What is 3 Language Formula?

three language formula

This Article is submitted by –

Shreya Arya Eucation – 1st year Law Student, Faculty of law, Delhi University

In the present world, there are around 6000 languages grouped under various language families spoken in 200 states (Grimes, 1992). The people across the world speak different languages such as Arabic, Bengali, English, French, Hindi, Malay, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish which act as important link languages to communicate with each other. The existence of all these languages, side by side, resulted in multilingualism because they are spoken as second, third, fourth or later acquired by their speakers. Knowing two or more than two languages became the need for communication among speech communities as well as individuals. Therefore, “Multilingualism” is defined as an occurrence regarding an individual speaker who uses two or more languages, a community of speakers where two or more languages are used, or between speakers of two languages. It basically, arises due to the need to communicate across speech communities. Multilingualism is not a rare, but a normal necessity across the world, due to globalization and wider cultural communication almost 25% of the world’s approximately 200 countries recognize two or more official languages with some of them recognizing more than two (e.g. India, Kenya, Nigeria, Congo, Luxembourg etc.) (Edwards 1998) 

Modern India, as per the 2001 Census, has a total of 122 languages in India out of which 22 languages are spoken by over one million people, while a remaining 100 languages are spoken by more than 10,000 people. Then again, there are languages that are not even recorded because they are spoken by less than 10,000. However, this is a serious under-reporting of the actual number of languages as well because the Census also recorded over 1,500 “mother tongues” used in India. This discrepancy can be explained by the criteria used that only languages with more than 10,000 speakers (officially) are given official recognition. (MHRD, Govt. of India) The 122 languages are presented in two parts: Part A: Languages included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India (Scheduled Languages) comprising of 22 languages; and Part B: Languages not included in the Eighth Schedule (Non-Scheduled Languages) comprising of 100 languages plus the category “Total of other languages” which includes all other languages and mother tonguesfalling under Part B and which returned less than 10,000 speakers each at the all India level or were not identifiable on the basis of the linguistic information available. Language rights as a subset of human rights in an area of the world exhibiting particular linguistic diversity. Linguistic human rights have beencoherently defined on a theoretical level and through some early legal approaches. The right to speak, to learn, to educate and unfold all cultural activities in one’s own mother tongue, in addition to other official languages, is also enshrined in many Constitutions of the world. “Linguistic rights should be considered basic human rights. Linguistic majorities, speakers of a dominant language, usually enjoy all those linguistic human rights which can be seen as fundamental, regardless how they are defined. India, however, is a language policy-making laboratory, seeking to cope with a multilingual reality and accommodate almost a hundred minority languages. The world’s major democratic and federal state, while economically opening up to global markets, and culturally keen on pushing national integration and international exchange, has to come to terms with its complex internal multilingualism. While the Indian way to internal multilingualism privileges the major languages with official recognition, many millions of minority language speakers are deprived of important linguistic rights and are discriminated against by the current language policy of the Union and the States. They are facing the decision whether to retain or to renounce on their traditional language in the education of their children, and are living with the daily experience that their mother tongues are deemed worthless dialects without utility in modern life.

What is the formula?

The first recommendation for a three-language policy was made by the University Education Commission in 1948–49 or
Radhakrishnan Comission , which stated recommended that except Sanskrit all other Indian languages should replace English as the medium of instruction as Sanskrit involves many practical difficulties. It puts more emphasis on national language by making it the medium of instruction at the university level for certain subjects. The commission’s recommended the three language formula during the higher secondary and university stage, l.e.

(i) The regional language,

(ii) The federal or link language 

(iii) English language.

But the recommendations of Radhakrishnan Commission did not give any practical solution because regional language is not necessarily the mother tongue of all people living in the state. A large number of linguistic minorities residing in almost all the states whose mother tongue is different from official language of the state. In their case facilities for instruction in mother-tongue would be considered at par with the regional language which had brought confusion and indiscipline.

