Centre for Reading and Language

Dr Sonali Nag

Dr Sonali Nag



Sonali Nag is a clinical psychologist trained at the National Institute for Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) in India. Her doctoral work at the University of Portsmouth was on reading difficulties in a non-dominant language. Before she took up full-time research as a Royal Society Newton International Fellow, she was an Associate Director at The Promise Foundation, an Indian charity that works, among other areas, in the field of literacy interventions. Most recently Sonali has been involved in coordinating two large-scale language and reading programmes in Kannada, a language of South India and English.

Sonali has extensive experience of teaching and supervising students at undergraduate and postgraduate level. She is has been on the panel of reviewers for the following journals:

  • Scientific Studies of Reading, official journal of the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading, Rutledge.
  • Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Elsevier.
  • Writing Systems Research, Oxford University Press.
  • Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Springer, Netherlands.
  • Journal of Research in Reading, Journal of the United Kingdom Literacy Association, Wiley-Blackwell.

In 2013 Sonali joined the Language and Cognitive Development group in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford to work with Professor Maggie Snowling, conducting a literature review on literacy and numeracy in developing countries.  This project is funded by the Department for International Development and Sonali will be collaborating with Oxford graduate students in Sociology, Economics and Education.  External collaborators include Shula Chiat and Carole Torgesen.

Research interests

Despite rapid advances in the neuroscientific understanding of reading, most descriptions of reading disorders (dyslexia) focus on monolingual children who are learning in English or other European languages. Less is known about dyslexia in the non-alphabetic languages, and in multilingual children. Notably, there is little research in alphasyllabaries, such as Kannada, an Indian orthography which is the focus of the present proposal. Such research is timely for theoretical reasons and also because some of the largest child populations struggling with literacy are multilingual and doing so in the alphasyllabaries.

Areas of Specialisation

Given below is an overview of Sonali's research and teaching specialisations followed by specific details about her professional experience.

Learning Disabilities and Dyslexia

Most current understandings of dyslexia have come from research with monolingual children in countries that use one of the central European languages. Sonali's work has focused on understanding dyslexia among multilingual children, particularly taking into account the unique features of the Indian languages.

She has also closely followed developments in other South Asian languages that have similar roots as the Indian languages (e.g. Javanese and Thai). To this end she works with children from Asia-Pacific countries who are studying in International schools and showing difficulties with reading and writing.

Sonali's research interest is particularly in contexts where there are interactions between multiple scripts (e.g. in India or Singapore where many children are exposed to two or more scripts in the early school years) and multiple languages (many children in India and the Asia Pacific area are multi-lingual).

She has developed screening devices for second language English Learners (Basic Skills Tests Grade 1 to 8 (2004)) and for Indian language learners (Literacy Acquisition Battery (2004, 2006, 2007)). These tools have been used in regular schools across South India.

She has also focussed on development of diagnostic tools for children showing academic underperformance and learning difficulties (Cross-Linguistic Phonological Battery, 2000; Test of Akshara Knowledge, 2007).

Sonali is particularly keen to continue to work on small-group intervention programmes with teaching-learning materials that can be used by regular school teachers. Her doctoral work trial-tested two such intervention methods for Indian classrooms. Her current work aims at developing a theoretically motivated language and literacy intervention for children at risk for reading difficulties in the Indian writing systems.

Literacy Development

Sonali has been interested in the process of literacy acquisition, particularly in 3-9 year olds.

Her doctoral research has specifically looked at reading difficulties in English among multi-lingual children. Findings from this research, may be of interest in multi-lingual countries where English is the preferred language of instruction, though the home language may be different.

Sonali's post-doctoral research has been with the Indian languages that use the Brahmi script. This is a new area of research since internationally there has been very little work in languages using this script (called the akshara scripts). Her research has relevance to not just Indian languages like Tamil, Bengali and Kannada but also south east Asian languages like Thai, Khmer and Javanese.

Since 2009 Sonali has been examining typical and atypical development in the mixed language domains of bilingual and multilingual children. This research focuses primarily on phonological, orthographic, syntactic and morphological processing.

Her study on barriers to literacy acquisition especially in the early school years has helped her to re-look at remediation programmes in pre-schools and schools. She also had the opportunity to discuss and shape policy for early childhood education, language education, remedial education and non-formal education. Sonali was involved with consultancy assignments for the National Council for Education Research and Training (NCERT), India; the Ministry of Higher Education, Employment and Social Security, Republic of Maldives; the Shulamt, Principality of Leichtenstein and the Ministry of Education, Rwanda.

