Proposed Multilingualism Concepts in National Curriculum Framework for Foundational Stage-2022

Multilingualism has both cognitive and societal/cultural benefits.

Research clearly indicates that exposure to multiple languages in oral form provides significant cognitive and socio-emotional stimulation to the child that are beneficial. Furthermore, children are able to pick up multiple oral languages in the early years, and easily keep track of which language is which and which language should be spoken to whom.

Children best attain multilingual skills when a rich and natural environment of meaningful and purposeful use of languages is created around them. Young children are not best equipped to learn a language through formal teaching. This is an important distinction that can help curriculum developers, Teacher educators, and Teachers to design and provide appropriate early language learning experiences for young children in the Foundational Stage.

Multilingualism is pervasive in India and most children are exposed to more than one language from their early years. In our multilingual country and world, becoming multilingual early on also makes it easier to communicate across many communities over one’s lifetime.

A key part of the NCF is thus aimed at instilling foundations of excellent multilingual skills orally in children as early as is possible in a manner that is developmentally appropriate.

Young children learn and grasp nontrivial concepts most quickly and deeply in their home language/mother tongue/familiar language.

Research evidence confirms the importance of teaching children in their mother tongue during the foundational years and beyond, for the following reasons:

i. Children come to a preschool or school after the age of three years, by which time they have already accumulated significant competence in the home language to enable them to listen, comprehend, and empathize with others, speak, and express their feelings and thoughts, and successfully interact with others meaningfully. Over these three years children have, along with ‘picking up the language’, also simultaneously been able to develop a host of other essential skills, particularly in communication, information processing, and social interaction as well as skills and concepts foundational to creativity, critical thinking, literacy, and numeracy. The children take these foundational skills with them into preschool and school; these serve as essential building blocks that get built upon further, to enhance the child’s cognitive and socio-emotional competence, when the child’s home language or mother tongue is used to teach other subjects all through the Foundational Stage and beyond. Thus, the home language serves as a facilitator for all learning and enables children to form connections with prior learning and home learning.

ii. On the other hand, if the child is taught with a new or unfamiliar language as the medium of instruction, the 3-4 years of experience that the child comes with gets completely disregarded as a new language is taught from the beginning, at the cost of negating the foundational experiences, skills, and learning that the child has already accumulated, thus reversing the entire learning process. There is indeed overwhelming evidence from across the world, including from India, that shows that children who study through their mother tongue or a home or familiar language perform better in other subjects such as Mathematics and Science compared with their peers who are taught through an unfamiliar language as the medium of instruction.

iii. Research clearly indicates that any skills and concepts gained in the child’s home language do not have to be retaught when they learn a new language alongside or subsequently.

iv. The mother tongue or home language is more than just a mode of communication for the child, but also relates closely with the child’s personal, social, and cultural identity. Rejecting this rich experience through imposition of a new language as the medium of instruction is neither fair to children nor desirable at the early stage of their education, when development of self-confidence, positive self-esteem, and sense of autonomy and capability is a vital objective that Teachers need to work towards.

v. Studies show that, for young children, positive and supportive relationships and an emotionally secure environment is crucial for learning, which is fostered through the use of a familiar language as medium of instruction.

vi. Young children learn through listening, talking, and interacting with others. Only a familiar language (a language they understand well and also speak) can provide a natural, communicative environment that is necessary for their holistic development.  Hence, the language of interaction should predominantly be the child’s mother tongue/ home language/familiar language through the Foundational Stage.

vii. NEP 2020 has identified the paradigm shift to interactive learning, emphasis on creativity and discovery as opposed to rote memorisation. A corollary to this is to discourage the use of an unfamiliar language as the medium of instruction at least through the Foundational Stage.

Hence, another key aspect of this NCF is to respect the child’s home language, encourage the child to communicate and learn in their home language, and use the home language as the language for teaching to the extent possible. Bilingual or multilingual approaches in the early years – with the home language as the main language – enable children to do efficient code switching across languages

Language forms a critical aspect of cultural awareness and expression, which is considered among the major competencies important to develop in children.

The competencies of cultural awareness and expression provide children with a sense of identity, belonging, as well as an appreciation of other cultures and identities. International studies over the last decade have demonstrated that cultural awareness/expression and a positive cultural identity in children leads to increased levels of prosocial behaviour, self-esteem, self-development, as well as tolerance and appreciation of other cultures.

It is through the development of a strong sense and knowledge of their own cultural history, languages, arts, and traditions that children can build a positive cultural identity and self-esteem, in addition to developing related competencies such as communication and creativity. Thus, cultural awareness and expression are important contributors to both individual as well as societal well-being.

This is a further reason that home languages, local languages, and other Indian languages, with their oral and written literatures and traditions, form an important aspect of children’s educational experiences for their overall holistic development and well-being.

NCF’s Approach to Language Education and Literacy in the Foundational Stage

In order to be in consonance with the principles and goals of language education as outlined in NEP 2020, the NCF’s Approach to Language Education in the Foundational Stage is thus as follows.

a. Since children learn concepts most rapidly and deeply in their home language, the primary medium of instruction would optimally be the child’s home language/mother tongue/familiar language (also referred to below as L1) in the Foundational Stage.

