily avoided. But, looking at its inefficiency progress, and seeing the flaws not reviewed and reflected, inquirer as vice principal of the same school thought that if a small inquiry is carried can find a probability to uncover loop holes and strengthen steps with the joint opinions of teachers and students.

Following are the guiding questions to do a study: 3

1. How students and teachers’ current perception on the introduction of language policy in the school?
2. What would be the appropriate dealings to make students learn Dzongkha and English verbal communication?
3. What causes difficulty to the students to speak Dzongkha and English?
4. How students think on the existing measures taken including imposition of penalty to the language defaulters?

Literature review

Literature review is presented in six topics such as language influence, language sensitivity, national language, English advantages, drawback of English incompetency, and remedies to improve languages.

Language influence

Here are some authentications how language stands on an influential position. Phillipson (2003) and Balibar (n.d.) in light to this state that integration is carried out by means of language through creation of equality between individuals and naturalizing the social inequality linguistic practices. Kelman (1971) says; language transmits sacred documents of the people by spelling out its history and mission which in addition offers opportunities for participation. Subtly, language and thought influence vice versa which Orwell (2010) indicates; when thought corrupts language, language also corrupt thought. In opinion of Planning Commission Secretariat (1999); language is a complex phenomenon that is inseparable from intellectual and psychological processes. Prabhu (1987) in same way opines that “…competence in a language is seen as an ability to conform automatically to grammatical norms” (p. 7).

Taking English language as an example; it has made businessmen, engineers and many professionals around the globe to rethink on their communication skills, and find ways for improvement (Dey, 2011, p.12). Elsewhere delineates that even the smallest nation like Bhutan on having its national language; English has been at the paramount priority since the start of modern education in 1914. There are other Asian countries such as South Korea and China where students generally are compelled to begin studying English from the third grade and in Japan from the age of 13. To graduate in China; students have to pass a special English proficiency test. In Korea and Japan; university students have to take an English class regardless of major (McKay, 2002).

McDonald (2012, in Halloway, 2012) cites similar example. In a village called Banka in northern India, a community is building a temple to a new deity, the Angrezi Devi or Goddess of English. The idol is ready to be installed with a female figure in robes holding a pen in one hand and the Indian constitution in the other standing on a computer. Halloway (2012) in connection presents that English is becoming a modern passion in many societies especially in the countries seeking expansion of higher education and career opportunities. In report of Leffa (2002); English is spoken by more than a billion and a half besides using in 70% of scientific publications, and known to be the most taught foreign language in which 62 countries accepted as official language.

Language sensitivity

Language rights are politically and deeply personal that can serve to unite or divide people. A group speaking dominant language may feel aggrieved if too much allowance is made for the lesser language (Phillipson, 2003 & Kelman, 1971). Falchi, Garcia and Klelfgen (2008) assert; applying bilingual education may not be feasible where there are learners from diverse language backgrounds since “…every language has threefold living environment - biological, linguistic and cultural” (Leffa, 2002). In the time of both languages at safe position and endangered require preservation in its mega diversity; Tsuda (1999, in Leffa, 2002) accordingly suggests that “…the right to language should guarantee individual's right to choose which language to learn by not forcing to use language that is not his/her choice.”

National language

Whichever the country may be, the citizens give due regard to one’s national language which Balibar (n.d.) precisely put to condition that “national language has to be recognized as official language, and should appear as very element of the life of people” (p. 142). So “…with national language, it is easier to develop political, economic, and social institutions” (Kelman, 1971, p.32). Keeping Dzongkha the lingua franca of Bhutan as one example, GLSS (2011), Mathon (n.d.), Namgyel (1999), Planning Commission Secretariat (1999) and Phuntsho (2000) elucidate that Dzongkha at the first place been powerful for unifying kingdom. Later identifying as common language among diverse ethnic groups; it not only has helped in building sense of solidarity amongst people but exhibited one’s own identity to outside world. Also with introduction of written form; it accentuated linguistic independence, and it played vitally in strengthening culture, heritage, sovereignty, and security.

English advantages

Crawford (2000) and Phillipson (2003) say that English skills have made many societies productive through the advancement of economy, science, culture, education, and politics. Even looking at student’s learning perspective for instance; when their level of English proficiency increases, it guarantees the content knowledge will improve (Abedi & Lord, 2001, in Abedi, 2004). Dey (2011), GLSS (2011), Halloway (2012) and McKay (2002) in addition affirm that English is the passport to career success in today’s scientific, and it articulates identity and scope within diverse ethnic groups. English who use as first language with better communication skills is always in advantage side than who has in regional language.

Praphu (1987) and Orwell (2010) present; English is serving as wider communication for both local and global. Since it does not link to a single culture or nation, people are not able to do anything without it. For the same, “…the coming of English language into the kingdom of Bhutan began to make headway in the field of educational and economic development” (Planning Commission, 1991, in Namgyel, 2003).

Drawback of English incompetency

Due to being not possessed adequate vocabulary and sufficient grasping power of English, students might find difficult to comprehend teachers’ lectures. They might get fear to participate in classroom discussion, and subsequently would display negative attitudes like inattentiveness, passiveness, disruptiveness, and disinterestedness (Dey, 2011). Takahashi (1991, in Leffa, 200) unfolds a similar case in point. The native-speakers of English intentionally push non-native speakers out from the conversation by making full use of language tactics such as stepping up the speed of speech, using large number of jargons and idioms, and making grammatically complex.

There are indications that many hospital patients are encountering with difficulty for not understanding health information, medical prescriptions etc. written in English (Andrulis, Cindy, and Dennis, 2007, p.122).


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English as an academic language in Bhutan. Language policy implementation issues
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language, national language, ESL, English incompetency
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Tashi Namgyel (Author), 2012, English as an academic language in Bhutan. Language policy implementation issues, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/310992


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