Since 1937, Tamil Nadu has consistently opposed decision to make Hindi compulsary in schools. The Founder of Davidar Kazhagam, Periyar E.V Ramaswamy, opposed the decision of then Madras C Rajgopalchari to make Hindi mandatory. Then in 1950, constituent assembly adopted Munshi Ayyangar Formula, which stated English was to continue as the official language along with Hindi for a period of 15 years, but the limit was pliable and the power of extension was to parliament. In 1965 Lal Bhadur Shastri’s Hindi policy led to agitation in South India. An important aspect of the opposition to Hindi imposition is that many in Tamil Nadu and other South Indian States see it as a fight to retain English. English is seen as a bulwark against Hindi as well as the language of empowerment and knowledge today as well . There is an entrenched belief that the continued attempts to impose Hindi are essentially driven by those who want to eliminate English as the country’s link language. The Education Commission of 1964–66 recommended a modified or graduated three-language formula. Based on the report and recommendations of the Kothari Commission (1964–1966), the then government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ultimately amended The Official Language Act, 1967, which provided indefinite usage of Hindi and English as official language and announced the first National Policy on Education in 1968, which called for a “radical restructuring” and proposed equal educational opportunities in order to achieve national integration and greater cultural and economic development. It says in paragraph 4(3) b , which provided for the study of “Hindi, English and modern Indian language , (preferably one of the southern languages) in the Hindi speaking states and Hindi, English and the Regional language in the non-Hindi speaking States”. It added: “Suitable courses in Hindi and/or English should also be available in universities and colleges with a view to improving the proficiency of students in these languages up to the prescribed university standards.” Following some debate, the original three-language formula was adopted by the India Parliament in 1968 . Incidentally, the NPE 1986 made no change in the 1968 policy on the three-language formula and the promotion of Hindi and repeated it verbatim.   

What are the issues ?

The three language formula has not been implemented effectively all over the country. Different States interpreted this formula in different ways and as a result its implementation has been uneven. In many cases, the formula has become 3 +/-1 formula. For the speaker of (linguistic) minority languages the three language formula became a four language formula as they had to learn their mother tongue, the dominant regional language, English and Hindi. In many of the Hindi speaking States Sanskrit became the third language instead of any modern Indian language (preferably south Indian language), whereas the non-Hindi speaking State such as Tamil Nadu operates through a two language formula (Tamil and English). Some boards/institutions permit even European/ foreign languages like Spanish, French and German in place of Hindi or Sanskrit. Only some States accepted the three language formula in principle while other made some adjustments and some changed to an extent that it became impossible to implement it. Now, the question is how far is this Three Language Formula implemented in letter and spirit? And how far is this practicable? Many of the States, except Tamilnadu, have accepted the Three Language Formula in principle. Some States have made marginal adjustments such as the class from which a particular language has to be introduced, or the number of years a language has to be taught, whereas some States have made drastic changes making the formula totally crippled and impossible to be implemented. To have a look on a data for comparing of TLF in different states / UT’s go to (Vihwanathan 2001 )

The reasons for non-implementation of three language formula effectively could be:

a. It was not properly implemented as it was meant to be implemented. The southern states such as Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu and Tripura were not ready to teach Hindi and Hindi-speaking States did not include any south Indian language in their school curriculum.

b. The fear of heavy language load in the school curriculum.

c. All the languages are not being taught compulsorily at the secondary stage.

d. Duration for compulsory study of three languages varies.

e. To opt deliberately for the ‘dominant’ language that is more relevant in getting higher technical and professional education that enhances one’s market value; and, therefore, the ‘third language’ seems useless (e.g. Hindi in Non-Hindi state like Tamil Nadu follows Two Language Formula, as stated above).

f. The States, most often, do not have adequate resources for provision of additional language teachers and teaching -learning materials.

g. Due to the inability of the teacher to understand, speak and use the first or second language of the students.

h. Due to the incomplete, incompetent and ineffective training of the teacher so that they are not able to adapt the teaching learning material as per the requirement of the targeted learner and the target language.

i. Inability of the central and state government in creating educational, social, cultural and economic opportunities for minority and tribal languages.

î The lack of parental and community support and their involvement in creating a learning environment with one’s socio-cultural context.

Consequently, the intent with which the TLF was formulated, i.e., to establish a communicative link across the country, has been lost in the way, somewhere, because of lack of interest of people as the opportunities for Hindi in the Economic sector, that helps a person in social mobility, are paltry. The challenge of providing multilingual education in a meaningful manner from the onset, but the provision of TLF was to ensure that the early 8 years of the medium of instruction will be in the mother tongue; that the academic competency will develop better in the regional or first language, so that the learner can easily transfer the concepts learnt in the mother tongue to the first language and then later to the second language (Kroll & Stewart 1994). But, this could not be done in isolation; the cultural context plays an important part in it. If the curriculum or the content to be taught is not in consonance with the child’s immediate culture and environment, the whole point of imparting education in the mother tongue will be useless. The problem lies in making such provisions for the education of the child so that whatever he listens to is meaningful for him. Even if he is not able to understand, there should be the provision of assistance in form of a trained and well equipped teacher, with which he can negotiate the process of meaning making. In the words of D. P. Pattanayak (1981)

