Setting the Context – Understanding the Linguistic Diversity in Indian Classrooms

Title: Hundreds of home languages in the country and many in most classrooms: Coping with diversity in primary classrooms in India.

Author: Dhir Jhingran

Source: Multilingual Education for Social Justice: Globalizing the Local (Eds: A. K. Mohanty, M. Panda, R. Phillipson and T. Skutnabb-Kangas. Orient Blackswan), p. 263

Year: 2009

Suitable Audience: Academics, Practitioners, Policy Makers

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Link: None.

This chapter helps the reader understand the sheer scope of linguistic complexities in Indian classrooms, and the challenges this creates for student learning and for teaching.  Dhir Jhingran begins by stating that children who learn through a language that they cannot fully understand in the primary grade classrooms, face enormous difficulties – both cognitively and socio-emotionally. Later in the chapter, he estimates that approximately 25% of students in primary grade classrooms in India face these kinds of difficulties. Yet, policies that have been formulated for language education have been notoriously ineffective in addressing these issues. Jhingran ends by describing a variety of ways out of this situation, although he acknowledges that very few of these have been tested out in Indian contexts.

Title: Key Concepts in  Bilingual Education: Ideological, Historical, Epistemological, and Empirical Foundations

Authors: Tove Skutnabb-Kangas and Teresa L. McCarty

Source: Skutnabb-Kangas, T., & McCarty, T. L. (2008). Key concepts in bilingual education: Ideological historical, epistemological, and empirical foundations. In Encyclopedia of language and education(2nd ed., Vol. 5, pp. 3-17). New York: Springer. Retrieved August 22, 2017, from

Year: 2006

Suitable Audience: Practitioners, Teachers, Students.

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Link: Unabridged and Abridged

This document helps the reader with concepts that may be new, as the authors define and unpack key concepts in bilingual/multilingual education. The focus is on those terms and concepts that are encountered most frequently in the research and pedagogical literature. Please take a look at the abridged version that the team at ELI has created for your use. We have sought permission from the authors to abridge the original version, before making it available to our readers.

Title: Teaching in two tongues: Rethinking the role of language(s) in teacher education in India

Author: Shailaja Menon, Vanamala Viswanatha, Jane Sahi

Source: Contemporary Education Dialogue, 11(1) 41–65

Year: 2014

Suitable Audience: Teacher Educators, Policy Makers, Academics

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Link:Teaching in two tongues

This article is a sharing of emergent ideas about the potential role of languages in teacher education (TE) programmes in multilingual contexts in India. The authors contextualise the discussion by describing the situation vis-à-vis languages and language teaching in India. Next, they develop and describe a rationale for adopting a bilingual/multilingual position in TE programmes in India. Finally, they describe a few possibilities for the practice of language teaching.

Multilingual Education: Planning and Policy

Title: Language and language-in-education planning in multilingual India: a minoritized language perspective

Authors:  Cynthia Groff

Source: Language Policy, 16 (2), 135-164

Year: 2017

Suitable Audience: Policy Makers, Students, Academics

Difficulty Level: Moderate


This is a comprehensive article that explores India’s linguistic diversity from a language policy perspective, emphasizing policies relevant to linguistic minorities. The article, as a whole, would be of interest to policy makers and students wishing to get a bird’s eye perspective on Language planning for linguistic minorities in India. However, we draw readers’ attention particularly to the two appendices at the end of the article, one of which provides a bird’s eye view of the history of colonial language-in-education planning in India, while the other provides a snap-shot of post-independence planning of language-in-education, including the famed three-language formula.

