Ayla recalls her early days in Sindh, Pakistan at school, when it was nothing but a strange building. Her home was so different and so was her neighborhood.

"I remember my teacher, Ms. Sindhu, who lived three houses away from mine, once asked me to narrate a story about a camel ride. We have many camels around us, so I became excited and wanted to share, but I just couldn’t. I just struggled to say what I knew, what I have enjoyed and wanted to say. It felt like my tongue froze."

Ms. Sindhu asked Ayla to narrate this story in English, a language that was unfamiliar to her at the time. If asked in Sindhi, Ayla would not only have communicated her experience but also received her teacher’s energy of affirmation in return. Language is an invisible source of familiarity in school that children hold on to—it is through language that they have experienced the world so far. In this way, language becomes a bridge between school and home, allowing children to safely cross between the two worlds.

Despite the abundance of literature and experience supporting the benefits of teaching in a familiar language, an estimated half of all children in low- and middle-income countries are not taught in a language they understand. The case of Pakistan is no different. After 200 years of colonial rule under British India, Pakistan was born in 1947. Today, the country is home to over 70 languages, including the official languages of Urdu and English (a language that stayed, even after the British left). Urdu and English are utilized by the government, corporate sector, media, and—most relevantly—educational institutions.

Read the full article about language ladders by Minha Khan, Ajay Pinjani and Hina Saleem at Brookings.