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Review of  Bilingual Education in South America

Reviewer: Dmitry Gerasimov
Book Title: Bilingual Education in South America
Book Author: Anne-Marie de Mejía
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Book Announcement: 16.1494

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Date: Mon, 9 May 2005 22:20:54 +0400
From: Dmitry Gerasimov <>
Subject: Bilingual Education in South America

AUTHOR: Mejia, Anne-Marie de
TITLE: Bilingual Education in South America
SERIES: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 50
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2004

Dmitry V. Gerasimov, ILI RAN (Institute for linguistic research of the
Russian Academy of Sciences), St. Petersburg, Russia.

With its notable linguistic diversity, intensity of language contacts, and
a wide spread of multilingualism, South America has always been an
extremely interesting area for anyone specializing in the domain of
sociolinguistics and multilingual studies. The book under review
comprises eight essays on different aspects and issues of bilingual
education in the sub-continent, preceded by an introduction by the
volume's editor. The contents of this volume first appeared in the
Special Issue of International Journal of Bilingual Education and
Bilingualism, Vol. 7, no. 5, 2004. All eight papers were written
especially for this Special Issue. No changes were made to the text
when republishing the journal issue as a separate volume, save for
removal of the Book Reviews section.

Although the book is not divided into any sections or chapters (in fact,
such internal organization is hardly necessary for so thin a volume), it
obviously falls into two parts. The first five essays (contributions by
King, Garcia, Skliar & Muller Quadros, de Mejia and Buffy & Day) take
wide-raging linguistic and historical perspectives in addressing
general tendencies and problems of bilingual education in different
regions of South America. The remaining three contributions (those by
Spezzini, Simpson and Ordonez) represent more specific case
studies, each based on author's own fieldwork in some bilingual
educational institution. In the following paragraphs I will briefly
describe and discuss each article.


In the Introduction Anne-Marie de Mejia, the editor of this volume,
gives a short synopsys of the eight following essays and outlines the
problematics to which the volume is dedicated. Traditionally in South
America, as elsewhere, debate on bilingual education has been
conducted in two separate spheres. On the one hand, there is a
widespread practice of education in international languages like
English, the students usually being native speakers of Spanish from
upper- and upper-middle class backgrounds. On the other, there are
community-based bilingual projects aimed at maintaining and
enriching the use of indigenous Amerindian languages by ethnic
minority groups. These two facets of bilingual education raise different
sets of problems and give birth to two different traditions in bilingual
education studies. The goals of the present volume are to show
convergences and interrelations between majority and minority
language contexts, give the reader an integrated perspective on the
issues of bilingual education on the sub-continent and try to bridge the
gap between the two traditions. The tone for the first "survey-
oriented" part of the volume is set by "Language Policy and Local
Planning in South America: New Directions for Enrichment Bilingual
Education in the Andes" by Kendall King. The paper starts with the
discussion of bilingual education model types in South America,
referring to Hornberger's (1991) typology of bilingual education
programme types and models. The latter distinguishes between
enrichment models (aimed at the acquisition of additive bilingualism in
English or French by Spanish-speaking students from upper-class
backgrounds) and transitional models (aimed at students dominant in
indigenous language and resulting in a subtractive form of
bilingualism). The paper then focuses on the recent planning
decisions by the Saraguro ethnic group to formally instruct Quichua as
a second language in community schools. The author comes to the
conclusion that this instance of localized planning, though not without
its weaknesses, represents a completely new type of bilingual
education which integrates best sides of both enrichment and
transitional models; this type of language planning is claimed to
be "one viable avenue" towards maintaining linguistic diversity and
cultural identity in the face of globalization. The case of Saraguro is
also analyzed in the today context of heritage language programmes
in the USA. It is shown that the former is made possible by the same
shifts in language policy and general attitude towards bilingualism
and, on the other hand, shares the same challenges and flaws. The
overall composition of King's paper doesn't seem very successful to
me; the author could have arranged her material in another way to
make her main claims sound more supported. Anyway, the
observations on Saraguro bilingual education program and the
insights derived from it are very enlightening and the paper is very

The focus on bilingual indigenous education is maintained by Maria
Elena Garcia in "Rethinking Bilingual Education in Peru: Intercultural
Politics, State Policy and Indigenous Rights". After a brief but very
informative historical survey of Peruvian multilingualism starting from
as early as the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, the author
presents her analysis of changes in bilingual education policy in Peru
during the 1990s. Both government-initiated educational reforms and
indigenous activist groups' discourses are considered and critically
evaluated. What seems important is that the paper outlines and
criticizes numerous gaps between intercultural education rhetoric and
the real state of affairs. Garcia clearly demonstrates that the problems
of intercultural education implementation and inclusion of indigenous
groups are manifold and serious. She concludes her essay with
valuable suggestions to future policy-makers in the region.