Early childhood care and education

Cognitive stimulation quite often is one of the weakest links in programmes that target early childhood development, particularly in developing nations. The need for a structured stimulation programme that would be easily replicable in centres run by workers with varied skill levels was the starting point of Sonali's interest in this area.

Initially, she worked on setting up an early childhood stimulation curriculum (Stimulation Intervention Programme (SIP)) in a Shishukendra (pre-school) in a slum in Bangalore (India). SIP has been adopted in part, in an UNICEF funded activity-bank and in an International Labour Organisation (ILO) funded project that has focused on the strengthening of linkages between pre-schools and primary schools.

She has been interested in home and community-based early learning and psychosocial care. She worked as an international consultant to develop a policy and strategy for the Government of Rwanda, Ministry of Education on a mission with UNICEF, Rwanda (2003). The draft policy and strategy was vetted by the Parliament in 2006 and has become operational in two provinces.

Recent projects

Sonali most recently collaborated with Professor Margaret Snowling on a longitudinal study that aimed:

  • to identify cognitive risk factors for akshara learning and reading difficulties in Kannada
  • to assess the impact of a theoretically motivated intervention to improve the Kannada reading skills
  • by comparing high-risk children who do and do not have ‘dyslexia’ to identify putative endophenotypes (impaired processes linked to genetic risk factors)
  • to investigate the precursors of differing levels of English alphabet learning and early reading from phonological and oral language skills in Kannada

Additional research activities

Sonali led a medium-scale longitudinal study in India to track the developmental trajectories of literacy related cognitive processes. Data from these studies has been used to challenge pre-dominant theoretical assumptions emerging out of euro-centric language research.

At the intervention level, she has worked to develop linkages between discrete educational services like the pre-school sector and the primary school sector to ensure continuities in curriculum and service delivery. For example, she conceptualised the setting up of Early Learning Centers that cater to children from 3 to 8 years of age. The Early Learning Center model has been adopted by IBM International Foundation (IIF) for India.

At the community level, Sonali co-authored the development of a Child Development Index (CDI) for village community workers and student guidance counselors. The CDI spans from age 3 to 18 and is a tool for tracking children’s in-school and outside school experiences. This tool, published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), is a monitoring device to identify and support children at-risk for dropping out of school and becoming child labourers.


Some significant publications from Sonali's work with the CRL:

I have co-edited a Special Issue called Beyond alphabetic processes: literacy and its acquisition in the alphasyllabic languages along with Dr. Marketa Caravolas of Bangor University, UK and Prof. Margaret Snowling, University of York, UK.

Full publications list

Sample of papers (refereed papers are asterisked*)


  • Children with reading difficulties (2010), Nag S. for 25 years of community service report of Seva-In-Action, Bangalore, Karnataka, India.
  • Early reading in Kannada: the pace of acquisition of orthographic knowledge and phonemic awareness (Feb, 2007), Nag, S. Journal of Research in Reading, 30 (1), Special Issue on Reading and Literacy in Developing Countries, Blackwell Publishers, UK.*
  • Targeting Phonological representations can help in the early stages of reading in a non-dominant language (2003) Nag-Arulmani, S., Reddy, V., and Buckley, S. Journal of Research in Reading, 26 (1), 49-68, Special Issue on the Development of Literacy among Bilingual and Multilingual Children, Blackwell Publishers, UK.*


  • Re-thinking support: the hidden school-to-work challenges for individuals with Special Needs, (in press), International Journal of Educational and Vocational Guidance 11(2).*
  • Inclusive Classrooms for Children with different Language Learning Needs, Nag S., (October, 2009), Learning Curve, Issue XIII, 43 – 45, Special Issue on Language Learning, Azim Premji Foundation, Bangalore.
  • Research: more than mere data collection, Nag S. (August, 2009), Shillong Times.
  • Literacy for All: chipping Away at the ceiling, (July, 2006), NORRAG NEWS, No. 37, Special Issue on Educating and training out of poverty, UK.*
  • Is Remedial Education going the counselling way?, (Monsoon, 2004), Education Dialogue (Vol 2: 1)*
  • Capacity Building for Career Counselling, (July, 2006) Arulmani G. and Nag S., Seminar, No. 563: Special Issue on Education and Livelihoods, India.*
  • Special needs in the regular classroom, (September, 2002), Deccan Herald (Articulations), pp. III, Bangalore, India.


