LINGUIST List 26.2942

Wed Jun 17 2015

Review: Anthropological Ling; Applied Ling; Lang Acq; Socioling: Callahan, Gándara (2014)

Editor for this issue: Sara Couture <>

Date: 19-Jan-2015
From: Laura Dubcovsky <>
Subject: The Bilingual Advantage
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Rebecca M. Callahan
EDITOR: Patricia C. Gándara
TITLE: The Bilingual Advantage
SUBTITLE: Language, Literacy and the US Labor Market
SERIES TITLE: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2014

REVIEWER: Laura Dubcovsky, University of California, Davis

Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


The Bilingual Advantage. Language, Literacy and the US Labor Market is a book that draws from various disciplines--education, sociology, anthropology and linguistics--to examine the economic benefits of bilingualism in the workplace. As explained in the introduction (Chapter 1), the editors contextualize bilingualism in the information age. They have organized the chapters in four sections that address, in turn, bilingualism in the current global market, its economic benefits, the employment and educational attainment variables, and future alternatives for bilingualism.

In the first section titled, “Bilingualism in the US Labor Market,” Reynaldo Macías questions the “Benefits of bilingualism: In the eye of the beholder?” (Chapter 2). He offers an historical overview of the relationship between language and social context in the United States, highlighting key periods:pre-national, national, Cold War, Civil Rights movements, and current events. The author carefully examines the perception of language diversity according to monolingual and bilingual shifts that take place across time and that may also cause social tensions, manifested by either more restrictive or more tolerant policies on segregation/ integration matters. Macías points out how ultimately the benefits or drawbacks of bilingualism are decided in the political, educational and economic arenas, through the vote poll, the school system, and the labor market, respectively.

In Chapter 3, “Exploring bilingualism, literacy, employability and income levels among Latinos in the United States,” Sarah Moore, Molly Fee, Yongyeon Ee, Terrence Wiley and Beatriz Arias target seven specific Latino subgroups: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cubans, Dominicans, Central Americans, South Americans, and other Spanish/Latino origins. They refine the term “literacy” following traditional indicators of age, gender, and years of schooling, as well as more sophisticated categories of cultural diversity, economic matters, political alliances, and immigration decisions. Results show a positive association for Spanish-English bilinguals’ employment over Spanish dominant among youth and middle aged cohorts, and a positive association for bilingual employment both over Spanish and English dominants among older people. Likewise income for bilinguals looks higher than that for English dominants, while overall earnings for males are higher than for females. Finally there is also a positive association between income and literacy, both in English and Spanish, , which makes the scholars infer that more years of schooling brings about economic advantages for a biliterate population.

Section 2 poses the question, “Are there really economic benefits to bilingualism in the US labor market?” Joseph Robinson-Cimpian (Chapter 4) explores the “Labor market differences between bilingual and monolingual Hispanics.” He expands previous studies through three independent variables: labor market participation, employment rates. and annual wages. His robust analysis comprises four models involving gender/age/race, educational attainment, years of US entry, and enclaves of heritage language users. The detailed examination discerns not only y average differences between the wages of bilinguals and monolinguals after statistical conditioning on individual and locational factors, but also significant disparities between male and female participation, employment and wages, and the impact of enclaves of Spanish speakers in the labor market. In closing, Robinson-Cimpian revisits the most accepted assumption that assimilation is the logically expected behavior for immigrants, assuming the lack of evident bilinguals’ wage compensation. He proposes instead that, “if the labor market differentials overall favor bilinguals in these locations, and if a heritage language is easier to maintain in the presence of many heritage language speakers, then perhaps the loss of bilingualism is not inevitable” (p. 96).

The following two chapters are devoted to the “black box” of language in the labor force. In Chapter 5 Amado Alarcón, Antonio Di Paolo, Josiah Heyman and María Cristina Morales examine “The occupational location of Spanish-English bilinguals in the new information economy.” The authors discuss the role, frequency and distribution of bilingualism in the health and criminal justice sectors located at the border between Mexico and the United States. They focus on linguistic (symbolic analysts) and social (interaction with public service) categories. Their study shows that while the most fluent bilinguals are wanted for their advanced level of oral proficiency, which is needed in interpersonal communication, they are not hired in positions that require higher educational certification or in professional and managerial occupations. On the contrary, certified and ranked positions are held mainly by monolingual English speakers, while service and physical jobs that demand minimal written and oral skills are given to limited English proficient speakers. In light of these results Alarcón et al. reflect that bilingualism is frequently overlooked for hiring and promotion. As a matter of fact the heritage language is not treated as a high skill, but rather as “a freely available, naturally occurring resource of the border social-cultural environment” (p.130).

