Colin Baker (2000): A Parents'and Teachers'Guide to Bilingualism, 2nd
Edition, Multicultural Matters, Clevedon, England, 218 pages.
By Helene Knoerr, Ph.D., University of Ottawa
This 218-page second edition builds upon material presented in the first
edition (1994); it also features new material addressing new issues related
to bilingualism such as the Internet factor or international adoptions. The
book is divided into six sections and follows a question-and-answer format
by first discussing the general implications, then elaborating on available
options, and finally, wherever appropriate, by suggesting a course of
action. Sections deal with family issues, language development questions,
typical problems, reading and writing, education, and more general,
The author, Colin Baker, specializes in bilingualism and bilingual
education. He has published six books and over 50 other publications on the
subject. He was elected a Fellow of the British Psychological Society in
1994 for his work on bilingualism.
The introduction clearly states that bilingualism is a sensitive issue as
well as an umbrella term since there is no definition which is generally
agreed upon. The level of proficiency expected from a bilingual person may
vary widely depending on the definition one gives to the word bilingualism.
Many factors, politics being a major one, contribute to that situation..
The first section gives answers to seventeen family-oriented questions
ranging from general ("What are the advantages of my child becoming
bilingual?") to very specific ("I'm a one-parent family. How can I raise my
child bilingually"?). Topics include the roles of mother, father and
grandparents; bilingualism and the internationally-adopted child; language
practice inside and outside the family home.
Section B addresses twenty-five questions pertaining to child development
issues. This is probably one of the most useful sections for parents, since
misconceptions about bilingualism and language development abound in
childrearing literature. Other issues include: the age and gender factors;
the social implications of using a minority or marked language; the link
between bilingualism and intelligence; the influence of the arts or the
Internet; the interference of a second language on the development of the
Section C offers answers to specific problems that are likely to arise in
bilingual situations. These range from language interferences to refusing to
speak one of the two languages, as well as the impact of bilingualism in
learning disabilities, stuttering, emotional and behavioral problems. This
section also offers guidance in dealing with bias from racist individuals or
misinformed health or education professionals.
Section D focuses on reading and writing issues, which revolve mainly around
three major questions: In which language should literacy begin? Is there a
teaching approach better suited to bilingualism? Will the bilingual child
learn at a slower pace and experience more difficulties than monolingual
Section E, the longest and heaviest of all, is devoted to education. There
is particular emphasis on the Canadian immersion schooling system, which is
highly successful in all three stages (early, middle and late); the main
features of this system are described, along with the language strategies
used in the classroom. Other different types of bilingual schools are also
listed and a shorter description of each of them is provided. This section
then discusses achievement and underachievement issues. The point is made
that as long as both languages are developed sufficiently to enable the
child to follow the curriculum, functioning in two languages will not hinder
the child's performance, although there is likely to be a temporary lag
between the ages of six and ten years of age. The common assumption that a
bilingual child's poor school performance is due to the fact that he is
bilingual is dismissed. The author even suggests that special education
children (i.e., children with learning disabilities, visually or hearing
impaired children) may benefit from a bilingual program in many ways.
Section F contains "Concluding Questions" related to many different topics.
It lists a variety of sources, including Internet sites, which provide
additional information, suggests further readings and offers links to
various support groups.
Finally, a 23-page glossary defines key words pertaining to bilingualism,
not only those used in the book but also those one may find in articles and
other books addressing the same topic.
This book provides a good framework for the general public and parents
interested in and concerned by raising bilingual children. Also, as a Guide,
it not only presents options but also gives direction and advice based upon
the author's extensive research background as well as his personal
experience as a member of a bilingual family and community.
Because the book targets bilingual families and the general public, its tone
is definitely accessible, avoiding technical jargon (suggested readings are
listed for those who wish to further explore the topic on a more academic
level). It does however mention many studies in order to support most of the
author's answers and recommendations.
The question/ answer format makes it easy for readers to find help with
their specific concerns. The book is well structured and easy to read. Many
cross-references contribute to giving a complete answer to each question.
The wide use of tables, color photos, illustrations, cross-references and
bold typeface also contribute to making the book reader-friendly. The author
uses images and metaphors quite liberally - and maybe at times too heavily -
in order to better convey his thoughts.
One may notice a certain amount of repetition throughout the book in the
answers given to different questions. This is due to the fact that the guide
is not intended to be read exclusively in a linear fashion: readers may be
looking for specific information and jump directly to the section or
question that deals with it without reading the previous pages or sections.
The main criticism one may have is that the 'Teachers' part of the Guide is
virtually nonexistent. In that respect, the book's title is quite
misleading. While an entire section deals with education issues, these are
exclusively addressed from a parent's perspective. Similarly, the Reading
and Writing section offers no tips for teachers eager to develop those
skills in bilingual schoolchildren. Consequently, the book is in no way
helpful for teachers dealing with a bilingual classroom situation who are
looking for advice on how to best help pupils develop their two languages.
Also, the last section (Concluding Questions) is a catchall part with no
real consistency. For example, one question is about raising a deaf child
bilingually; this particular question would have found a more natural home
in Section C (Questions about Problems). Another asks "Books on childcare
and child development warn me against bilingualism. How should I react?";
the answer would be found in Section B (child development). Similarly, "Does
my child have a right to bilingual education?" would more logically belong
to Section E (Education).
Overall, it is a good introductory book for parents looking for reassurance
and resources to help them raise their children in a bilingual environment.
H�l�ne Knoerr holds a Ph.D. in Applied Phonetics. She currently teachers
French as a Second language at the Second Language Institute of the
University of Ottawa. Her research interests include integrating phonetics
in the language curriculum, teaching pronunciation through multimedia, and
developing multimedia course material for French as a Second Language. She
has authored several books and textbooks, published many papers and given a
number of presentations at international conferences on those topics.
Secr�taire de l'ACLA/ CAAL Secretary
Institut des langues secondes
600 King Edward
OTTAWA, Ontario K1H 7P7
(613) 562-5800/ 3475
(613) 562-5126 (fax)