To what extent have new democratic spaces allowed ethnic minority groups to promote their language and culture? Since 2011, and particularly after the election of the NLD government in 2015, Myanmar’s ethnic minority groups have placed high hopes in securing new rights and powers to manage their own states, as well as preserve their culture. While their quest remains elusive for a new federal state, which underlies sixty years of civil war, they pursue short-term strategies to preserve local languages and culture. The paper explores how such strategies, particularly in the educational sector, are mediated by the continued centralization of the Myanmar state, the limited concessions offered under the 2008 constitution, and disjointed mobilization among local ethnic communities. I argue that democratic spaces, while opening up some new opportunities for ethnic language advancement, are dwarfed by continued practices that enhance the Burmanization of ethnic minorities, and continued strength of the Bamar-dominated state. The paper draws on five years of interview materials in Myanmar, but particularly recent data from Chin and Kachin states.