This should be the approach in both public and private schools.

To ensure that each child has continued proper use of their L1 when they begin at the Foundational Stage, it is essential to have Teachers (e.g., from the local community) who not only understand the language but also the local culture and traditions. More than at any other Stage, Teachers of the Foundational Stage should be proficient in the child’s L1.

Parents should also be included as partners in the educational processes of children. This  makes the schooling process more enjoyable and more secure for children, and also enables and fosters a closer home-school relationship, which is important for a child’s holistic development and learning.

For the age group of 3-8 years, most learning occurs through play, listening, and talking. This should necessarily be conducted in the children’s L1.

The inclusion of children’s L1 as the primary language of interaction and teaching for the Foundational Stage would require development and publication of good children’s literature in these languages, especially in languages where there is a dearth of such literature. This may be taken up as a National Programme for the languages that are already used as mediums of instruction, as well as for additional languages that would be introduced as mediums of instruction or for extensive and formal use for teaching and learning at the Foundational Stage.

Several State government and non-government organisations are also working on development and publication of children’s materials including storybooks, poem posters, and big books in a large number of home languages.

While L1 is the best option as the language used for teaching, often it is not possible due to various factors, including the availability of Teachers who are proficient in the relevant languages.

This is seen in many contexts, including dispersed communities across geographies or in remote areas.

In such scenarios, L1 should be used to support a child’s transition to the new language, which is the language used for teaching, without losing out on their previous learning; for this the Teachers would have to be supported and encouraged to develop familiarity with the children’s language.

It may also be possible to find supplementary options that can support a child’s transition to the new language, which is the medium of instruction, without losing out on their previous learning, by having someone consistently supporting them in helping them make connections.

For example, having a parent come in every day by rotation, engaging community youth as support for Teachers, and panchayats organizing community centres to carry out play-based activities as after-school programmes, are options that can be considered based on what works best for each community. Teachers who come from a really different language background can also aim to pick up some basic vocabulary and communication ability in the children’s languages to build bridges and ease transitions.

In all classrooms where Teachers have a satisfactory proficiency of children’s languages, the children’s L1 should be formally used for teaching and learning.

Whenever children’s L1 are not used officially as the language for teaching other subjects, they should still be used formally, at least in the oral domain, and at the initial stages of learning to read and write and serve as a bridge to the language used for teaching other subjects.

This ensures that children’s L1 are always used in the classroom, both by the Teacher and children for thinking and reasoning, higher order comprehension, expression, and communication.

Finally, a child must NEVER be discouraged from speaking, or made to feel ashamed by, their home language. On the contrary, use of home languages should always be celebrated, appreciated, and encouraged, both in spirit and (to the extent possible) in practice, by Teachers, peers, parents, school functionaries.

As far as possible, Teachers should allow and encourage children to respond and discuss in their L1, read simple storybooks to children in their L1, and explain difficult words or concepts through their L1. Languages need not be taught and learned in watertight compartments at separate times. There can be a mixing of languages and children should get an opportunity to learn new concepts and languages using the foundation of their L1 as scaffolding.

b. Children should be exposed to and immersed in multiple oral languages (also referred to as L2 and L3 below) from an early age. Schools will aim to ensure the presence of Teachers, and parents so that at least two or preferably three languages present with children on a regular basis.

Children in the first 6 to 8 years of life have the ability to readily pick up new languages if exposed to them, particularly as oral communication in meaningful contexts. Thus, adopting bilingual or multilingual approaches within the early grades with L1 as the main language of teaching enables children to do efficient code switching across languages.

Exposure to multiple languages in oral form can also provide significant cognitive stimulation to the child that is beneficial, including the development of creativity and critical-thinking abilities, in addition to socio-emotional skills, as sounds and gestures by Teachers, parents, peers, and others are transformed in a child’s mind into words, phrases, and sentences.

The use of children’s context and experiences and themes that are close to children’s hearts for oral language and literacy development is important when an unfamiliar language is being used or taught formally. Songs, poetry, games, drama, total physical response (TPR), and other creative interactions – such as narration (and discussion) of experiences, places, events, and favourite items/toys – develop aesthetic and creative sensibilities while also making language-learning more fun and also thereby more effective.

Some of the strategies that can be used in the Foundational Stage include: balanced and strategic use of children’s L1 and L2/L3 that is aligned to the development of children’s language proficiencies at any point in time; providing a natural setting for conversation and other oral language development activities for L2/L3; acceptance and encouragement to the mixed use of L1 and L2/L3, including children’s cultural and contextual knowledge in teaching-learning; and taking help of children’s L1 in teaching how to read and write. Efforts must be made to produce high-quality learning materials in children’s L1.

For young children to acquire skills of speaking fluently in their L2 or L3 (which could also be English), a natural, communication-focussed approach that also uses scaffolding of their L1 needs to be adopted. Some effective strategies include use of action songs, rhymes, fun games, short conversations in phrases and simple sentences (with the scaffold of real objects or pictures), adopting a multilingual approach where familiar stories are first told/read aloud by the teacher in L1 several times and can then be retold in L2 or L3, using the target words and structures, and using stories and read-alouds with repetitive sentence structures.