  • Tests of Attention, (1998), Nag-Arulmani S. and Rao S., Indian Journal of Clinical Psychology.*
  • Remediation of Attention Deficits in Mild Head Injury, (in press), Nag S. and Rao, S., Neurology India.*

Sample of research reports, handbooks and book chapters


  • Akshara-syllable mappings in Bengali: A language-specific skill for reading, (in press), Sircar S. & Nag, S., In Winskell, H. & Padakanayya, P. (Eds) South and South-East Asian Psycholinguistics, Cambridge University Press. Akshara-syllable mappings in Bengali (PDF  , 318kb)
  • Children’s intuitive syllabification of intervocalic consonant clusters in Bengali: The role of sonority, phonotactics and akshara. (in press). Sircar, S. and Nag, S., The EFLU Journal, The English and Foreign Languages University, India.
  • Children's reading development: learning about sounds, symbols and cross-modal mappings, (in press), Nag S. And Snowling, M., In B. Kar (Ed.) Cognition and Brain Development: Converging Evidence From Various Methodologies, American Psychological Association (APA). Children’s reading development (for circulation) (PDF  , 285kb)
  • The akshara languages: What do they tell us about children’s literacy learning? (2011) Nag, S., In R. Mishra and N. Srinivasan, (Eds.), Language-Cognition: State of the Art, pp. 291 – 310. Lincom Publishers, Germany. the akshara languages (Chapter 16 proofs) (PDF  , 1,022kb)
  • Learning to read in Bengali: Report of a Survey of five Kolkata primary schools, (2008), Nag S. and Sircar S., The Promise Foundation, Bangalore, India.
  • Chamarajanagar Stories: Reflections on language, literacy and learning (2007), Project report, The Promise Foundation and National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India.
  • Chili Pili Cheela: Kannada language activity cards for Grades 3 to 5 (2007) Nag S. (Project Coordinator), Copyright: The Promise Foundation and National Institute for Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India.
  • Supporting Children’s Reading: Negotiating Change in Teaching Literacy, (2006), Mid-project Reflexive Essays, Vidyankura: District Quality Education Project, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India.
  • Somu Series: Teachers’ manual for promoting early reading (2005) Nag-Arulmani, S. (Series Editor). Available in four Indian languages. The Promise Foundation, Bangalore, India.
  • Language Attainments and Learning Opportunities: pointers for a new curriculum framework, Nag-Arulmani, S. (2005), Ms., National Focus Group – English Language, National curriculum Framework Review of the NCERT, New Delhi, India.


  • Reading Difficulties in the Indian languages (2003): In N. Goulandris (Ed.) Dyslexia: A Cross Linguistic Perspective. London: Whurr Publishers.
  • Difficulties in reading, spelling, writing and number work in Kannada and Tamil medium schools (1997). Bangalore: The Promise Foundation.
  • Students with Specific Learning Disability in the New English curriculum, (1996), In R. Mathew and R. L. Eapen (Eds.), The Language Curriculum: Dynamics of change (Vol II), Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages (CIEFL), Hyderabad.


  • A Handbook about Early Learning for Teachers, (2010), Nag. S, IBM India Ltd and The Promise Foundation, Bangalore, India.
  • Early Childhood Stimulation Kit (2003), Nag-Arulmani, S. Developed for the promotions of Pre-Reading, Pre-Writing and Pre-Numeracy Skills, The Promise Foundation, Bangalore, India
  • Stimulation Programmes with Village Ladies in fifty two villages in Deodurg Taluk, Raichur, Karnataka, (1998), Nag-Arulmani S. and Kishen R., The Promise Foundation, Bangalore, India.
  • Stimulation Programmes in Anganwadis in six slums in Bangalore, (1996), Nag-Arulmani S. and Rajendran V., The Promise Foundation, Bangalore, India.


  • The Child in the Community: Multiple Dimensions to Disadvantage, (2001), Arulmani G. and Nag-Arulmani, S, in Readings in Child Development, Mohan Kumar G., Umapathy, A. and Bhogle, S. (Eds.), Prasaranga Publishers, Bangalore, India.
  • Handbook on prevention of child labour for anganwadi workers, Abrol, U. & Nag, S., (2006) International Labour Organisation, Geneva.
  • Handbook on prevention of child labour for village community workers, Nag, S. & Arulmani, G., (2006) International Labour Organisation, Geneva.


  • Career Counselling: A handbook. Arulmani, G. and Nag-Arulmani S., (2004). Tata McGraw Hill, New Delhi, India.
  • Work Orientations and Responses to Career Choices: Indian Regional Survey, WORCC-IRS Arulmani, G. and Nag S., (2006). The Promise Foundation, Bangalore, India.

Since January 2011, I have begun supervising students on Lab Placement at the Center for Reading and Language, Department of Psychology, University of York, UK.