Language is a tool of communication. But, communication is neither naming classroom objects andobjects in the immediate environment of the child………..Communication entails much more than mere passing information. It involves conceptualization of objects and experiences, their identification and classification, argumentation and disputation about the nature, processes and relationship among objects, thoughts and expressions, and comprehension of the realities and rules governing them

Statutes in favour of States –

* Article 29 protects the interests of the minorities by making a provision that any citizen / section of citizens having a distinct language, script or culture have the right to conserve the same. Article 29 mandates that no discrimination would be done on the ground of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.

* Article 347 – Special provision relating to language spoken by a section of the population of a State On a demand being made in that behalf the President may, if he is satisfied that a substantial proportion of the population of a State desire the use of any language spoken by them to be recognised throughout that State or any part thereof for such purpose as he may specify

* Article 350 A – [1]It shall be the endeavour of every State and of every local authority within the State to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother-tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups; and the President may issue such directions to any State as he considers necessary or proper for securing the provision of such facilities.

Power of Central Government over States

* Article 343 (1) of the Constitution of India states “The Official Language of the Union government shall be Hindi in Devanagari script.” Unless Parliament decided otherwise, the use of English for official purposes was to cease 15 years after the constitution came into effect, i.e. on 26 January 1965.

* Article -351. Directive for development of the Hindi language It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language, to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India and to secure its enrichment by assimilating without interfering with its genius, the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages of India specified in the Eighth Schedule, and by drawing, wherever necessary or desirable, for its vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages PART XVIII EMERGENCY PROVISIONS

New Education Policy on 3 Language Formula

* The NEP proposes an “early implementation of the three-language formula to promote multilingualism” from school level. The three-language policy leaves it to states to decide on what that language would be.

* The document says the three-language formula will continue to be implemented “while keeping in mind the Constitutional provisions, aspirations of the people, regions, and the Union, and the need to promote multilingualism as well as promote national unity”. However, the NEP also says, there will be a greater flexibility in the three-language formula, and no language will be imposed on any State.

* The three languages learned by children will be the choices of States, regions, and of course the students themselves, so long as at least two of the three languages are native to India. In particular, students who wish to change one or more of the three languages they are studying may do so in Grade 6 or 7, as long as they are able to demonstrate basic proficiency in three languages (including one language of India at the literature level) by the end of secondary school,” it adds From the implementation from, the policy says, there will be a major effort from both the central and state governments to invest in large numbers of language teachers in all regional languages around the country, and, in particular, for all languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India.

* “States, especially States from different regions of India, may enter into bilateral agreements to hire teachers in large numbers from each other, to satisfy the three-language formula in their respective States, and also to encourage the study of Indian languages across the country,”  Though  NEP proposal of Formula leave us to many quetions regarding proper implementation and practical aspects to it . E – Learning platform to be single – mindedly examine and many difficult task in time to come.


Laguage we speak is a well centered paradigm that strengthen’s society as a whole. Undermining the issues related with our language system weakens integrity and future of many. It is a tool for each and every childeren education. There are 100s and even more minorities language, tribal language which are on the edge of extinction. In India’s minority rights discourse the issue of linguistic rights has not been of much concern. This is unjust, as the denial of linguistic rights not only hampers the cultural development of a community, but is also detrimental for the social and economic development of a minority and for the society as such. While the culture industry and the big media privilege a few dominant languages, minority languages and tribal cultures alike are dying a silent and slow death. In India many such languages have definitely disappeared. This fact is not unknown to anyone, rather it is taken as the inevitable price to be paid for economic modernization and cultural homogenisation. NEP, 2020 oncemore laid stress on 3 Language Formula in our Education system, gives us hope to advance our Education System once for all without social desparity and zero political dividents giving equal opportunities to states in making use of NEP 2020 for a betterment for minorities as well others, only if implemented with systematic approach to it. State funding should support the marginalised, and not exist as a means to reinforce existing privilege through selection criteria that don’t stand up to even basic academic scrutiny. It’s time we moved beyond these arbitrary categories that prop up existing biases and exclude genuine linguistic research. Instead, we should support marginalised linguistic communities and their heritage, and bring them into public view, into the mainstream.

“The views of the authors are personal

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