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Review of  Language & Literacy Teaching for Indigenous Education

Reviewer: Karita Laisi
Book Title: Language & Literacy Teaching for Indigenous Education
Book Author: Norbert Francis Jon Reyhner
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 14.962

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Date: Tue, 1 Apr 2003 17:18:48 +0300
From: Karita Laisi
Subject: Language and Literacy Teaching for Indigenous Education:
A Bilingual Approach

Norbert Francis and Jon Reyhner (2002) Language and Literacy Teaching
for Indigenous Education: A Bilingual Approach, Multilingual Matters,
Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 37.

Karita Laisi, University of Helsinki

The book is divided in two main parts:
1) A survey of Indigenous Languages in Education in the Americas;
2) Curriculum and Materials, Classroom Strategies.

The first part is divided in three main chapters:
1) Prospects for Learning and Teaching Indigenous Languages;
2) State of the Languages and Language Policy;
3) Language Planning: The role of the School and Indigenous Language

The second part has four main chapters:
4) Promoting Additive Bilingual Development;
5) The Bilingual Classroom;
6) Biliteracy: Teaching Reading and Writing in the Indigenous Language;
7) Language Assessment.

Chapter 8 is a short conclusion entitled A Teaching Model for Realizing
the Potential of Additive Bilingualism. Chapter 9 assembles resources
for schools and communities and gives a glossary, notes and appendices.

In the first chapter the writers introduce roughly the location and
situation of the indigenous languages in Latin America. Still today the
education sector recognizes varying methods and approaches to the
indigenous language literacy and teaching. Common feature is that as
for some indigenous children the education is available but does not
correspond to the necessities or realities of the learners, many
indigenous children still remain outside the formal school system.
Within the indigenous speech community itself two categories of
language learners are found (p.10):
1) children who acquired the Indian language (IL) at home, who are
either monolingual or dominant in the language and who will be learning
the national language (NL) in school as a second language.
2) Children who are dominant or monolingual in the national language or
who are bilingual.

The second group of children seems to be greater in most indigenous
communities, as the monolingual IL speakers at this age group has
become smaller. Third group of indigenous language learners would be
outside the IL community: non-Indian children or indigenous children
from other IL communities that have need for more effective interethnic
communication. The authors emphasize the view that bilingualism should
and could be understood and used as a resource for schools and
children. Language revitalization program could therefore be introduced
for enrichment purposes. The role of the school in the language
revitalization and preservation is discussed and the domains of
language shift and language revitalization are presented.

Chapter two gives the locations and describes the situation of a
selection of indigenous languages of the Americas. The examples are
from Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and the United States. The overall
tendency is toward language displacement by either English or Spanish.
Chapter three is about language policy and language planning, opening
it from the point of view of school and indigenous language literacy.
The chapter comments briefly on the history of bilingual education in
the Americas, which has been the sector of contact between the European
and American languages in fact. It is known that the Jesuits and
Franciscans were teaching the bible to the Indians against the Crown's
orders and were aiming at literacy in the indigenous language. The
Spanish-only policy became consolidated by the 17th-century.

In the United States bilingual education was for short periods seen as
important while the assimilationist English-only policy periods were
longer and stronger. The publisher of the Dakota First Reading Book (in
1839) Mary Riggs found teaching English "to be very difficult and not
producing much apparent fruit". The missionaries' experiences and
opinions sound very common to the contemporary students of the theme.
"Mr Riggs (Stephen Riggs) is of the opinion that first teaching the
children to read and write in their own language enables them to master
English with more ease when they take up that study; and he thinks,
also, that a child beginning a four years' course with the study of
Dakota would be further advanced in English at the end of the term than
one who had not been instructed in Dakota." (p. 46)

The chapter compares Mexican and United States' language policies and
sees parallels: successful pilot programs in teaching indigenous
languages by missionaries, reaction and suppression by educational
authorities and institutions and the lack of proper accessible way to
learn the national language.

Research in indigenous schools has revealed that negative language
attitudes are still common even among the most conscious teachers. The
writers emphasize that language revitalization, enrichment bilingual
education and the development of an indigenous literature are
necessarily linked. The possibility of expanding the use of the
indigenous language is important as it evolves the language planning
for explicit practical purposes.

Chapter four, Promoting Additive Bilingual Development, starts the
second part of the book that concentrates on language and literacy
activities for indigenous languages in school and other community-based
language revitalization programs. (p.69) Instead of reviewing the
literature on second language teaching and bilingual education, the
authors offer additional reading lists in the end of the following
chapters. It is emphasized that indigenous children face the same
challenges as all bilingual learners, however, they and their
learning/teaching is affected by situational factors, which can be
opportunities or limitations. The aim is to show the teacher or the
planner the ways to overcome some of the limitations.

In making the educational plan it is important to distinguish the two
kinds (among others) of childhood bilingualism: additive and
subtractive. Subtractive means the loss, sometimes gradual, of the
first language as additive bilingualism is maintenance and "growth" of
two languages. There are two types of subtractive bilingualism: one
where the replacement of L1 by L2 does not affect negatively academic
proficiencies, (having yet negative aspects elsewhere) and the other
where the loss of a first language has even permanent negative impact
on literacy and academic discourse proficiency in comparison to the
average student. The starting point for effective language teaching is
the goal of additive bilingualisms. The term of Cognitive Academic
Language Proficiency (CALP) by Cummins and Swain (1987) is introduced.
A L2 teaching model for the indigenous language and the national
language is also given.

