LINGUIST List 12.2204

Sun Sep 9 2001

Review: Baker, Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

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  • Brian Chan, Review of Baker, Foundations of Bilingual Education

    Message 1: Review of Baker, Foundations of Bilingual Education

    Date: Mon, 27 Aug 2001 14:02:27 +0800
    From: Brian Chan <>
    Subject: Review of Baker, Foundations of Bilingual Education

    Baker, Colin (2001) Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 3rd ed. Multilingual Matters, xii+484 pages, paperback ISBN 1-83539-523-3, GBP16.95.

    Reviewed by Brian Chan

    FOUNDATIONS OF BILINGUAL EDUCATION AND BILINGUALISM, now in its third edition, continues to be one of the most informative textbooks on the subject of bilingualism. What makes this textbook unique is that its focus is more on bilingual education rather than bilingualism. In fact, almost two-third of the book is devoted to bilingual education-Chapters 1 to 8 address issues in bilingualism, whereas chapters 9 to 20 discuss bilingual education. Other textbooks in the market mainly concern bilingualism rather than bilingual education: Romaine (1995), for instance, devotes only one chapter to bilingual education.

    SYNOPSIS Chapters 1 to Chapter 8 introduce issues (both sociolinguistic and cognitive) and basic concepts in bilingualism. Chapter 9 to Chapter 17 concentrate on various issues and theories in bilingual education. Chapter 18 to Chapter 20 look at bilingualism and bilingual education from a more global perspective, dealing with issues such as politics, multiculturalism and future trends. In fact, a clear layout of the organization of the book is presented in the Introduction section (pages ix-x).

    Chapter 1 ("Definitions and Dimensions") introduces different types of bilinguals (e.g. balanced bilingual vs. semi-lingual) who have varied bilingual proficiency in different skills (e.g. speaking vs. writing) and who use two languages in different profiles (i.e. the concept of language choice). Chapter 2 ("The Measurement of Bilingualism") elaborates chapter 1 as it illustrates efforts that have to taken to define the wide spectrum of bilinguals, including censuses, questionnaires and testing. The limitations of these methods are also discussed. Chapter 3 ("Languages in Society") takes a different perspective and looks at the use of two languages on a societal level. The classic concept of "diglossia" is introduced, followed by an introduction to language planning, language maintenance, language shift and language death. Chapter 4 ("Language Revival and Revitalization") outlines factors that underlie language shift and actions that can be taken to reverse it.

    Chapter 5 ("The Development of Bilingualism") introduces childhood bilingualism. Two types of childhood bilingualism are documented, namely, simultaneous acquisition and sequential acquisition, followed by a discussion of the social contexts associated with them. For instance, the one-parent one-child policy is often taken for children who acquire two languages simultaneously. The motivations of code-switching and trilingualism are then identified. Chapter 6 ("Second Language Acquisition and Learning") focuses on second language acquisition in which bilingual the second language is acquired in adulthood. The motivations (e.g. acquiring more information) and the contexts (e.g. instruction vs. exposure) are outlined. Also discussed are the language input and individual factors that underlie the variation of bilinguals in their second language proficiency. Chapter 7 ("Bilingualism and Cognition") details research on the relationship between bilingualism and intelligence. The earlier view that bilinguals are less intelligent is refuted and more recent findings that suggest the otherwise are presented. Chapter 8 ("Cognitive Theories of Bilingualism and the Curriculum) follows up the theme in the previous chapter by introducing some more theories concerning the cognitive state of the bilinguals ("The Balance Theory", "The Iceberg Analogy" and "The Threshold Theory"). Afterwards the relevance of these theories to curriculum design is brought up, preparing the reader to the second part of the book on bilingual education.

    Chapter 9 ("An Introduction to Bilingual Education") focuses on the case of bilingual education in the United States of America. It is concluded that bilingual education thrived or was suppressed under different socio-political climates. Several varieties of bilingual education are then introduced, but, according to the author, these are "weak forms" which aim at assimilating minority students to the majority language (e.g. "submersion") or preserving the minority language (e.g. "segregationist education"). Chapter 10 (Bilingual Education for bilingualism and Biliteracy) introduces other varieties of bilingual education which are "strong forms" aiming at genuine bilingualism. Among these forms are the immersion programs in Canada, where students use both English and French for the same function (e.g. reading), and dual language schools in US, where students speaking a majority language (e.g. English) are mixed with those speaking a minority language (e.g. Spanish) from an early stage. Chapter 11 ("The Effectiveness of Bilingual Education") reviews research on the effectiveness of bilingual education. Earlier studies which favor monolingual education are criticized. There is, however, a general consensus that "strong forms" of bilingual education (e.g. immersion) are effective in fostering genuine bilingualism among students. Chapter 12 ("The Effectiveness of Bilingual Education: The United States Debate") returns to the case of the United States, showing that there has been scant government support for bilingual education despite its effectiveness. The author also shows that some studies may be biased by the political orientations of the researchers who oppose bilingual education. Chapter 13 ("Language Development and Language Allocation in Bilingual Education") stresses the need to preserve the minority language and its cultural awareness through schooling. The use of two languages in the classroom is then considered. Instead of random code-switching, the author appears to favor the strategic use of two languages taking into account the background of the students. Finally, the situation of the deaf people is briefly considered, and it is suggested that special care is needed for those deaf people who acquired a minority variety of sign language.