Children should develop strong oral language skills (including listening comprehension, adequate vocabulary, and oral expression) in at least two languages by the end of the Foundational Stage. These oral language skills will form a critical aspect of learning to independently read and write in at least one language (and script) by the end of the Foundational Stage.

c. The concept of reading and writing is initially developed through the language R1, which is preferably the home language L1 whenever possible. (We define R1 to be the language in which a child first learns the concept of reading and writing, R2 the second such language, R3 the third such language, and so on.)

The concept of reading and writing (i.e., emergent literacy and emergent reading comprehension and written expression) are developed in a child through the development of oral language; meaning-making (including making sense of and interpreting images and other symbol- systems such as gestures, facial expressions, art, music, dance, drama, games); and exposure to print material.

Therefore, in addition to the emphasis on early development of oral language skills in the Foundational Stage, there must also be exposure to plenty of print material early on, particularly in R1 (which preferably is L1, but may be L2 in certain scenarios as described in point a. above). This print material would start with picture/story books. Letters of the alphabet of R1 or R2, and simple words and phrases in each language, accompanied by pictures, shapes, and numbers, can be displayed on the walls of the school at children’s eye level. In some cases, R1 and R2 may have the same letters, but in some cases they would be different.

Because reading and writing does not come naturally the way oral language does, there must be plenty of ‘handholding’ through meaningful contexts. Children will experience a progression from picture books with word labels (in order to gain visual exposure to written words), to read-aloud books (which are read aloud to the child to develop a sense of correspondence between phonemes and graphemes), to shared reading, to guided reading, and finally to more independent reading of simple and then more complex stories and text (via e.g., graded readers).

Picture and story books should be fun, relatable, colourful, and engaging, and rooted in the local and Indian context, traditions, and literature, in order to maximize children’s interest.

Teaching phonics/decoding can be made fun through games and conversation (e.g., what other words do you know that use the sound ‘b,’ what other sounds other than ‘b’ can you make with your lips, what word is the same backwards and forwards).

The approach to writing should be that it is a form of expression, and not a task. As such, the first step for a child is drawing, then labelling the drawing (which may initially involve ‘inventive spelling’ which is an important step in meaningful literacy), then realizing that one can be more expressive through multiple words (phrases), and finally moving towards complete sentences. Practice can be conducted through workbooks, games requiring some writing, and other forms of guided writing.

Both meaning-focused and skills-focused activities are required in Grades 1 and 2 when children are learning reading and writing. Teachers need to arrive at a good balance between the teaching of individual skills (e.g., decoding, fluency, spelling, writing correctly etc.) and providing opportunities for the meaningful use of whole language for reading, writing and oral language development activities.

There should be workbooks that give children the opportunity for regular practice of reading and writing. The worksheets in them should also be graded.

d. Once the concept of reading and writing is developed in a child in R1, use of additional scripts can be gradually introduced. The aim is to be an independent reader and writer in R1 by age 8 (Grade 3).

The approach to reading and writing is the same for R2 and R3 – starting with read-alouds, games, and activities to understand the phoneme-grapheme correspondence, to shared reading to guided reading to writing exercises that eventually lead to independent writing, with poems, songs, literature, drama, games, and other creative interaction employed copiously to enhance learning. Because the concept of reading and writing has already been learned through R1, the process of learning a new script is conceptually much easier for R2 and R3.

Interactive language classes involving R1, R2, and R3 will continue with the support of L1 continuing as above if different than R1–R3. The aim must be to focus on higher-order thinking questions as children progress in their speaking, reading, and writing abilities across all languages in the Foundational Stage and beyond.

Summary of Key Ideas related to Language in the Foundational Stage

The medium of instruction will be the home language (L1) in the Foundational Stage to the extent possible. Where not possible, measures will be taken to support the child’s formal use of L1 in teaching- learning activities, and to build bridges from L1 to the school languages.

Children will be immersed in multiple oral languages as early as is possible, which will be enhanced through interactive activities (e.g., conversation, TPR, poetry, songs, drama, narration of experiences). The aim will be to achieve oral language proficiency (not necessarily at the same level) in two languages by Grade 3.

The concept of reading and writing is initially developed through R1, which is preferably L1 whenever possible, via early exposure to oral language development, meaning-making activities, and print materials. Understanding of phonemes and graphemes and the correspondence between them (decoding) will be developed through games and interactive exercises.

• Reading skills will first be developed in R1 through picture and story books, read-aloud books, shared reading, guided reading, and more independent reading through graded readers, with interactive activities involving poetry, songs, literature, drama, games to enhance learning. In cases where R1 is not L1, support with L1 will be arranged to the extent possible.

• Writing skills will be developed in R1 through drawing, labelling, inventive spelling, writing workbooks, games requiring writing, and other forms of guided writing, followed by more independent writing of words, phrases, and then complete sentences in meaningful and creative contexts.

The approach to subsequently developing reading and writing skills in R2 and R3 will be similar. The aim will be to achieve literacy skills in R1 by Grade 3.