Oral language development as preparation for literacy is discussed.
Before children are normally introduced to reading and writing they
start develop academic language skills to large extent through verbal
interaction. Chapter five is about bilingual classroom and how the
traditional indigenous language discourse practices can be used for
developing language and literacy skills in general. Also it is
presented how L2 immersion approach can be used for teaching the
indigenous language as L2. Immersion is a bilingual method where L1 and
L2 are compartmentalized throughout the school day and domains of
language use in the classroom. The weight and distribution of IL
depends on the circumstances. As the writers point out, immersion
approach has been successful in many parts of the world and references
are made to different cases. (i.e. Hawaiian Language Immersion).

Chapter six is about teaching reading and writing in the indigenous
language. Schools and communities that choose biliteracy and promote
indigenous language literacy face immense challenge. There is little
reading material available, low prestige is attached to IL literacy so
a lot of own teaching material and strategy developing is expected.
Teachers need to know the literary aspects of oral tradition. They have
to know the themes, different styles and organizational structures of
traditional stories in order to be able to use them in written and /or
oral form. Through the use of oral tradition for literary purposes
children will develop awareness about stories and their structure as
well as more complex and abstract patterns of other kinds of text.
(p.137) This practical knowledge enables them to take full advantage of
the reading material they work with in school also later on. Teaching
applications fall from this perspective into two broad areas (p.137):

1) The development of academic discourse proficiencies, the narrative
being an early form in terms of its acquisition in young children.
Teaching language and reading comprehension skills through sustained
exposure and direct instruction is realised most effectively in both
the indigenous language and the national language. Ideally, students
will study the different versions separately, in respective
instructional contexts and classroom domains.

2) The development of second language proficiency, in the original
versions for indigenous language revitalization purposes, and in
translation for learning the national language on the part of second
language of the NL. As an example a traditional narrative a coyote
story and its functioning as an academic and didactic tool (methods and
a lesson plan) is presented.

In chapter seven language assessment is discussed. From the point of
view of indigenous language development and additive bilingualism the
appropriate and educationally relevant assessment objectives would be:
1) Estimating language dominance;
2) ongoing classroom assessment of academic language proficiency;
3) progress in second language learning.

The basis of assessment should always be recognition of the assessment
as part of effective teaching. Therefore, the understanding of the
different aspects of proficiency the learner may have is central.
Important is also the validity (how the information is interpreted,
what is the meaning attributed to the results) and reliability
(examination of the results themselves) of the assessment.

Chapter eight concludes and gives a teaching model for realizing the
potential of additive bilingualism. It is again pointed out that the
widely recognized merits of bilingual approach would work the same way
with indigenous children. Two aspects of Cummins's Common Underlying
Proficiency model are presented as applicable to indigenous language

1) A core of higher-order discourse proficiencies, plus general
analytical abilities related to metalinguistic awareness, forms part of
the fundamental underpinning of literacy and other categories of
language related academic achievement. This Cognitive Academic Language
Proficiency (CALP) begins to develop in early childhood through contact
and experience with uses of language that make use of these
proficiencies and abilities. CALP develops in a different way and
independently in many respects from both universal grammatical
competence in children's primary language, and their ability to use the
primary language for interpersonal communication of the everyday,
situation-embedded, conversational kind (another kind of discourse

2) These academic-type discourse proficiencies and analytical
abilities, since they are not strictly "language bound" are at the
disposal of the bilingual child (ready for use) in language in which he
or she attains a certain minimum level of mastery of grammar and
vocabulary. (p. 188-189)

This is relevant for IL bilingualism even though the full application
is still unclear, on the other hand, there is no reason to think that
indigenous children would not follow these principles. Cummins double
ice- berg schema is used to show how the NL and IL use the same common
underlying proficiency. Cross-cultural pedagogy should therefore be the
basis of language learning in bilingual contexts. Pluralistic language
policy that recognizes the linguistic and cultural differences and
different conditions would be the way to democratic integration and

The purpose of the writers was to contribute to the discussion and
development of school language policy and community language planning,
and to outline a series of practical strategies in the area of language
teaching. The book is directed to wide public: community leaders,
bilingual classroom teachers, parents and school administrators that
should be aware of the issues. The book therefore joins interestingly
the more scientific point of views with the real life and real
experiences. It is important that they realize the importance of the
support needed outside the classroom in order to achieve the objectives
of language revitalization and that they know the argumentation behind
bilingual approach and its scientific background.

However, the first part could have explained more the second language
learning (NL or IL) and language use domains. Considering the audience,
more general, solid and precise information of the countries elected
could have been useful. Also, in the chapter on the state of the
languages, more connection with the countries and the actual content
would have made the content more coherent.

Surprisingly, Guatemala and Central America were left out, while
especially in Guatemala but also in Nicaragua bilingual education has
advanced. The current Guatemalan education reform is very important in
respect of the indigenous education, bilingual education and education
language policy change. "Reforma Educativa" is also in progress in
Bolivia which the book left untouched. Actually, politically speaking,
there are historical language policy processes in the education sector
going on in Latin America.

One confusing reference is made in the beginning in regard to the Mayan
languages. In Guatemala alone there are 21 Mayan languages and they are
spoken at least by 3-4 millions of people. The number of languages in
Latin American countries is big and this makes also the language
learning and teaching, the whole process of language planning and
revitalisation even more difficult. The writers make many referential
comparisons which can be dangerous: unfamiliar reader can draw too
simple conclusions on the issues. (For example, comparing the functions
of Nahuatl and Maya.) Overall, the book is well written, its
interesting and is pleasant to read. The book achieves to present the
writers aim and central idea very well: there is a lot of knowledge on
second language learning that should be used in teaching indigenous
children and that the indigenous cultures have a lot of material in
non-traditional form that could and should be used in education.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Karita Laisi works as an assistant in the section of Ibero-Romance Languages of the Department of Romance Languages in the University of Helsinki. She is writing her doctoral thesis on Language policy changes in Guatemala and Bolivia in the University of Helsinki.

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