English medium instruction (EMI) as linguistic capital in Nepal: Promises and realities

Pramod Kumar SAH, Guofang LI

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This article reports on a critical qualitative case study of an EMI-based, underresourced public school in Nepal through Bourdieu’s lens of linguistic capital. As the data analysis revealed, parents, students, and teachers regarded EMI as a privileged form of linguistic capital for developing advanced English skills, enhancing educational achievements and access to higher education, and increasing the chance of upward social and economic mobility. In contrary to these rosy perceptions of EMI with overtly superficial promises, switching to EMI, without enough teacher preparation and infrastructure support in the school, had contributed to several unplanned negative outcomes, including a contested process of developing the English proficiency. Despite the school’s claim of offering EMI education, Nepali was the actual language of instruction in the school due to teachers’ lack of proficiency in English and the school’s inadequate resources and preparedness for a shift to EMI. As a result, the students developed neither the content knowledge nor English language skills. Therefore, rather than being an educational equalizer, EMI has served to (re)produce linguistic marginalization and educational inequality and injustice for children from a lower socioeconomic status. We suggest critical reflection on EMI adoption and reenvision “sustainable additive multilingualism” in such contexts (Erling et al., 2016). Copyright © 2017 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-123
JournalInternational Multilingual Research Journal
Issue number2
Early online dateNov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


Sah, P. K., & Li, G. (2018). English medium instruction (EMI) as linguistic capital in Nepal: Promises and realities. International Multilingual Research Journal, 12(2), 109-123. https://doi.org/10.1080/19313152.2017.1401448


  • Educational inequality
  • English Medium Instruction (EMI)
  • Language-in-education policy
  • Linguistic capital
  • Nepal


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