In Chapter 6 Amado Alarcón, Antonio Di Paolo, Josiah Heyman and María Cristina Morales continue the discussion, focusing on the “Returns to Spanish/English bilingualism in the new information economy.” They investigate the potentially increased earnings in the same two labor sectors as in the previous Chapter, comparing the Texas geographic zones of the border and the interior(Dallas-Tarrant Counties). Their quantitative and qualitative analyses include occupational distribution (Table 6.1), wage models (Table 6.2), and geographic areas (Table 6.3).The authors especially consider the language shift reversal phenomenon (Hidalgo, 2001) and the increasing oral and written language demands needed in current societies. Results show that speaking Spanish--regardless of English skills--is associated with depressed earnings, while speaking English only is rewarded with higher salaries, and that fluent bilinguals’ earnings are equally as low in interior as in border zones. These findings argue against the intuitive prediction that salaries and occupational advantages rise for bilingual over monolingual speakers. The scholars correlate these negative associations with the impact of discrimination and marginalization on the current labor market. However, they are cautious not to draw causal explanations between these factors. Alarcón et al. propose instead to increase the volume of studies that not only enlarge the explored geographic and economic scope, but also account for the actual use of diverse languages in the workplace, the employees’ educational quality and certification, and the bilinguals’ social network connections. As the authors suggest, these refined variables would shed light on bilinguals’ occupations and incomes in the market place.

In Chapter 7 Orhan Agirdag investigates “The literal cost of language assimilation for the children of immigration. The effects of bilingualism on labor market outcomes.” The scholar focuses on strengths in analyzing the relationship between earnings and bilingualism, unlike most economists who almost exclusively focus on the inadequacies of immigrants’ language. Agirdag combines sociolinguistic and economic approaches to characterize language as cultural capital and to position minority languages as subfields in the market (Bourdieu, 1977). He also evaluates long- term effects of dominant, non-dominant, and minority language skills on immigrant children (Grin, 2003). To avoid confounding results the scholar draws from two independent data analyses, as well as multiple controls for gender, educational attainment, cognitive ability, parental socio-economic status, self-esteem, family cohesion, etc.

The study shows that balanced bilinguals are more likely to be employed full-time than English dominant individuals and to earn significantly more than the monolingual English speakers (between $2000 and $3200 more annually). However, Agirdag observes that multilingualism does not consistently yield labor market rewards, and that the oscillations may be related to restrictive educational policies, such as English Only measures. Results also show a significant financial cost associated with linguistic assimilation. The author proposes then to encourage bilingual programs that nurture students’ primary language. As already proven, an effective educational curriculum that develops biliteracy not only provides all students with a stronger preparation in two languages but also offers tangible and lasting occupational and monetary benefits in the labor market.

Chapter 8 “English Plus: Exploring the socioeconomic benefits of bilingualism in Southern California” closes the second section with a summary of the most recent state of the art of immigrants in the region (1980-2010). Rubén Rumbaut uses data from two major surveys of adult children of immigrant--Immigration and Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles (IIMMLA) and the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Studies (CILS)--to explore the socioeconomic benefits of bilingualism or “English Plus” in the region. The scholar conducts an in-depth analysis, introducing age, gender, ethnicity, parental SES, GPA, family structure and social issues (gangs, drugs, and crime) among other control variables. He also unpacks traditional pan-ethnic categories into finer immigrant traits (Table 8.1), generational cohorts (Table 8.2), and language preference and levels of proficiency in the non-English language (Table 8.3).

Moreover Rumbaut examines outcomes on education attainment, labor force status and annual earnings (Table 8.4), dropping out of high school (Table 8.5), and occupational status and annual earnings (Table 8.6). The study first confirms previous results on the rapid switch that takes place across time, by which English becomes nearly the universal language of preference by the third generation. It also finds an accompanying effect of quick atrophy of the basic language skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing that occurs in the mother tongue. Rumbaut describes the positive associations between bilingual adolescents and academic achievement, family cohesion, parent-child relations and self-esteem aspirations. Above all the scholar focuses on the significance of dropping out of high school, as it constitutes both a turning point in the transition to adulthood, as well as in accessing higher levels of education and later labor market insertion.

