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The Project

Project: Multilingual and Multiliterate in India

Project Introduction

The project aims to assess cognitive abilities known to underpin learning and
thought processes of children educated in challenging contexts in India. It will explore the complex dynamics of social, economic and geographical contexts and how these affect the delivery of quality multilingual education in India. The research will focus on a range of factors affecting educational quality in India (e.g. availability of mother-tongue support in school), teaching practices and their effect on the development of critical thinking and problem solving abilities, and on structural and social factors.


Project Methods



Preliminary findings

A preliminary analysis of 344 children in New Delhi has been presented in several events.  This included a distinction between slum and non-slum areas as well as a gender distinction with respect to performance on the whole battery of numeracy tasks.  Please read the Latest news.


Principal Investigator:  Professor Ianthi Maria Tsimpli

Co-Investigators (India):
National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Karnataka (Prof. Suvarna Alladi);
The English & Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad (Dr Lina Mukhopadhyay), and
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (Prof. Minati Panda)
Co-Investigators (UK)
University of Cambridge (Dr Denes Szucs), and
University of Reading (Prof. Theodore Marinis and Prof. Jeanine Treffers-Daller)

Project Partners


Funding:  ESRC Research Grant No.:  ES/N010345/1


Timeline of the project

The project started in May 2016 and completed in July 2020.

May 2016 Project started.
July 2016 Researchers, consultants and partners had a meeting at New Delhi to set up the project's formal structure, areas of investigation, tools of inquiry and disparities, and to build up firm relationships between researchers in India and the UK.
July 2016 Researchers visited low socioeconomic strata government schools and some private schools in Hyderabad and New Delhi to get accustomed to the pedagogical practice and structures in India and to establish firm networks . These visits resulted in the choice of areas for schools.
April 2017

Researchers and Mr Joydeep Bordoloi (a representative from the British Council India) visited the Minister of Education, Panta, Bihar to introduce the project.  The visit was helpful to obtain approval so that studies can be carried out in Bihar.

April 2017

A training workshop was held at JNU, New Delhi.  Nine university students from Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore (NIMHANS) participated together with three Indian Co-investigators and researchers in the UK.

August 2017

Another training workshop was held at EFLU, Hyderabad.  11 university students (including 4 of whom participated in the April workshop) participated.  The training included how to deliver cognitive, mathematics and narrative retelling tasks using laptops.  These tasks will be done in English, Telugu and Hindi, and carried out in Indian primary schools between December 2017 and February 2018.  An expert neuro-psychologist, Dr B. Roopesh, NIMHANS, gave his advice in the workshop.

October 2017 First round data collection started in New Delhi and Hyderabad.
July 2018 First MultiLila Project Dissemination Conference "The languages of education in multilingual India: exploring effects in reading and mathematics" was held at New Delhi on 12th and 13th July 2018.
August 2018 Data collection started in Bihar.
September to December 2018 Second round data collection started in New Delhi and Hyderabad.
December 2018 Data collection finished in Bihar.
January 2019 All data collection finished in New Delhi and Hyderabad.
November 2019 A workshop "Multilingualism and multiliteracy workshop:  Multilingualism and educational challenges" was held on 28th and 29th November at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge.
February 2020 Final MultiLila Project Dissemination Conference "Multilingualism in education: evidence in practice and policy" was held at Hyderabad on 10th to 12th February.
August 2020 Project final report published.



The Multilingualism and Multiliteracy (MultiLila) project is a four-year research study (2016 –2020).  It aims to identify whether or not children who learn through the medium of a language which is not the same as their home languages have different levels of learning outcomes than those children whose home and school languages are the same.  Data has been collected in Delhi, Patna and Hyderabad, from children in Standards IV and V.

A total of 2500 children were assessed on their literacy, numeracy and cognitive skills.  Classroom observations were also done in their schools to explore teaching practices and how languages are used during English and mathematics lessons.  The data tells us that:

  • The number of languages a child speaks at home and whether any of them are also used at school has an effect on the child’s school and cognitive skills.
  • Poverty, lack of rich print exposure at home, and migration do not necessarily create cognitive disadvantages.  Children living in slum areas in Delhi either did not differ or in some cases, outperformed, children living in non-slum areas.  The slum/non-slum distinction did not seem to lead to significant differences in most data from the Hyderabad children.  In Patna, there were no differences between children in non-remote rural areas and children in the town areas in Hindi literacy skills, but there were differences in non-verbal IQ with town children performing better.
  • Children from Hyderabad showed a strong positive relationship between aspects of cognitive skills and knowing and using many languages.
  • The teachers in all three sites used multiple languages as an informal strategy to support learning.  Language mixing is used more frequently than the official medium of instruction – both in English medium and regional-language medium schools.
  • The majority of lessons observed involved mainly teacher-centred practice which did not encourage children to demonstrate their understanding or skills in a meaningful way.