The third paper in this volume, "Bilingual Deaf Education in the South
of Brazil" by Carlos Skliar and Ronice Muller Quadros introduces a
very special minority context -- that of Deaf bilingual education. After a
comprehensive discussion of various methodological, linguistics and
psycholinguistic perspectives on the concepts of "Deaf Identity", "Deaf
Culture" and "Deaf Bilingualism" the authors present their analysis of
Deaf Education in Brazilian Sign Language and Brazilian Portuguese
in the specified region based on research carried out over the last 5-7
years. They provide a reader with a concise survey of existing
education policies and practices, especially focusing on those cases
when they suffer from being derived from the "Hearing" perspective
and can be improved by undertaking the genuine "Deaf" view. I
hesitate to give this essay any evaluation, being absolutely ignorant in
the complicated field of Deaf education. Again, as in the case of King's
paper, the composition looks somewhat fuzzy, but the material and the
discussion presented seem very interesting to me.

The next paper, "Bilingual Education in Colombia: Toward an
Integrative Perspective" by Anne-Marie de Mejia, is again concerned
with the opposition of minority and majority contexts in bilingual
education, this time in Colombia. Having presented a brief historical
survey of bilingual education both in ethnic minority contexts (in
Amerindian as well as Afro-Caribbean communities) and in majority
language contexts, the author compares the two traditions and shows
some notable points of convergence. She then discusses the situation
in English-Spanish bilingual schools in more detail, thus focusing
mainly on the bilingual education in majority language context. She
concludes that the two traditions of bilingual education have many
areas of convergence and some problems previously attributed
exclusively to the bilingual education in ethnic minority groups (e.g.
loss of cultural identity, underestimation of the importance of L1
proficiency, lack of concrete guidelines to be adhered to in classroom
practice, etc.) apply to the bilingual education in majority language
contexts as well. The central conclusion, as it seems, is that the two
types of bilingual education should be treated within a single
integrated perspective and that they both can benefit considerably
from interchanging experience.

In "The Evolution of Bilingual Schools in Argentina" Cristina Banfi and
Raymond Day provide a preliminary descriptive account of bilingual
schools within the Argentine education system. The authors discuss
similarities and differences among Argentine bilingual schools and
demonstrate that institutions that are traditionally unified under this
label in fact show a high degree of diversity, despite the common
perception of bilingual education in Argentina as a homogeneous
system. They also track the history of the development of these
institutions and argue that bilingual schools have undergone several
important transformations since they were first founded in the 19th
century. While their origins should be traced back to Heritage Schools
founded for the needs of particular immigrant communities, they have
changed to Dual Language Schools with programmes aimed mainly at
monolingual Spanish speakers, and, finally, to a new type of bilingual
education institutions, for which the authors employ the term "Global
Language School". The latter model is characterized by a cluster of
features, all of which stem from the advance of globalization and
weakening of ethnicity-based cultural links and traditions. The paper
concludes with some suggestions for future research, pointing out that
detailed and systematic analysis of bilingual schools and their role in
the society has not yet been conducted.

The next paper in this volume modulates to a very different
tonality. "English Immersion in Paraguay: Individual and Sociocultural
Dimensions of Language Learning and Use" represents Susanna
Spezzini's field-based investigation of processes of learning English in
immersion classrooms in one particular American overseas school, the
American School of Asuncion (ASA), Paraguay. Spezzini explores
mechanisms of L2 acquisition, patterns of language use and levels of
comprehensibility among 34 predominantly Spanish-speaking 12-
graders, relying both on qualitative data from students' language
learning histories and taped interviews and quantitative data from
questionnaires and comprehensibility rating tests. Students'
introspection reveals many interesting facts about their motivations in
language learning and patterns of language use in different kinds of
situations. It is worth noting that some students describe their
language use in peer-to-peer communication as a unique "ASA talk",
Spanglish with some words from Guarani. In spite of apparent
homogeneity for L2 programs at ASA, the students have shown
considerable variability in their L2 output and perceived
comprehensibility. The author discusses various factors responsible
for this variability, such as gender (girls doing better than boys), age
at which a student has entered ASA (transfer students doing better
than those whose English input was limited to ASA only), motivation,
etc. Linguistic features that influenced the perceived
comprehensibility, such as intonation and fluency rate, are treated in
detail in a separate section. Finally, the author provides suggestions
for future practice and research. I would dare to state that implications
from Spezzini's study would be of great value and interest to anyone
concerned with L2 immersion programs, not only in South American

The study presented by JoEllen Simpson in "A Look at Early
Childhood Writing in English and Spanish in a Bilingual School in
Ecuador" examines the written production of first-graders. The
author's aim is to see whether the differences between Spanish and
English writings reported in earlier studies for elder bilinguals can be
observed at this age as well. Starting with a brief survey of existing
literature on Spanish-English contrastive rhetoric, Simpson points out
that no previous study has ever taken into account the writing
production of younger schoolchildren. To fill this gap she analyzed
physical characteristics (number of T-units, words, errors and error
types, connectors) and topical structure of 20 short Spanish and
English narratives written by first-graders from a private English
immersion school in Quito. The results show that the children have a
similar syntactic ability in both of their languages, though they are still
more fluent in Spanish. The greater complexity and elaborateness of
Spanish writing style as compared to English is not reflected in the
results, most likely because the writers are very young and are just
learning to write. In terms of the topical structure analysis, it is shown
that the children employ the same amount of sequential progression
and extended parallel progression in both languages, but more
parallel progression in English. Finally the author points at promising
directions for future research, noting that it would be especially
interesting to follow the same children throughout their primary
education in a longitudinal study.