The third Section of the book addresses “Employment, educational attainment and bilingualism.” In Chapter 9 Lucrecia Santibañez and María Estela Zárate examine “Bilinguals in the US and college enrollment,” as they consider that higher education is a precursor to the labor market. The authors use data from the Educational Longitudinal Survey (2000-2006) to analyze two and four year college attendance, including multiple factors that affect college choice, such as individual and institutional variables, language minority status and proficiency in the two languages, academic achievement and standardized test scores, and student expectations and parental involvement.

Results show a positive and statistically significant relationship between probability of college attendance and bilingualism, in contrast to English monolingualism. They also indicate that Spanish speakers who maintain and use the language frequently are more likely to attend college than heritage speakers who are just born in Spanish speaking households but do not develop their mother tongue. Santibañez and Zárate agree on previous findings that highlight bilinguals’ cognitive, social, and academic advantages, such as working memory, academic achievement, and social network connection. Likewise the scholars follow results that show how higher levels of proficiency in two languages strongly relate to college enrollment and positive labor market outcomes. Finally the authors are cautious about rapid linguistic assimilation, because, as explained in previous chapters, in the long run this assimilation may reduce young people’s chance to gain a college education.

In Chapter 10, Diana Porras, Yongyeon Ee and Patricia Gándara ask the question, “Employer preferences: Do bilingual applicants and employees experience an advantage?” The authors examine the impact of language and the type of job or industry on both employers and employees in the modern labor market. To pursue their goal the scholars take up a positive perspective of multilingualism (Forbes, 2011) and conduct 289 surveys of questions related to employment in key sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing and construction, retail trade, education, health, arts and entertainment. Results show a positive relationship between bilingualism and the job market, although this is primarily shown indirectly, through educational attainment and hiring in the first place.

Porras et al. explain that the lack of direct evidence is partially caused by the official overlooking of multilingualism as an asset for the labor market. They also recognize the difficulty in collecting employers’ responses about their employees’ earnings. Exceptionally, some offices in the public sector, for example the California Highways Patrol and the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, openly offer bilingual pay differential to individuals in certified bilingual positions). In spite of the absence of data on direct effects, the scholars claim that managing two languages offers evident advantages in the labor market. Taking a broader approach to bilingualism and biliteracy, beyond handling simply linguistic forms, lexicon or grammatical structures, Porras et al. evaluate how bilinguals are currently hired for their linguistic and cultural competency to serve multilingual customers and work cooperatively with multilingual co-workers. For example, bilingual employees help clients navigate bureaucracy, gaining their trust and even assisting in life threatening situations (as documented in suicidal cases).

The last section of the book focuses on “Fostering bilingualism in the market place.” In Chapter 11 Ursula Aldana and Anysia Mayer present “The International Baccalaureate: A college preparatory pathway for heritage language speakers and immigrant youth.” They describe eight International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, half of them from California, and the rest in Oregon, Arizona, Florida and Wisconsin, and compare commonalities among the different locations, such as having a rigorous curriculum, which is vertically and horizontally aligned, and highly content-loaded. The scholars also contrast differences in specific settings, educational levels, population composition and individual trajectories. Finally the authors enumerate observable caveats about some of the programs, such as high costs, stereotypes, and marginalization of English Learners.

Above all, Aldana and Mayer highlight the common additive perspective on bilingualism and biliteracy of all IB programs, by which two or more languages are valued as beneficial. As illustrated in passages taken from the actual interviews, principals and teachers hold positive attitudes toward bilingualism, perceive languages as a human resource, use it as a means to communicate content rather than as an end in itself, and do not privilege one language over the other. Moreover, the authors explain that the selected schools attempt to reach out all types of students, and in some cases they actually serve substantial numbers of low-income Spanish heritage speakers. Therefore, the scholars conclude that IB programs represent a valuable educational alternative for heritage and immigrant language speakers, as they provide minority language students with opportunities to access college careers and be better situated for their future insertion into competitive labor markets.

