We study the role of language on the learning of primary school children in a multiethnic village in India. Half the families have a mother tongue closely related to the medium of school instruction while the rest speak one of two tribal languages. Children solve mazes and take tests in reading and mathematics. Performance in language dependent tasks relative to mazes is lower for tribal children in segregated hamlets but not for those in ethnically mixed ones. We conclude that interventions that encourage language acquisition may help linguistic minorities more than mother-tongue instruction, which is the focus of current policy.