LINGUIST List 14.457

Sun Feb 16 2003

Review: Applied Linguistics: Ada and Baker (2001)

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  • Shaw Nicholas Gynan, Guia para padres y maestros de ninos bilingues

    Message 1: Guia para padres y maestros de ninos bilingues

    Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2003 12:32:51 +0000
    From: Shaw Nicholas Gynan <>
    Subject: Guia para padres y maestros de ninos bilingues

    Ada, Alma Flor and Colin Baker (2001) Gu�a para padres y maestros de ni�os biling�es. Multilingual Matters, paperback ISBN 1-85359-511-X, xxii+231 pp, �12.95/ US$19.95/ CAN$24.95Parents' and Teachers' Guides 5.

    Shaw N. Gynan, Western Washington University

    This volume was supposedly written to answer ''the questions most frequently asked by parents and teachers on raising and educating bilingual children.'' The answers are provided in what is described as clear and simple language, avoiding academic terminology. An introductory chapter to the Spanish edition goes into more detail about the audience, specifying US Latino parents who raise Spanish-speaking children, mixed marriages, and English-speaking parents who wish to raise their children in another language. Yet another introductory chapter adds monolingual parents and teachers, doctors, speech therapists, psychologists, and counselors. The book is divided into sections on the family, language development, problems, literacy, pedagogy (including types of bilingual education, achievement, and languages of the classroom), general questions, references, and a glossary. Each section has typically around twenty questions. The issue of bilingual education has become highly politicized in the US. Millions of parents are on their own when it comes to determining the right language policy for the home. Can a single volume provide what all of the people listed in the introduction need? Is this format useful? The publisher classifies this book as applied linguistics, but that is questionable. Linguistics is supposed to be science, not advocacy. The authors are forthright in declaring their advocacy and their intention that this work not be academic. This text, nevertheless, is replete with academic terminology. One example of this is the statement that ''To be bicultural is somewhat different from having two monocultures united'' (page 17). Reading, writing, speaking, and hearing are referred to as dimensions and then shortly thereafter as abilities. Majority and minority languages are referred without explanation. In a discussion of mixing, a number of terms is presented (page 64, transfer, alternation, interference) The meaning of those terms is not necessarily transparent, and the language here is not straightforward. Indeed, the glossary has over 400 terms. These are not indexed and there is no consistent way of directing the reader's attention to them. Words in the texts are frequently printed in boldface, but many times this is merely for emphasis. No systematic way of directing the reader's attention to the glossary is developed. There is a problem with a book that is supposedly simple and that tackles complex issues. First, the assumption is condescending and patronizing. Secondly, the very field the authors purport to represent is dismissed as unnecessarily technical. The result is a book that instead of being easy to use is very difficult. The questions presented are supposedly those most asked by parents and teachers, but we learn nothing about who they are, and in some cases, the questions simply don't seem to have been generated by the audience specified: ''What are the most important factors so that a child will become bilingual? This does not sound like a question a parent would ask, and although the authors claim that these are frequently asked questions, there is no reference to how they might have been gathered. In the chapter on family questions, there are a number of questionable recommendations. The authors present a plan of action for parents who want bilingual children, but this is before they explain anything at all about the nature of language acquisition. They recommend that if a couple gets in an argument about bilingualism, they should make a list. In response to a question about whether bilingualism affects marriages, the authors cite no studies to back their contention that there are no problems. This is a recurring problem in this book - no specific data, either from large-scale or small-scale longitudinal, ethnographic work are cited in support of many contentions. On repeated occasions, studies are referred to without any documentation. To cite just a few examples, on page 69, children in bilingual programs are claimed to show superior achievement. No reference is given, but an asterisk takes us to page 69, where we are then directed to pages 2 and 61. There are no references to these studies on those pages either. On page 70 the authors note that there have been many studies on bilingual brains, but that these are at an early stage and that no conclusions may be drawn. There is no documentation of this. Many references are embedded deep in the text with no cross-listing in the bibliography. We find bibliographical references on pages 26, 32, 39, 92, and 150, for example, but these are not at the end of the book. On pages 96 and 97 there is no documentation of claims made with respect to cross-linguistic interference in reading. Another conspicuous omission, from a section that runs from pages 104 