Under the Creative Commons License agreement (, these appendices are presented here for quick reference: Cynthia Groff_Appendix 1 & 2 

Title:  English With or Without G(u)ilt: A Position Paper on Language in Education Policy for South Africa

Authors:  S. Granville , H. Janks , M. Mphahlele , Y. Reed , P. Watson , M. Joseph & E. Ramani

Source: Language and Education, 12 (4), 254-272

Year: 1998

Suitable Audience: Policy Makers, Academics, Practitioners, Students

Difficulty Level: Easy-Moderate


The aspiration for English as the medium of instruction is not an Indian one alone. Set in the context of South Africa, this paper takes on the national Language Plan Task Group (LANTAG, 1995) that proposed a plan for preserving South Africa’s nine African languages through a multilingual education policy. The authors of this paper take on a somewhat controversial position by arguing that any policy aiming to challenge the domination of English, must essentially recognise the need to provide equal and quality access to the language of power (i.e., English) to every child, especially those from historically disadvantaged and marginalized groups. It is only through this quality access to the dominant language as well as her own language that a student could survive and critically challenge the politics of power that operates through languages. Articulate in its recommendations, this paper would be useful for anyone interested in the domain of language in Education policies.

Title: Language Policy in Education and Classroom Practices in India.  Is the Teacher a Cog in the Policy Wheel?

Authors:  Ajit Mohanty, Minnati Panda and Rashim Pal

Source: Negotiating language policies in schools: Educators as policy makers (Eds.: K. Menken & O. Garcia). London: Routledge.

Year: 2009

Suitable Audience: Practitioners, Students and Academics

Difficulty Level: Moderate to High

Link: None

Readers who are interested in language policy implementation will find this piece to be of interest. The chapter describes in great detail of the ground realities of primary education in India, where a severe lack of resources and inadequacy of training often leads to a chaotic implementation of language policies, often marginalizing and pushing out minority cultures and languages. However, the chapter also brings innovative stories of great resilience and resourcefulness from the ground, where teachers have synthesized their own methods to interact creatively with the multilingual realities of the children.

The question posed in the title of the chapter, of whether a teacher is only another cog in the policy wheel, seems to have no easy answer. The authors, bring us stories from both sides, the hazardous consequences of ill-implemented policies as well as the locally led, relevant and meaningful responses to these gaps.

Title: Multilingualism in Early Childhood Education Classrooms: Rationale, Challenges and Possibilities – A Policy Brief

Authors: Devika Sharma, Sunita Singh, Venita Kaul, Dr Monimalika Day, Ayesha Raees and Lyma Ahmed.


Difficulty Level: Easy to moderate

Suitable Audience: Policy Makers, Early Childhood Education Professional


This policy brief focuses on the issue of multilingualism in early childhood classrooms. It is in agreement with NCF-2005 in terms of viewing multilingual classrooms as a possibility and a resource rather than a challenge of diversity. It builds on research and suggest how teachers can promote linguistic diversity and ensure that learning takes place in a non-threatening and welcoming environment.

The paper engages with some of these questions: What is the role of language policy with respect to multilingualism in India? Why do we need to address multilingualism in early learning? How can we promote multilingualism through ECE?, and so on. The document ends by making recommendations for multilingual education in early childhood classrooms.

Title: Theoretical assumptions regarding the mind-culture-language relationship underlying MLE models in India and their impact on resulting practices

Author: Shivani Nag

Source: Multilingualisms and Development: Selected proceedings of the 11th Language & Development Conference, New Delhi, India 2015 (Ed: Hywell Coleman)

Year: 2005

Suitable Audience: Academics, Practitioners, Policy Makers

Reading Level: Moderate


What are the underlying assumptions of Multilingual Education (MLE) programmes in India? Only a few Indian states – Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Assam – even have MLE policies or programmes. But, a closer look at the MLE programmes in those states reveal an important issue – they use the mother tongue mainly as a “bridging tool” to help students transition to the mainstream languages. Shivani Nag contrasts these MLE programmes with an alternative – MLE plus – based on the work of Professors Ajit Mohanty, Minnati Panda and their team. MLE plus does not see mother tongue as a bridging tool, but aims to foster mother tongue development for its own sake – as a cultural and linguistic resource for students and their communities. Practitioners will be especially interested in reading pages 140-147, where rich descriptions of classroom practices in the MLE and MLE Plus classrooms are contrasted!