Finally, "EFL and Native Spanish in Elite Bilingual Schools in
Colombia: A First Look at Bilingual Adolescent Frog Stories" by
Claudia Lucia Ordonez takes a general look at the type of bilingual
education adopted in Colombian English immersion schools and its
effects on the Spanish and English oral narrative proficiency. The data
consist of 72 narratives told following a picture-book. 18 Spanish and
18 English stories from 15-year-olds with 10 years of bilingual
education in a Colombian bilingual school constitute the main sample.
The other 36 stories, 18 from 15-year-olds in Colombian monolingual
schools and 18 from comparable English-monolingual adolescents
from a high school in the Boston area, are used to compare the
bilingual stories to monolingual productions. The range and variability
of the stories in the bilingual group are discussed, as they are
compared to the monolingual stories. The results are somewhat
unexpected and potentially worrying: while bilingual productions
exhibit a similar level of variability to monolingual stories, they are
sparse in several linguistic variables that reflect narrative proficiency
(i.e. complex representation of events, evaluative expressions, logical
connections). Thus, bilingual stories in both languages show clear
evidence of underdevelopment in comparison to monolingual stories.
The author calls for further research in order to find out what are the
costs of an early foreign language acquisition for the first language
proficiency and how can they be minimized.


The contributions to this volume vary in terms of content, methodology
and perspective, and also in terms of quality. Anyway I must admit that
all authors show a considerable depth of expertise in their respective
topics. The perspectives and methodology adopted are always well
supported by references to existing literature. Statistical calculations
presented in the case studies are accurate and convincing, and can
be easily verified by anyone familiar with the statistical apparatus.
Unfortunately, general composition of some papers lacks
cohesiveness and is sometimes difficult to follow. The book fails to
provide the reader with the whole picture of the problematics of
bilingual education in South America (thus, to my personal
disappointment, an interesting problem of bilingual Spanish-Guarani
education in today's Paraguay (see Gynan ms.) is not addressed). Of
course, it can hardly be considered a fault, as it is obvious that the
volume doesn't really aim at this goal. In fact, the choice of subjects
seems to be rather successful: while not all issues are covered, those
that are are fairly representative and able to give even an unprepared
reader the general notion of main problems and tendencies. The
combination of general discussions and more specific case studies
under one cover seems to be a very good idea. The only minor sin the
book may be accused of in this respect is that it too strongly focuses
on the majority language contexts of bilingual education. While the
first part of the volume is mainly concerned with interrelations between
bilingual education in minority and majority language contexts, it is the
latter on which more information is given. And all three case studies in
the second part are dedicated exclusively to the issues raised in
relation to teaching of one and the same international language
(namely, English) in elite bilingual schools. I would dare to say that the
volume could considerably benefit from inclusion of a case study
carried out in a minority language context. Nevertheless, the volume
certainly reaches its goal specified by de Mejia in the Introduction: "to
provide the reader with an integrative perspective on the issues raised
in relation to bilingualism and bilingual education in the sub-continent,
and to try to bridge the divide between the different traditions".
Despite any flaws mentioned above, this volume is a valuable
contribution to the study of bilingual education. Some articles contain
important observations on the today state of affairs in the planning
and organization of bilingual education in particular South American
countries and are thus an absolute must for teachers, activists and
policy makers involved into respective bilingual education programs.


Gynan, Sh. N. (ms.) Single Design and Differentiated Modality:
Bilingual Education in Paraguay. Ms., Western Washington University
[available at].

Hornberger, N. H. (1991) Extending enrichment bilingual education:
Revisiting typologies and redirecting policy. In: O. Garcia (ed.)
Bilingual Education: Foccusschrift in Honor of Joshua A. Fishman (Vol.
1), pp. 215-234. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.


Dmitry Gerasimov is a post-graduate student/assistant of ILI RAN
(Institute for linguistic research of the Russian Academy of Sciences),
St. Petersburg. He is currently working on a typologically oriented
study of the Tense-Aspect system of Paraguayan Guarani with special
emphasis on aspectual composition. Other academic interests of his
include typology of word classes, syntax of sentential
complementation and the phenomenon of split intransitivity. He is
involved in an extensive field-based study of complementation
strategies in Adyghe (West Caucasian).

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 1853598194
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 140
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