    Chapter 14 ("Bilingual Schooling Issues: Underachievement, Assessment and Special Needs") refutes the idea that bilingualism is the cause of underachievement or language impairment. The real cause is the myriad of socio-economic disadvantages affecting the bilingual students whose mother tongue is a minority language. Methods of assessing bilingual students should be reviewed to avoid bias against bilingualism. Chapter 15 ("Literacy in Minority Language and Multicultural Societies") introduces major approaches to literacy in a multilingual and multicultural context. The author appears to favour the development of "critical literacy", in which learning to write in a second language not only fulfils certain functions (e.g. writing an assignment in school) but only empowers the minority students to understand another culture and express themselves in that culture. Chapter 16 ("Literacy and Biliteracy in the Classroom") elaborates chapter 15 by introducing classroom strategies (or activities) that can be taken to foster second language literacy of those speaking minority languages (e.g. story-reading). Their first language literacy, argues the author, need to be fostered too, so that they can meet the linguistic demands of a bilingual network, say, using the majority language in office with colleagues and using the minority language in home with parents. Chapter 17 ("Immersion Classrooms") outlines features of immersion programs. It is stressed that two languages should be used separately and the enthusiasm of parents and teachers is the key to success.

    Chapter 18 ("The Politics of Bilingualism") examines the relationship between bilingual education and politics. In this light, language is seen as a potential problem (i.e. as multilingualism fosters national disunity and segregation), a right (i.e. each individual has a right to choose his or her language) and a resource (i.e. learning a second language opens up career or business opportunities). Various groups who speak a minority language may have different orientations towards bilingual education-either more assimilationist (i.e. learning the majority language) or more pluralist (i.e. supporting linguistic diversity). Chapter 19 ("Multiculturalism and Anti- racism") suggests that policy makers in bilingual or multi- lingual education need to take into account the cultures associated with the minority languages as well. Students should be taught to respect those whose cultures and races are different from theirs. Chapter 20 ("Bilingualism in the Modern World") forecasts trends of bilingualism and bilingual education in the contexts of tourism, mass media and the economy. Although bilinguals are sometimes the underprivileged in certain societies, it is predicted that the world may well demand more bilinguals in the near future, which means that they would have a competitive edge over monolinguals in career opportunities.

    EVALUATION This textbook is laudably user-friendly and pedagogic in terms of format. On the first page of each chapter, there is a list of the headings of the major sections. In the chapters, there are many tables which provide succinct definitions of key terms introduced. At the end of each chapter is a "Conclusion" which nicely summarizes not only the ideas and but also the flow of thought of the author. The "Key Points to Remember" enables the reader to recap the main points before he/she proceeds to the next chapter. There are also a helpful "Suggested Further Readings", and a list of "Study Activities" which is an inspiring source for class discussion and student projects. After the chapters there is a conceptual map which outline the connections between the chapters graphically. In this aspect, this textbook is again unique among other textbooks on bilingualism available in the market.

    In terms of content, the book is extremely informative and comprehensive. Indeed, the book covers a lot of diverse areas ranging from language policy to language testing and from language acquisition to language choice. Judging from the illustrations throughout the book, it is obvious that the author is very knowledgeable in many of the bilingual communities around the world, although he seems to concentrate on the experience of the United States (as a case study to show how bilingual education and politics are intertwined) and Canada (in his discussion of immersion). Besides, it is educational for the author to give a critique rather than only summarizing the major proposals in the literature.

    Paradoxically, my own reservation of the book is that it is perhaps too massive and ambitious as an introductory textbook. The book not only explains basic concepts, which seems genuinely introductory, but also devotes substantial space to literature review and critique, which appears to cater for more advanced students and even researchers. Another potential problem for the students is that a lot of different approaches (with different goals and methodology) to bilingualism and bilingual education have been touched upon (e.g. from psycholinguistics to sociolinguistics, from curriculum design to language testing, from sociology to politics). This may cause confusion to some newcomer to the field of linguistics. However, be fair, the involvement of different approaches is perhaps necessary for all other textbooks in bilingualism as well (e.g. Romaine 1995), because bilingualism and bilingual education essentially refer a set of phenomena rather than distinct sub-disciplines of linguistics. My own assessment is that the textbook is most suitable for advanced undergraduates (i.e. last year) or postgraduates.

    Another comment: There are transitions between sections (within chapters) which I find rather abrupt, for example, the introduction of language choice after the classification of various types of bilinguals (Chapter 1), the introduction of endangered languages after the discussion of "diglossia" (Chapter 3), the introduction of code-switching (an area on its own) after the introduction of childhood bilingualism (Chapter 5), the discussion of how to use two languages in classroom amidst the stress on protecting the cultural and linguistic heritage of minority groups, including deaf bilinguals (Chapter 13).

    Finally, some words about the author's own ideology. Although the book is written in an objective, academic tone throughout, it is not difficult to feel that he himself supports bilingual education and whole-heartedly appreciates the "language garden" where various languages and cultures flourish harmonically and eclectically. This can be seen from the author's mention of endangered languages to his dismissal of the "strong forms" of bilingual education. He constantly criticizes research that hints at the superiority of monolingualism or monolingual education (See Chapter 4, Chapter 7, Chapter 11, Chapter 14 in particular). Actually, the author states his orientation clearly in the Introduction and the Acknowledgement. Unfortunately, the reality remains that those in power (either economically or politically) often fail to tolerate cultures and languages different from theirs and want others to conform to them at the expense of diversity and respect. In this regard, language and society do interact, which, I believe, opens up the horizons of those who have been primarily concerned with the formal properties of language, say, myself.


    Romaine, S. (1995) Bilingualism. Second Edition. Blackwell.

    Brian Chan is a Language Instructor in the Department of English, Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He taught English and Linguistics at the City University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His research interests lie in bilingualism, in particular code-switching. He finished his dissertation on code-switching in 1999 at University College London.

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