Theoretical assumptions regarding the mind-culture-language relationship underlying MLE models in India and their impact on resulting practices.

Title: Using the first language in the classroom

Authors:  Vivian Cook

Source: The Canadian Modern Language Review, 57 (3)

Year: 2001

Suitable Audience: Practitioners, Academics

Difficulty Level: Easy-Moderate


There is a time-honored view in second language teaching that the use of the first language (L1) should be avoided in the second language (L2) learning classroom. Vivian Cook reviews historical reasons for why educators had been discouraged from using L1 in L2 classrooms. In the second half of the chapter, he argues convincingly that the L1 can be brought in as a meaningful resource into L2 learning, and suggests various appropriate uses of it in the classroom, such as, to convey meaning, explain grammar, for managing and organizing the classroom, during collaborative learning among students, and so on. This is a slightly long and dense, but important piece for all educators working with multiple languages in the classroom!

Using the first language in the classroom

Title: Fostering multiliteracy in a linguistically diverse classroom

Authors: David Schwarzer, Alexia Haywood, Charla Lorenzen

Source: Language Arts, 80 (6)

Year: 2003

Suitable Audience: Practitioners

Reading Level: Easy


This article, set in the US, addresses questions that are quite relevant to Indian educators working in multilingual settings. It asks how a monolingual teacher can support linguistic diversity in a classroom of children who speak many different native languages.  The authors start with the assumption that strategies that are effective for developing literacy for a monolingual child are also effective for helping children develop literacy in their mother tongue even if the teachers do not speak all the languages of the students. While multiliterate teachers who know all the languages in the classroom are ideal, even monolingual teachers could create a classroom environment and culture that actively makes multilingual resources available to all the children. Read on to find out the specific strategies suggested!

Title: Multilingual Education for Social Justice: Globalising the Local

Authors: Mohanty, A.K., Panda, M., Phillipson, R., & Skutnabb-Kangas, T.

Source/Publisher: Orient BlackSwan

Year: 2009

Suitable Audience: Academics, Students, Policy Makers

Difficulty Level: High-Moderate

Link: None

This book is a must-read volume in the domain of Multilingual Education (MLE) for those interested in a serious study of the issues. It attempts to show that it is not only desirable, but essential that the gap between theory and practice in MLE be bridged in complex sociolinguistic contexts. Important scholars, theorists and practitioners come together to provide both theoretical and pedagogical analyses and insights into MLE for minority, marginalized and indigenous communities. The issue of English language education is carefully considered in certain chapters – especially, its homogenizing and hegemonizing influence, leading to an erosion of linguistic diversity in the communities. Experiences from diverse continents and contexts – e.g., Asia, Europe, Africa, North and South America – are drawn upon to examine issues in the education of linguistic and cultural minority students, with an intent to caution against uninformed policy making.

Multilingual Education In The Classroom

Title: Re-visioning Translation for Multilingual Education in India

Author: Vanamala Viswanatha

Year: 2016

Source:  Viswanatha,V (2016). Re-visioning Translation for Multilingual Education in India. In D Merkle, G Lane-Mercier & J Koustas (Eds), Plurilinguisme et pluriculturalisme. Des modèles officiels dans le monde (pp. 107-124). Presses de l’Université de Montréal.

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Suitable Audience: Teachers, Academics, Students, Practitioners

This paper begins by describing the complexity of Indian Multilingualism, that is, the natural richness of its use in day to day life vis-a-vis its constricted usage within the spheres of education.  With this, it makes a case for thoughtfully designing language policies, such that they aren’t reductive of the multilingual nature of the society, while at the same time address the community aspirations for English. The paper strongly suggests using the ‘process of translation’ as an effective teaching pedagogy in multilingual classrooms. It details interesting anecdotes from the author’s classroom where translation as a process was used to understand the changing nature of idioms across cultures and languages.