MPhil and PhD level students

Once again I have worked as a faculty offering short modules and workshops. My responsibilities in these teaching assignments were to conceptualise the teaching module and deliver it. I have also worked as an external Phd examiner. The institutions where I have worked as a full time faculty, guest faculty and/or external examiner for MPhil and PhD students are as follows:

  • Department of Psychology, Martin Luther Christian University, Meghalaya, India (2009 – ongoing)
  • Department of Psychology, University of Mysore, Karnataka, India (2006 – 2008)
  • The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India (2006 – ongoing)

Other teaching

Continuing Education for Professionals

This has been my area of strength. As a lead faculty my role has been to conceptualize the course, finalise courseware and practicum and work with a team of trainers to transact the curriculum. Groups for whom I have developed and taught courses are as follows:

  • Reading Facilitator’s Course for teachers in Primary Schools for The Promise Foundation (2006-2007)
  • Pre- and primary school teacher’s course for IBM International Foundation, Governments of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry (2002 – 2007)
  • Certificate course for psychologists on “Assisted Learning for children with Special Needs”, delivered through The Promise Foundation (1995 – 2000)
  • Early Childhood teacher’s (anganwadi worker) course for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) (1995-1996, 2006-2007)

I have also worked on a team as an International Faculty for a series of Counsellor training programmes. My role as an International Faculty was to review and interpret local research and government reports for use in the curriculum. I also worked on student mentoring, continuous assessments, practical work and the final examinations. An additional responsibility was to furnish individual profiles of learning outcomes and advise the institutions on the future professional roles the trainees could play. A cross-section of groups with whom I have worked are:

  • Ministry of Education, Republic of Maldives (February, 2006)
  • Ministry of Higher Education, Employment, and Social Security, Republic of Maldives (March, 2007)
  • Educational Resources Center and Ford Foundation (2000-2002)

Invited talks and conferences

A selection of invited presentations

Literacy and Language

  • Children's reading development: learning about sounds, symbols and cross-modal mappings, Invited paper, International Conference on Cognitive Development, Center of Cognitive and Behavioural Sciences, University of Allahabad, India (December, 2010).
  • Re-thinking support: the hidden school-to-work challenges for individuals with Special Needs, Invited symposium in the International Conference on Guidance and Counseling of the International Educational and Vocational Guidance and The Promise Foundation, Bangalore, India (October, 2010).
  • Learning to Read: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, Public Lecture at the Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education, University of Luxembourg, Campus Walferdange (February, 2010).
  • The visuo-spatially complex Kannada alphasyllabary, Invited paper, The London Symposium on Writing Systems, Institute of Education, UK (November, 2009).
  • Writing without the alphabet: Insights into the sound-symbol linkages in different scripts, Public Lecture at the Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education, University of Luxembourg, Campus Walferdange (March, 2009).
  • Dyslexia and the Indian akshara: emerging trends, Invited symposium in the International conference of the British Dyslexia Association, Harrogate, UK (March, 2008).
  • Akshara, alphabet and learning; Invited paper in the International Conference on Cognition and Learning: Theory and practice, Udaipur, India (October, 2007).
  • Language Attainments and Learning Opportunities: pointers for a new curriculum framework, Invited address as member of National Focus Group – English Language, National Curriculum Framework Review of the NCERT, New Delhi (January, 2005).

Early Childhood Education

  • Communicating Strategies on ECCSGD – Experiences with communities in Karnataka, invited paper presented in the workshop for Southern States on “Communication Strategies for Early Childhood Care, Survival, Growth and Development” organised by the Commissionerate of Social Welfare (ICDS), Tamil Nadu and UNICEF, Chennai, India (February, 2001)
  • Stress and the young child, invited paper presented at the national conference on Stress and the Pre-school Child organised by Teachers Centre and the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), Calcutta, India (January, 1993).

Out of School Children

  • Planning access for primary and secondary education: focus on access to ICT and quality teachers. Invited discussant for the Southern Regional Workshop on School Education: National Knowledge Commission, Government of India, (July, 2007).
  • The emergence of literacy and creativity amongst tribals and forest dwellers: Our experiences with a remedial education programme, Nag-Arulmani S., Arulmani, G., Lata, R., & Sutar, L., invited presentation at the Southern Region NGOs conference conducted by National Institute for Public Co-operation and Child Development (NIPCCD), Bangalore, India (January, 2000).

Private Public Partnerships

  • Collaborations for quality education: Who casts the die? Invited address for the India Partners Roundtable for IBM Corporate-Community Relations projects in India, IBM International Foundation, Bangalore. (July, 2007).