AUTHOR: Caldas, Stephen J TITLE: Raising Bilingual-Biliterate Children in Monolingual Cultures SERIES: Bilingual Education & Bilingualism PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters YEAR: 2006
Kara T. McAlister, Mary Lou Fulton College of Education, Arizona State University
Stephen J. Caldas's _Raising Bilingual-Biliterate Children in Monolingual Cultures_ reports on a longitudinal case study of Caldas's three children, who were raised as bilingual-biliterate French-English speakers in Louisiana. Using a variety of methods, Caldas collects and summarizes data on the extent of his children's abilities in French and English, their perceptions of themselves as bilinguals, factors influencing language preference, and the conscious choices parents must make in order to raise bilingual-biliterate children in the United States. The study is unique in that it offers an intimate account of one family's journey to bilingualism from infancy through late adolescence.
Chapter One provides an overview of the book, with an introduction to the author and his wife. It is here that the reader first meets the Caldas family and their mission to raise bilingual-biliterate children. This chapter also touches on some of the larger issues affecting a child's development as a bilingual, including the role of peers, the power of media, the issue of accent and the general turbulence of adolescence, which are addressed in more detail in subsequent chapters.
In order to frame the study socially and politically, Chapter Two introduces a brief historical overview of bilingualism in the United States, with a focus on the context of French in Louisiana. Though this chapter only superficially outlines bilingualism and education issues in the United States, the synopsis of French revitalization efforts in francophone Louisiana is interesting, as it is rarely addressed in discussions of bilingualism and bilingual education. Given the intended audiences of this book, as either researchers already well-versed in bilingualism or parents trying to raise bilingual children, the absence of a more in-depth overview of theoretical issues concerning bilingualism and bilingual education is understandable, if regrettable.
Chapter Three addresses the methodology of the study, particularly the different instruments used for data collection. Some of the instruments used, such as the Bilingual Preference Ratio and the French Proficiency Survey, were developed by the author and his wife in order to capture what they were observing. Despite this study being a longitudinal mixed methods study, the majority of the data referred to in this book come from qualitative observations and interviews, though Chapter Eleven is devoted solely to the analysis of the quantitative data. The use of qualitative data further supports the intimacy the reader experiences as Caldas relates the inner-workings of his bilingual family and the struggles they experience. Both the Bilingual Preference Ratio, an instrument designed to gauge language preferences from natural language samples, and the French Proficiency Survey have been developed by the author and Caron-Caldas (2000) specifically for this study, and though they have not been piloted elsewhere, the instruments will most likely be usable in other studies.
Chapter Four details the origins of the study, including a narrative of how the author met his wife, why the author started learning French, and the ultimate purpose of raising a bilingual, biliterate family. Caldas establishes himself as a late learner of French and his wife, Caron-Caldas, as a both a native speaker of French and a French Immersion teacher. This chapter also briefly addresses the issue of social class, though not beyond establishing the social class of the family and peer networks.
Chapter Five discusses the role of the home and community environments in the language acquisition of the children, with a particular focus on sociolinguistic factors. This chapter also spells out steps taken in infancy toward establishing a bilingual home environment, including why the family chose to abandon the One Person One Language approach (Saunders, 1982; Taeschner, 1983; Döpke 1992, Romaine 1995; among others). The three language communities and the language politics within each community are described, as well as the family's establishment of a French-speaking community through the purchase of a cottage in Québec and the role this played in family bilingualism. Additionally, issues of discipline and profanity are reported, reflecting how culture and contextual language preference can help shape a family's bilingualism.
Chapter Six details the role of academics in the acquisition of the children's French, and also addresses some of the parents' concerns about the effects of bilingualism and immersion programs on academic outcomes. This chapter is interesting in that it underscores the effects of socio-economic status on academic achievement and the relative minimal effect of bilingualism, at least for language majority students. The children's proficiency in French is also discussed, specifically in terms of the French Proficiency Survey, which measures perceptions of language proficiency, rather than actual performance.
The role of reading, hobbies and the media are discussed in Chapter Seven, which outlines the prevalence of English in American day-to-day life. The manipulation of media such as television to create rich immersion environments is detailed here, along with the conversely detrimental role of television programming and similar media in adolescent life in terms of maintaining bilingualism. This chapter also reflects some of the limitations bilingual parents face in fostering the use of a minority language in the home, given the prevalence of the majority language, and English in particular, in the field of information technology and certain hobbies. This chapter also outlines some of the benefits the Caldas children had growing up with two educators as parents, particularly in terms of the literacy resources available to the children through the mother, who is an elementary French immersion teacher.
Chapters Eight, Nine, and Ten constitute the gem of this study, as they follow the three bilingual children throughout adolescence and address how the social pressures typical of adolescence affect not only the children's bilingualism, but also their perceptions of themselves as bilinguals and members of a bilingual family. These chapters detail the struggles of both the parents and the children in negotiating language use in the family and overcoming adolescent resistance. The formation of adolescent identity is also explored in the context of bilingual t(w)eens in a largely monolingual society. The power of peer groups in language choice and identity is particularly well described, given the varying peer groups the children had in Louisiana and Québec.
As mentioned previously, the quantitative data collected throughout the study are analyzed in Chapter Eleven, with a specific focus on each family member's language preference, as determined through the Bilingual Preference Ratio. The language preferences of the children are also correlated, and the longitudinal results of Edelman's Contextualized Measure of Degree of Bilingualism (Edelman 1969) and the French Proficiency Survey are analyzed. It is important to note here that language proficiency per se was never formally assessed, so there are no quantitative data available for a comparison of the children's abilities to their age-appropriate monolingual counterparts. However, the academic and social accomplishments of the children attest to their French and English abilities, as do their peers' and family members' perceptions.