In Chapter 12, “Looking toward the future: Opportunities in a shifting linguistic landscape” Patricia Gándara and Rebecca Callahan summarize common themes and contrasting approaches presented in the book. In spite of the absence of a common language theory and the varied interpretations throughout the chapters, the editors praise the contributors’ commitment to deepening the understanding of the interconnected fields of multilingualism and economy. Moreover, all invited authors bring new information, fine-grained analyses, and an open-minded philosophy to tackle minority languages in additive terms. Gándara and Callahan also include their own remarks, emphasizing the promising role of the United States in leading linguistic and economic changes in the twenty-first century. As they point out, America has a “unique opportunity to be at the forefront of a more visionary, but also more practical, language policy” (p.287).

The editors suggest that in order to gain this leadership, the US still needs to acknowledge cultural and linguistic diversity as an invaluable asset. As an example, they mention educational policies that remove immigrants’ language and culture, hindering children from accessing genuine resources to become biliterate citizens. The scholars also pinpoint the triple segregation of language, ethnicity and poverty that is still negatively affecting new generations of immigrants (Gándara, 2010). In closing, Gándara and Callahan take a firm position against isolation, rooted in both the international market that brings about a gradual raising of cultural and linguistic awareness among global citizens, and the domestic market that embraces increasing multilingual and multicultural needs.


“The Bilingual Advantage. Language, Literacy and the US Labor Market” addresses professional and lay readers who are interested in updated information about bilinguals in the American labor market. The book presents different perspectives and interpretations, maintaining careful analysis in each study. Throughout the chapters, readers will appreciate the attempt to analyze the complexity of multilingualism in the current global economy based on robust and well-organized sets of data, as well as interdisciplinary approaches that combine economic, social and linguistic variables. Above all, the different authors contribute to a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of bilingualism not only in economic terms of wages, occupational distribution and employment, but also in social terms of identity, race and linguistic enclaves. Moreover, the strong corpus of studies shows promising paths to take in examining the professional role of bilingualism in the workplace.

The openness encouraged by the editors has however some drawbacks, especially given some contradictory results. For example, the reader finishes the book without fully understanding whether bilinguals earn more or less than monolingual English speakers, as some authors recognize that they cannot always show bilinguals’ advantages in numbers, and allude to indirect effects only, which cannot always be proven. Likewise there are some leaps between mostly detailed quantitative analyses and some qualitative interpretations on relevant themes, for example on bilinguals’ marginalization and the structural racism bilinguals experience, as presented in some chapters. Finally, the absence of a common theory to explain the role of language leaves room for different interpretations of labels and categories used in the literature. Therefore, similar variables--such as language proficiency and age--may be defined differently throughout the chapters, and this variation may cause differences in the outcomes. As Gándara and Callahan explain, we still need more studies that address current gaps and open new possibilities for current multilingual economies.


Bourieu, P. 1977. The economics of linguistic exchanges. Social Science Information 16: 645-668.

Forbes Insights 2011. Reducing the Impact of Language Barriers. http: // forbesinsights/language_study/ (5 January, 2015).

Gándara, P. 2010. Overcoming triple segregation. Educational leadership 68(3): 60-64.

Grin, F. 2003. Language planning and economics. Current Issues in Language Planning 4: 1-66.

Hidalgo, M. 2001. Spanish language shift reversal on the US-Mexico border and the extended third space. Language and Intercultural Communication 1(1): 57-75.


Laura Dubcovsky is a lecturer and supervisor in the teacher education program from The University of California, Davis. She has a Master’s in Education and a PhD in Spanish linguistics with special emphasis on second language acquisition. Her areas of interest combine the fields of language and bilingual education. She is dedicated to the preparation of prospective bilingual Spanish/English teachers, working with student teachers and in-service teachers. She collaborates as a reviewer with the Linguistic list serve and bilingual associations, as well as with teachers, principals, and specialists at the school district. She has taught a course that addresses Communicative and Academic Spanish needed in a bilingual classroom for more than ten years. She also published the article, Functions of the verb decir (''to say'') in the incipient academic Spanish writing of bilingual children. Functions of Language, 15(2), 257-280 (2008). She continues researching on relevant language features as used by bilingual teachers in the classroom, as well as presenting these topics on related forums.

Page Updated: 17-Jun-2015