to 107, is documentation of studies that show that the whole language approach is superior to phonics (incorrectly translated as the phonetic approach). On page 164, mention is made of bilingual children being improperly placed in special education classes, but no documentation is provided. On page 187 we learn that many politicians are opposed to bilingual education, but no names are mentioned, no campaigns against bilingual education are highlighted. And a final strange tidbit is the ''fact'' that 100,000 languages have died. Since the highest estimate of languages currently in the world is around 6,000, the larger figure must refer to all languages that have ever existed. In any event, there is no reference to the name of the author who wrote about this calamitous sequence of events. Reference is made to the issue of diglossia and bilingualism, with no attribution (Fishman is never mentioned, for example). An inaccurate description of language use in Paraguay is also undocumented. (Paraguayans are described as using only Guaran� at home, which is false. Readily available census data show that over 50% use both or only Spanish.) The reference list is not highlighted as a bibliography. There is no alphabetical list of authors. Perhaps this is all done to avoid making the book an academic work; however, author and subject indexes, bibliographies, and proper documentation throughout texts do not render them inaccessible, but instead make them more user-friendly. In the absence of such organization, a text is opaque and impenetrable. The authors lament that there is much prejudice regarding bilingualism, and recommend that it be combated with ''real and truthful information,'' but time and time again they provide none. We read of questions about racist attitudes, but no studies citing such attitudes are mentioned. Parents might be left with the impression that such attitudes abound, when indeed they may be an exception. Whatever the truth may be, no attempt is made here to discern it. By page 23, which is well into the chapter on familial aspects of bilingualism, we are finally presented with a specific example, that of a Finnish family that adopts a seven-year old Russian girl. The problem is that this example is entirely hypothetical. Of far more use to parents would be a systematic exposition of life stories. There are occasional references to the authors' own families, but we learn almost nothing even of their own experiences. The authors easily could have used their families as sources of detail and inspiration on how to manage languages at the family level. In such a loosely organized work, it is difficult to discern themes, and there are in fact many contradictions. The authors begin the work questioning the existence of balanced bilinguals but repeat the recommendation throughout the book that equilibrium be the goal. Along with equilibrium, the authors are fairly consistent in recommending that the two languages be separated, and while they make mention of the fact that mixing is inevitable, they continue to push for separation as a goal. On page 34, we are told to develop bilingualism in our children as soon as possible, that the second language will not affect the first language negatively, and this just after we have read that the family needs to establish a good foundation for L1 when it is a minority language. Much later, on page 111, we are told of parents who do not wish to send their children to an English language school at a young age for fear of how that experience may affect the home language. If the minority home language is maintained, there should be no reason why another language could not be learned in pre-school, and if that were the only exposure the child had to the second language, then the experience would be very helpful in facilitating the development of English. Whatever the truth may be about this matter, the book presents contradictory recommendations about it. Yet another conspicuous contradiction is found in reference to the issue of bilingualism and cognitive ability. On page 40 we are told to approach claims of advantage with caution, but on page 68 the relationship is described as positive. Along with contradictory recommendations, there are others that are simply ineffective. One that is truly mystifying is that parents have ''faith in bilingualism'' (page 22). In the section on language development, the reader is warned not to compare bilingual languages abilities with the ability of monolinguals. Well, one might wonder why not? Right or wrong, children will be compared with monolingual standards throughout their years in school. Parents should be educated about bilingualism, but an introductory course in linguistics would be better than a self-help book. It would be very difficult to design a course around this guide. The authors have left most of the work to the teacher. Let's hope for a better contribution from this team in the future, one in which they share with us the myriad personal experiences that they and others have had in bringing up and educating children bilingually.


    Shaw N. Gynan teaches Spanish and linguistics at Western Washington University, in Bellingham, Washington. Gynan studies sociolinguistic aspects of language contact, principally the US and Paraguay. He has published articles on US or Paraguayan bilingualism in Ethnic Studies Review, Southwest Journal of Linguistics, Hispanic Linguistics, Journal of Sociolinguistics, and Current Issues in Language Planning.