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Multilingualism is the ability to speak, understand, read, and write more than one language. It can be individual or societal, depending on whether a person or a community uses multiple languages. Multilingualism can also be classified into different types, such as additive or subtractive, balanced or dominant, sequential or simultaneous, depending on how languages are acquired, used, and valued. Language is a powerful tool for communication, learning, and cultural expression. It is also a key aspect of human development and identity. However, in a diverse and multilingual country like India, language can also pose significant challenges for education.

Why is Multilingualism Important in Education?

Enhancing Cognitive Development: Research shows that learning more than one language can boost brain functions, such as memory, attention, problem-solving, and creativity. It can also improve metalinguistic awareness, which is the ability to reflect on and manipulate language structures and rules.

Fostering Cultural Diversity: Learning multiple languages can expose students to different cultures, perspectives, and values. It can also help them develop intercultural competence, which is the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with people from diverse backgrounds. With over 22 officially recognised languages and hundreds of dialects, each with its own unique cultural and historical significance, language is a crucial aspect of our identity.

Improving Academic Achievement: Studies have consistently shown that students who receive instruction in their mother tongue or home language perform better in school than those who are taught in a foreign or unfamiliar language. This is because they can access the curriculum content more easily and confidently, and transfer their skills and knowledge to other languages.

Promoting Social Inclusion: Providing education in multiple languages can ensure that every child has equal access and opportunity to learn, regardless of their linguistic background. It can also foster a sense of belonging and identity among minority language speakers, and reduce discrimination and marginalization.

How Can Multilingual Education be Implemented Effectively?

The Choice of Languages:

  • Multilingual education should be based on the linguistic realities and needs of the learners and the communities.
  • It should also respect the constitutional provisions and the three-language formula of the National Education Policy (NEP 2020).
  • Ideally, multilingual education should start with the mother tongue or home language of the learners as the medium of instruction, and gradually introduce other languages as subjects or additional media of instruction.

The Pedagogy of Languages:

  • Multilingual education should adopt a learner-centered and interactive pedagogy that fosters language awareness and proficiency.
  • It should also promote cross-linguistic transfer and multiliteracy skills among the learners.
  • Moreover, it should use culturally relevant and contextually appropriate materials and methods that reflect the diversity and richness of languages and cultures.


The Assessment of Languages:

  • Multilingual education should use fair and valid assessment tools and criteria that measure the learning outcomes and progress of the learners in multiple languages.
  • It should also provide constructive feedback and support to the learners to improve their language skills.
  • Furthermore, it should recognize and reward the achievements and efforts of the learners in multilingual education.

What are the Benefits of Multilingual Education for India?

Enhancing Human Capital:

Multilingual education can equip the learners with the necessary language skills and competencies to participate in various domains of life, such as education, employment, research, innovation, etc. It can also increase their employability and mobility in the globalized world.

Preserving Linguistic Diversity:

Multilingual education can help preserve and revitalize the linguistic diversity and heritage of India. It can also promote linguistic rights and dignity of the speakers of different languages, especially those who are endangered or marginalized.

Strengthening National Unity:

Multilingual education can foster mutual understanding and respect among the speakers of different languages and cultures.

It can also enhance social cohesion and harmony among the diverse groups of people in India.

Stronger Foundation for Learning Additional Languages:

Starting education in one's mother tongue provides a solid foundation for learning additional languages, including the national language and English, promoting multilingualism.

Higher Retention Rates:

When students can understand what they are being taught, they are more likely to stay in school and complete their education.

What are the Challenges of Multilingualism in Education?

Lack of Resources:

Implementing multilingual education requires adequate resources, such as trained teachers, appropriate curricula, quality textbooks, assessment tools, and digital platforms. However, many schools lack these resources, especially in rural and remote areas.

Lack of Policy Support:

Although the NEP 2020 and the NIPUN Bharat Mission advocate for multilingual education, there is still a gap between policy and practice. Many states have not yet adopted or implemented these policies effectively.

There is also a need for more coordination and collaboration among different stakeholders, such as central and state governments, educational institutions, civil society organizations, and communities.

Lack of Awareness:

Many parents, teachers, students, and policymakers are not aware of the benefits of multilingual education.They may have misconceptions or prejudices about certain languages or dialects. They may also prefer English as the medium of instruction, believing that it will provide better opportunities for their children’s future.

Curriculum Alignment:

Balancing the use of mother tongues or regional languages with national or standardized curricula can be challenging. Ensuring that students have access to a well-rounded education while also valuing their linguistic backgrounds is crucial.

Assessment and Evaluation:

Developing fair and standardized assessment methods across different languages can be difficult. Ensuring that students are evaluated fairly and consistently can be a challenge when using multiple languages.

Transition to Higher Education and Employment:

While multilingual education can be effective at the primary level, transitioning to higher education or the job market might require proficiency in a more widely spoken language, potentially disadvantageous to students who were educated in their mother tongue.

What are the Policy Recommendations for Multilingualism in Education?

Adopting a Flexible and Inclusive Approach:

Multilingual education should be tailored to the needs and contexts of different learners and communities. It should also be inclusive of all languages and dialects spoken in India, including tribal languages, sign languages, classical languages, foreign languages, etc.

Developing a Continuum of Language Learning:

Multilingual education should not be limited to the foundational years of schooling. It should be extended throughout the educational system, from pre-primary to higher education. It should also provide opportunities for students to learn new languages at different stages of their academic career.

Strengthening Teacher Capacity:

Teachers play a crucial role in delivering multilingual education. They should be provided with adequate training and support to teach effectively in multiple languages. They should also be encouraged to use innovative pedagogies and technologies to enhance language learning.

Engaging Parents and Communities:

Parents and communities are key partners in promoting multilingual education. They should be informed about the benefits of multilingualism for their children’s development and learning. They should also be involved in decision-making processes regarding language policies and practices.

Creating a Culture of Multilingualism:

Multilingualism should be celebrated as a valuable asset for India’s social and economic development. It should be integrated into various aspects of public life, such as media, arts, sports, governance, etc. It should also be recognized and rewarded in various domains, such as education, employment, research, etc.