The ‘Language Ladders’ approach is making multilingual education concrete

We often hear that multilingual education sounds good in theory but is hard in practice. The Citizens Foundation came up with a concept that can help in the design of a good program: The Language Ladder approach. As this approach places comprehension at the centre of learning, it is worth  taking note of. The beautiful materials help to get the message across. It was nice to even see a graphic of the  drawing colleague Dennis Malone made of pupils falling off the bridge that is supposed to bridge the gap between home and school.

The concept of ‘Language Ladders’ was researched for six years before the report was written: ‘Language ladders’ show promise for introducing multilingual instruction in classrooms. Just like in India, the researched country has policies advocating for the use of the home language in education; however, the practical implementation of these policies is lacking. Students are unable to ‘comprehend’ the lessons taught in an unfamiliar language and end up dropping out. 

The researcher suggests the solution provided by the model known as ‘Language Ladders’ which acts as a bridge between the child and the world. This model came about after six years of research by The Citizens Foundation as a solution to connecting children with what they learn in school. The model puts comprehension at the centre of the approach and uses the following principles:

  • Start with a sociolinguistic survey to map the language situation in the community.

  • Use the  most familiar language as the medium of instruction in the early years (until grade 3).

  • Make a gradual transition from. familiar to unfamiliar language in the late primary and early secondary years (grades 3 to 7).

  • Transition to the language most demanded beyond schooling in the late secondary years (grade 8 onward).

The research suggests going beyond the policy level and implementing MLE using technical guidelines already in place. The approach seems well aligned with  the National Education Policy and could help to make that concrete.


Karsten, in collaboration with Upasana Lepcha


  1. ‘Language ladders’ show promise for introducing multilingual instruction in classrooms.

  2. For Children to Learn, We Must Teach them in Languages they Understand.

  3. The Citizens Foundation (TCF) .

  4. Photo - Language Ladders copyrighted by The Citizens Foundation (used with permission)