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Review of  A Parents' and Teachers' Guide to Bilingualism (2nd Edition)


Reviewer: Carmen Silva
Book Title: A Parents' and Teachers' Guide to Bilingualism (2nd Edition)
Book Author: Colin F. Baker
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Book Announcement: 12.159

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Baker, Colin (2000). A Parents' and Teachers' Guide to
Bilingualism. Clevedon, Boston, Toronto, Sydney:
Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Carmen Silva-Corvalan, University of Southern California.

The first edition of A Parents' and Teachers' Guide
to Bilingualism was published in 1995. Reviewed here is the
second edition, which constitutes a welcomed revised and
extended version of the original book. The 2000 edition is
number 1 in a new series, Parents' and Teachers' Guides, for
which Colin Baker is the editor.

A Parents' and Teachers' Guide to Bilingualism
contains an Introduction to the second edition, a general
Introduction, six sections (A-F), an Epilogue, a Glossary,
and a subject Index. Sections A-F are written in a question-
answer format; one hundred and twenty-three question-answer
pairs address central issues which concern parents, teachers
and others involved with raising and educating children,
when making decisions about developing bilingualism in
children. Written in mostly nontechnical language, the
answers increase the reader's awareness of the complexity of
the problems facing bilingual families and bilingual
education.

The book is well-organized and very readable. Terms
not easily accessible to the non-academic person are
explained in the text or in the twenty-three-page glossary
of specialized terms. The glossary provides useful
definitions and clarifications of the meaning of terms and
expressions which might be interpreted differently by
different readers. For example, Hispanics are defined as
"Spanish speakers in the United States" (202), a definition
not shared by many who do not consider "speaking Spanish" a
necessary requirement to be Hispanic. The definition
provided in the glossary dispels, therefore, any possible
misunderstandings. The reading of the book is facilitated as
well by the boldfaced highlighting of key phrases which
provide a quick guide to the main ideas in the text.

Section A, "Family Questions", includes seventeen
questions and answers dealing with bilingualism in the home.
Baker discusses many of the advantages of a child becoming
bilingual. One that I find especially appealing is that
being able to speak the language in which the mother, the
father, or both are more proficient allows a more intimate
level of communication between parents and children.
Bilingual children are often a bridge between generations.
While the monolingual child may be unable to communicate
with relatives who live in a different region/country and
speak a different language, the bilingual child will be able
to build "relationships in the extended family, and feel a
sense of belonging and rootedness within the extended
family." (2) The author warns the reader that developing
bilingualism requires effort, and in one parent-one language
homes, it may also require much patience and understanding
between the parents, as well as from other family members
and friends who might feel excluded at times if they do not
understand the other language. Ultimately, however, what
should really matter are the long-term interests of the
child. Where there is a majority language and one or both of
the child's parents speak a minority language (Spanish in
the USA, for instance) proficiency in the majority language
is an important goal. If there is no community support for
the minority language, there is the real danger that this
language will fade as the child's proficiency in the
majority language advances.

The next section, "Language Development Questions",
addresses the most important aspects of the process of
acquiring two languages simultaneously. Baker correctly
observes that children find this process "relatively
straightforward, painless and effortless," (28) while
acknowledging that older children's and adults' more
developed cognitive capacities may facilitate a faster
process of acquisition of a second language, albeit with
non-native pronunciation. Many important and lingering
questions are discussed in this section, Where are languages
stored in the brain?, How early is a child aware of being
bilingual?, Is it better to learn one language later than
the other?, Will bilingualism affect the child's
intelligence? Will one language interfere with the other?,
Is it sensible to raise children trilingually?, Will
bilingualism delay language development? The author provides
thoughtful and to the point answers based on his own
experience as the father of three bilingual children and his
scholarly knowledge of bilingualism, as well as on the
results of scholarly research by him and others. This wealth
of knowledge leads him to clearly favor bilingual language
acquisition, especially of the additive type.

Baker does not sidestep the difficult issues, some
of which he addresses directly in section C, "Questions
about Problems". Stuttering, some learning difficulties and
language disorders, imperfect acquisition of one of the
languages, possible adverse effects on friendships and
social relationships, and prejudice against bilinguals are
among the topics discussed. Baker encourages parents who may
receive negative advice against bilingualism to consult with
linguists, psychologists, and teachers specializing in
language acquisition or bilingualism for expert advice based
on current research.

The longest section of the book includes thirty-five
questions devoted to education subdivided into four
subsections, "Basic Education Questions", "Types of
Bilingual Education", "Achievement and Underachievement
Questions", "Language in the Classroom". This section is
preceded by section D, "Reading and Writing Questions", also
dealing with bilingual literacy, though independently from
the question of institutional bilingual education. Both
sections are very useful, practical and informative. Section
D points out that learning to read and write in two
languages simultaneously does not appear to be as frequent
as sequential learning, and suggests that the child should
become literate first in her/his stronger language. This may
not be necessarily so, however. For example, in a Spanish
immersion school in Culver City, California, many children
successfully learn to read and write in their weaker
language, Spanish, first, and later transfer the skill to
English, their dominant language. This section also
discusses different approaches to the teaching of reading
and writing. Very sensibly, Baker supports an eclectic
method: "A combination of a whole language, phonics and a
structured element to language is an efficient and valuable
way of accelerating learning." (98)

The last section, "Concluding Questions", reflects
upon political and worldwide issues of bilingualism, and
about the future of minority languages, bilingualism and
multilingualism in the era of "the global village". This
section also incorporates very useful lists of web sites for
bilinguals and of books dealing with child bilingual
development. Further references are offered throughout the
book, but no citations of specific research except in
question F11, which strongly criticizes two popular child
care books for their unsupported negative statements about
bilingualism. Specific research references and a
consolidated list of references on different issues at the
end of the book would have been welcomed.

The varied number of particular questions examined
in this book make it of interest to parents, teachers,
politicians, language planners, pediatricians, beginning
students of bilingualism, and bilinguals themselves. Some
may read the book from cover to cover; others will find it
useful to review the table of contents to locate specific
questions and the answers to their particular concerns. This
is a practical and informative book. Throughout it, the
message that "bilingualism is valuable" resonates with
authority and conviction.


Carmen Silva-Corvalan is Professor of Spanish and
Linguistics at the University of Southern California. Her
research interests cluster around questions in
(socio)linguistic variation, functional syntax, and language
contact and bilingualism. She is currently studying the
simultaneous acquisition of Spanish and English by children,
a natural extension of her interest in adult bilingualism in
Los Angeles.


Carmen Silva-Corvalan
=====================
Professor of Spanish and Linguistics
Department of Spanish and Portuguese Tel.: (213) 740-1268
University of Southern California Fax: (213) 740-9463
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0358 email: csilva@usc.edu
=========================================================================


 
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