Lastly, Chapter Twelve offers a number of suggestions for parents raising bilingual-biliterate children in the United States. Although these suggestions reflect the findings of the study, they cannot be extrapolated to every bilingual family, despite the author's attempt to do so. Some suggestions, such as the need for authentic societal immersion, are supported by research beyond this study, while other suggestions, particularly regarding minority language parents, fail to take current research into account. For instance, the author briefly supports the effectiveness of structured immersion for English Language Learners (ELLs), using data from his study as well as anecdotal evidence from a fellow student from his high school years. Similarly, Caldas also supports the Time on Task approach (Porter 1990, Rossell & Baker, 1996), equating it essentially with first language acquisition. Neither of these discussions is well-informed by the research, as the author cites Crawford (1998) for each, despite the vast amount of more current and comprehensive research. For instance, Crawford (2004), Rolstad, Mahoney & Glass (2005) and Genesse, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian (2006) all offer excellent overviews and analyses of the research on language minority education, including immersion programs. This oversight is unfortunate, given the extensiveness of the book, as it detracts from what the study does have to offer in terms of understanding bilingualism, especially in adolescence.
Although this case study provides a wealth of data concerning how one family raised bilingual-biliterate children, the greatest danger is that the findings will be extrapolated to families in different socio-political contexts. Similar to how Canadian French Immersion programs have been translated into English Immersion programs in the United States with limited success, the suggestions and practices detailed in this study do not reflect the needs of minority language children learning English, though the author suggests that they do. Without a doubt, the Caldas family enjoys a certain level of privilege that is reflected not in their bilingualism, but in the resources available and differing obstacles encountered in maintaining that bilingualism.
Above all else, Caldas fails to address the fact that he and his family are pursuing a policy of additive bilingualism, which is sustained outside of the home. The Caldas twins are supported in their French-speaking efforts in their French immersion program, and all three children are validated as French speakers in Québec, at some points despite their accents. The study also reports supportive attitudes from peers and family in Québec regarding the children's bilingualism and reports a noticeable lack of negative attitudes in the United States towards the children's and family's use of French. Additionally, the parents understand both languages, reading and other materials are readily available and encouraged in both languages, the children are learning English and French simultaneously, and they are given sufficient support in doing so in school and at home. These factors all contribute to the children being validated and accepted as accomplished speakers of both languages. This does not reflect the experiences of most minority language families, where the ability to speak a language other than English is not valued beyond the home and where children are continually defined by how much (or little) English they know. One can imagine that the Caldas family's journey to bilingualism would be very different if neither parent spoke English or if the family came from a less prestigious language background. Indeed, many of the resources the Caldas family relied on, such as the cottage in Québec, French reading and media materials, immersion programs, and a general knowledge of educational methods and resources, are not readily available to traditionally bilingual (language minority) families in the United States.
Though the study is extensive already, understanding the family's bilingualism could be augmented by other lines of research. For instance, Caldas does not address code switching, although he refers to language mixing in his data and even prescriptively refers to speaking Franglais as ''sloppy'' (p. 42). Despite this view, it would be interesting to revisit the data to look at familial code switching, particularly in terms of identity and language negotiation. Similarly, how language use was actively negotiated, particularly among the children, would likely be another fruitful area of research. These suggestions for further research are not meant as criticisms of the current study; however, given the obvious wealth of data, there is much else that could be done with it.
_Raising Bilingual-Biliterate Children in Monolingual Cultures_ is comprehensive for its context, although the book needs to be read with care by those unfamiliar with bilingual education research, as the findings of this study are not entirely applicable to minority language families, such as those with children in structured immersion programs. Despite this, the study does provide excellent insight into a number of factors affecting familial bilingualism and raising children who are bilingual and biliterate. Of these, Caldas spends the most time exploring how his children negotiated bilingualism during adolescence, both in Louisiana and Québec, and invites the reader to observe these turbulent times with humor and empathy. It is commendable that Caldas is willing to share his family's experiences in such detail, as the study is a valuable contribution to the field of bilingualism.
Caldas, S. J. and Caron-Caldas, S. C. (2000). The influence of family, school and community on 'bilingual preference': Results from a Louisiana/Quebec case study. Applied Linguistics, 21, 365-81.
Crawford, J. (1998). Ten fallacies about bilingual education. Retrieved from ERIC at http://ww.cal.org/ericll/digest/crawford01.html.
Crawford, J. (2004). Educating English Learners: Language diversity in the classroom (5th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Bilingual Education Services, Inc.
Döpke, S. (1992). One parent, one language: An interactional approach. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Edelman,M. (1969). Contextualized measures of degree of bilingualism. Modern Language Journal, 53, 179-182.
Genesse, F., Lindholm-Leary, K., Saunders, W., & Christian, D. (Eds.). (2006). Educating English Language Learners: A synthesis of research evidence. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Porter, R. (1990). Forked tongue: The politics of bilingual education. New York: Basic Books.
Romaine, S. (1995). Bilingualism (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.
Rolstad, K., Mahoney, K., & Glass, G. V. (2005). The big picture: A meta-analysis of program effectiveness research on English Language Learners. Educational Policy, 19, 572-594.
Rossell, C. H. & Baker, K. (1996). The education effectiveness of bilingual education. Review of Educational Research, 75(2), 247-284.
Taeschner, T. (1983). The sun is feminine: A study on language acquisition in bilingual children. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
Saunders, G. (1982). Bilingual children: Guidance for the family. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Kara T. McAlister is a Ph.D. student in the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education at Arizona State University. Her research interests include formal aspects of bilingualism, second language acquisition, and code-switching, as well as teacher preparation in bilingual education. She currently teaches Masters' level language and methods courses for pre- and in-service teachers, and is particularly interested in facilitating teachers' understanding of language in the classroom.