By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
This book, a collection of articles edited by Joaquim Arnau, addresses multilingualism in Catalonia and the various issues related to the incorporation of Catalan, Spanish, and English into the schools of this region in Spain. It contains a number of studies conducted in schools, mostly in or near Barcelona. Catalan is the official language of Catalonia and functions in unison with the national language, Spanish, and both must be learned by all students. Adding to this multilingual environment, foreign immigration has brought an additional layer of complexity to the situation.
In Chapter One, “Language-in-education policies in the Catalan Language Area,” Joaquim Arnau and F. Xavier Vila address the current language-in-education policies in the Catalan-speaking areas of Spain, Andorra, parts of France, and the city of L’Alguer in Sardinia (Italy). The 1983 Linguistic Normalization Act requires that students in Catalonia be bilingual in both Catalan and Spanish and requires that Catalan be the medium of instruction, although this does not eliminate Spanish from the classroom. Additionally, in 1983 an immersion program was established in a Spanish-speaking area of Barcelona and additional immigration has since prompted the creation of the “Plan for Language, Interculturality and Social Cohesion,” designed to accommodate new students. The vehicle of this program is the “reception classroom” that teaches Catalan and provides additional help in mainstream courses. Language policies in other Catalan-speaking areas are less rigid than in Catalonia, such as in Valencia, where the use of Catalan is confined to its historical region. Due to changing governments, language policies in the Balearic Islands are characterized by instability, but with a trajectory towards multilingual education. Outside of Spain, Andorra has adopted a plurilingual educational model. While, in France and L’Alguer, Catalan instruction is only optional and often only available through private lessons. The educational system of Catalonia is effectively plurilingual, requiring mastery of both official languages and one foreign language, usually English. Armau and Vila critique the current system and offer suggestions for improvement. They suggest using Catalan as a bridge to other Romance languages. Additionally, they think schools could better adapt their sociolinguistic environments to address students’ needs. Lastly, they believe that immigrants’ heritage should be incorporated and utilized as a gateway to other cultural learning.
In Chapter Two, “The Acquisition of Catalan by Immigrant Children,” Àngel Huguet, Jose-Luis Navarro, Silvia-Maria Chireac, and Clara Sansó study how immigrant children adapt to a new sociocultural context, specifically in their acquisition of Catalan. Spain receives the most immigrants in the European Union and many students struggle to adapt to the multilingual environment in Catalonia. Length of stay and family language are the factors considered in this study. Previous research has determined that three to five years of instruction are necessary for students to communicate effectively in Catalan for their mainstream classes. Students who speak another Romance language have an advantage over those who speak a non-Romance heritage language. The authors analyze the linguistic attitudes and competence of a sample of students from differing linguistic backgrounds. They use a questionnaire and language test to gather results, which confirm that both length of stay and family language are significant factors. Results indicate that six years are needed to score test results comparable to those of native speakers. The L1 of the child is only slightly significant in accelerating the acquisition of Catalan, as Spanish, Romanian, and Arabic speakers progress at relatively the same pace, whilst Chinese speakers lag in their acquisition of Catalan.
“Language Attitudes of Latin-American Newcomers in Three Secondary School Reception Classes in Catalonia,” by Mireia Trenchs-Parera and Adriana Patiño-Santos, describes the linguistic attitudes of Latin Americans, the largest population of immigrants in Catalonia, towards the use of Catalan in academic and non-academic environments, and their attitude towards the reception process. The researchers study three secondary-level Reception Classes (RCs), which are supplementary language classes provided for older students to help them acquire Catalan and facilitate their social integration. Additionally, the study investigates the effects of instructor ideology on the attitude of the students. The researchers collect data on student attitudes through participant observation and individual and group interviews. Three RCs, operating under differing philosophical paradigms, distinguished by their openness to multilingualism and multiculturalism, were analyzed. The study suggests that instructor attitude and ideology effect students’ attitudes; students in programs more open to multilingualism and multiculturalism held positive attitudes towards the use of Catalan in both schooling and social interactions, while those who were not exposed to the same openness did not have such positive attitudes.
Chapter Four, “Training a Primary Education Teacher to Teach Expository Text Comprehension Strategies,” by Nuria Castells, Isabel Solé, Cristina Luna, Eva Lordán, Esther Nadal, Mariana Miras and Sandra Espino, describes and evaluates the professional development of content reading comprehension training for teachers. The study investigates student comprehension of expository texts. The researchers compared results from two primary-level classes, one of which formed an experimental group and the other a control group. They conducted semi-formal interviews and observed the classes, which formed the basis for their evaluation. The authors evaluated reading comprehension strategies from the first year of primary education and assessed the ability of instructors to incorporate these strategies, as well as their effectiveness. Results indicated that the instructor of the experimental group was able to successfully incorporate new strategies into the classroom, and that the students were able to comprehend more than students in the control group after utilizing the comprehension strategies.
In Chapter Five, “Teacher Training in Literacy Instruction and Academic Achievement in a Multilingual Classroom,” Joaquim Armau, Haridian M. de Aysa, and Sonia Jarque discuss instructor training for literacy instruction in a multilingual classroom. The researchers compare two classrooms, one with intervention and one without. Results show that students in the intervention classroom were able to comprehend the literary texts better due to the teacher’s more extensive training in literacy instruction. Additionally, the students’ academic achievement, defined by the use of academic vocabulary and quality of writing, improved in this environment. This research suggests that teaching vocabulary, together with specific writing and reading strategies, is beneficial to the overall academic improvement of the students.