Title: Identity texts: The collaborative creation of power in multilingual schools

Year: 2011

Authors: Jim Cummins, Margaret Early.

Publisher: Trentham Books

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Suitable Audience: Practitioners, Teachers, Students.

Link: None

The book helps the reader understand the use of “Identity texts” as a pedagogical tool. Identity texts can be defined as “the products of students’ creative work or performances carried out within the pedagogical space put together by the classroom teacher. Students invest their identities in the creation of these texts – which can be written, spoken, signed, visual, musical, dramatic, or combinations in multimodal form. The identity text then holds a mirror up to students in which their identities are reflected back in a positive light. When students share identity texts with multiple audiences (peers, teachers, parents, grand- parents, sister classes, the media, etc) they are likely to receive positive feedback and affirmation of self in interaction with these audiences.” The authors assert that identity texts represent a powerful pedagogical tool to promote equity for students from marginalised social backgrounds, and when adopted as a strategy, they can further boost the success of a multilingual classroom

Title: Different ways of dealing with linguistic diversities

Author: Devaki Lakshminarayan

Here, Devaki Lakshminarayan uses a range of local as well as international examples to describe in detail  five different strategies of dealing with multilingualism. These include-

1. Three language formula and other policies
2. Transitional Model
3. Mother Tongue medium of education
4. Multiple language as resource
5. Immersion model for developing and saving mother tongues.
We have also extracted a blog piece out of the original article, which could be more relevant to the local context, the link to which can be found here. 

Ganesh Devy, noted Tribal Activist and Writer, in an interview with Livemint helps bring the readers’ attention to the complexities involved in the language situation in India and why we need to start thinking of saving dying languages. “India becoming a graveyard of Languages”

Kancha Ilaiah, noted Dalit Activist makes a case for English Education for the oppressed people, in this article published in the Deccan Herald. “Dalits and English”

Resources for Practitioners

How can we facilitate second language learning? Bilingual books can serve as useful resources for second language learning. CLR has created a range of books that you could find in this document.

CLR Bilingual Reading Materials

What are the ways in which we could make sure that students from disadvantaged rural and urban communities get familiar with a new language such as English, which they hardly get to hear in their immediate surroundings? What kind of resources do we need to accomplish this task? Read on to find out how using the Bilingual Radio as a teaching learning resource could be a great idea to explore!

Bilingual Teaching and Learning of Spoken English

What are ways in which one could ease the transition of tribal or disadvantaged children from their home language to the regional medium of instruction? Presented here are useful ‘Bridge’ materials developed by Centre For Learning Resources (CLR).

CLR Material for home language transition to school

In this paper, key challenges and possible strategies are identified for supporting multilingualism in education in India and for promoting its understanding and value (linked with permission from the authors).

NEG Fire has brought out books in dialects that are not commonly represented, for example – Lambani, Dhangari, Pardhi dialects etc. You can find descriptions of these books here (link to the page)

They have also brought out bilingual books in Bhili and Hindi, Ghondi and Hindi etc, you will find them here.


Here are some links to useful videos that users could access. The videos made available are in line with the themes being discussed on the ELI Blog. The current theme is that of Multilingualism.

This by UNICEF showcases the MLE Programme in a primary school in Keonjhar district where children study through their mother tongue, Juang until grade 3.

This short video gives us a glimpse of some practices that support multilingual education for tribal children in Odisha. This video, filmed by Natasha Badhwar, is presented by OXFAM India and Sikshasandhan Project.

How to build a Strong MLE (Multilingual Lingual Education) programme? Some Useful recommendations are made in this video which would support anybody wanting to consider taking that vital step towards multilingual education. This video is presented by

In this film, the focus is on a set of language teaching strategies in a classroom context where children speak different languages. On a broader level, the film showcases this school’s approach on how language diversity can be used as a rich resource for language learning in a multilingual classroom environment. This video is presented by Teacher Pages. Teacher Pages is the flagship project of Centre for Equity and Quality in Universal Education (