skip to primary navigationskip to content

Why India?

Bilingualism (ability to speak two languages) and Multilingualism (ability to speak more than two languages) are the norm in India with more than one thousand indigenous languages belonging to four major language families. Of those, the Indo-Aryan and the Dravidian families include languages spoken by 95% of the population (1971, Census data reported in Vasanta, et al., 2010). India is perhaps a unique example where linguistic diversity has been a pillar of state division, while at the same time national identity has been attempted through the enforcement of Hindi as a national language, a source of socio-political debate especially in non-Hindi speaking states.

The constitutional right to mother-tongue education has in principle been considered in the three-language formula of schools. According to this Multilingual Education system (MLE), a regional language or mother-tongue (MT), English and/or Hindi and another Indian language are used for education. However in practice, MT education is provided for only a limited number of major standardised languages, with the number declining over the years, and from primary to upper primary and secondary school levels (Mohanty, 2006; 2008). 

As multilingualism is the norm in India, it is particularly relevant to consider findings from a large body of recent research indicating that bilingualism or multilingualism leads to cognitive advantages, which could be argued to translate into good learning and thinking skills (Bialystok, et al., 2012). These advantages are supposed to be particularly obvious in children and the elderly given the respective developmental and declining pattern of cognitive abilities in these two phases of the lifespan (Valian, 2015; Alladi et al., 2013). Hence, an investigation of the cognitive profile of children, whose potential cognitive advantages drawn from multilingualism may be skewed by socioeconomic deprivation and/or lack of mother-tongue education, becomes necessary.