In Chapter Six, “Production of Texts and Multimodal Resources by two Groups of Primary Education Students,” Aneska Ortega, Júlia Coromina, and Ana Teberosky evaluate the use of multimodal resources in the instruction of a science course. The research investigates the effect of these multimodal resources on the production of Catalan by non-native students. It responds to two key interests: one regarding the learning process associated with the use of multimodal resources, and another concerning the influence of lesser competence in Catalan on the results. Documents produced by the students were the basis of the analysis. The results show that the incorporation of multimodal resources in the classroom helps immigrant student comprehension more than that of native students. Additionally, the use of multimodal resources helps students express themselves better, especially if they have limited linguistic competence.
Chapter Seven, “Interlinguistic Reflection on Teaching and Learning Languages,” by Oriel Guasch Boyé, looks at grammar instruction in a secondary-level education environment as presented by an instructor of Catalan and an instructor of English. It is part of an on-going collaborative research project with the aim of understanding how students understand grammatical constructions. The research analyzes both students’ interactions among themselves and their interaction with course instructors. The research team is interested in the different ways languages express similar grammatical concepts. The study reveals the usefulness of were analyzed metalinguistic interlinguistic reflection among students in their conceptualization of these grammatical constructs.
In Chapter Eight, “Affording Students Opportunities for the Integrated Learning of Content and Language,” (CLIL) Cristina Escobar Urmeneta and Natalia Evnitskaya English language-learning courses in particular. They compare the approaches of two CLIL teachers and evaluate the academic discussion in those classrooms. The researchers observed a biology classroom and one about renewable energies, both with bilingual students dominant in either Catalan or Spanish. Teacher A was more individual-focused, while Teacher B was more focused on group discussion. Teacher A allowed time for group discussion, withheld feedback to promote it and focused on students’ elaboration of answers, while Teacher B provided instant feedback, which did not accommodate student discussion. Additionally, Teacher B encouraged students to guess the right answer instead of provide argumentation. Each of these approaches provided strengths and weaknesses in both language production and comprehension of the subject material.
Rosa María Ramírez and Teresa Serra’s “Integrated Languages Project,” in Chapter Nine, is a study on the integrated language program at the Vila Olímpica School in Barcelona. This primary education center, in a predominantly middle-class neighborhood, has a mixture of Catalan-dominant, Spanish-dominant students, as well as those dominant in a foreign language. The school is modeled on three ideas: “open-mindedness to all languages and cultures, languages as a means of communication for all subjects, and the importance of the use of oral and written language” (183). Catalan is the dominant language in the school, yet, from an early age, both Spanish and English are introduced as languages of instruction. Sixth-year students at the Vila Olímpica School outperform students outside their system of the same age in all three languages. Additionally, test results for the content class examined (mathematics) also showed that using additional languages in instruction does not hinder students’ comprehension of the subject material.
This book presents a collection of studies on language instruction in schools in Catalonia, particularly in relation to the recovery of Catalan, as well as the incorporation of English and Spanish, language-in-education policies in the respective political jurisdictions in Catalan-speaking areas, and the analysis of instructional approaches for students in language learning. This collection includes the opinions of experts in the field and approaches the issue of language-in-education from a number of angles. Much of this material is newly available in English.
This book will be an excellent resource for scholars, educators, and policy-makers involved in language planning and acquisition. The studies contained in this volume address a number of the concerns associated with the integration of multiple languages into an educational system. Although this book is intended primarily for language policy-makers, second language acquisition researchers will find interest in Chapter Eight, on the implementation of content and language integrated learning, or Chapter Six, on the integration of multimodal resources in the classroom. Additionally, sociolinguists might be interested in Chapters One to Three, particularly regarding the linguistic attitudes of Latin American immigrants toward the use of Catalan in the public sphere as well as its use in the classroom. The book could be useful in courses related to the above fields. The results of the studies contained in this book can be extrapolated to similar contexts outside of Catalonia and can aid in language planning in other multilingual environments. The variety of studies in the collection provides a number of departure points for a broader discussion on a wide range of topics.
Chapter Three, “Language Attitudes of Latin-American Newcomers in Three Secondary School Reception Classes in Catalonia,” by Trenchs-Parera and Patiño-Santos, was particularly interesting. This qualitative study noted the tendency of Latin American students to utilize Spanish as the language of social interaction, while limiting the use of Catalan to the classroom. The correlation between promoting multilingualism and an early integration into this environment, and a positive attitude towards Catalan in social interactions was noteworthy, as was the documented use of code-switching as a learning tool in one of the RCs (56). When the instructors encouraged social integration early, the students responded more positively to the language and to multilingualism. The complex sociolinguistic environment found in Catalonia and experienced by these students, as well as the interaction of Catalan and Spanish, is of particular interest to me as a sociolinguist and contact linguist; particularly, the linguistic traits that could be studied in the spoken Catalan of Latin American students.
Some of the studies could have benefited from more quantitative analyses. For instance, Boyé’s study seemed to overly rely on the reflections of both students and instructors. This study could have been enhanced with a more objective form of analysis, as well as by using a control group and an experimental group.
Apart from any minor weaknesses, the book will be an excellent resource for those involved in applied linguistics research, particularly language planning, multilingualism and multilingual education, as well as second language pedagogy.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Jordan Lavender is a PhD student at the University at Albany, State University of New York. He conducts research on the effects of language contact in the Spanish spoken in Catalan-dominant areas. His primary research interests include sociolinguistics, morphosyntactic variation, language contact, and bilingualism.