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Review of  Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

Reviewer: Brian Chan
Book Title: Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
Book Author: Colin F. Baker
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 12.2204

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Baker, Colin (2001) Foundations of Bilingual Education and
Bilingualism, 3rd ed. Multilingual Matters, xii+484 pages,
paperback ISBN 1-83539-523-3, GBP16.95.

Reviewed by Brian Chan

third edition, continues to be one of the most informative
textbooks on the subject of bilingualism. What makes this
textbook unique is that its focus is more on bilingual education
rather than bilingualism. In fact, almost two-third of the book
is devoted to bilingual education-Chapters 1 to 8 address issues
in bilingualism, whereas chapters 9 to 20 discuss bilingual
education. Other textbooks in the market mainly concern
bilingualism rather than bilingual education: Romaine (1995), for
instance, devotes only one chapter to bilingual education.

Chapters 1 to Chapter 8 introduce issues (both sociolinguistic
and cognitive) and basic concepts in bilingualism. Chapter 9 to
Chapter 17 concentrate on various issues and theories in
bilingual education. Chapter 18 to Chapter 20 look at
bilingualism and bilingual education from a more global
perspective, dealing with issues such as politics,
multiculturalism and future trends. In fact, a clear layout of
the organization of the book is presented in the Introduction
section (pages ix-x).

Chapter 1 ("Definitions and Dimensions") introduces different
types of bilinguals (e.g. balanced bilingual vs. semi-lingual)
who have varied bilingual proficiency in different skills (e.g.
speaking vs. writing) and who use two languages in different
profiles (i.e. the concept of language choice). Chapter 2 ("The
Measurement of Bilingualism") elaborates chapter 1 as it
illustrates efforts that have to taken to define the wide
spectrum of bilinguals, including censuses, questionnaires and
testing. The limitations of these methods are also discussed.
Chapter 3 ("Languages in Society") takes a different perspective
and looks at the use of two languages on a societal level. The
classic concept of "diglossia" is introduced, followed by an
introduction to language planning, language maintenance, language
shift and language death. Chapter 4 ("Language Revival and
Revitalization") outlines factors that underlie language shift
and actions that can be taken to reverse it.

Chapter 5 ("The Development of Bilingualism") introduces
childhood bilingualism. Two types of childhood bilingualism are
documented, namely, simultaneous acquisition and sequential
acquisition, followed by a discussion of the social contexts
associated with them. For instance, the one-parent one-child
policy is often taken for children who acquire two languages
simultaneously. The motivations of code-switching and
trilingualism are then identified. Chapter 6 ("Second Language
Acquisition and Learning") focuses on second language acquisition
in which bilingual the second language is acquired in adulthood.
The motivations (e.g. acquiring more information) and the
contexts (e.g. instruction vs. exposure) are outlined. Also
discussed are the language input and individual factors that
underlie the variation of bilinguals in their second language
proficiency. Chapter 7 ("Bilingualism and Cognition") details
research on the relationship between bilingualism and
intelligence. The earlier view that bilinguals are less
intelligent is refuted and more recent findings that suggest the
otherwise are presented. Chapter 8 ("Cognitive Theories of
Bilingualism and the Curriculum) follows up the theme in the
previous chapter by introducing some more theories concerning the
cognitive state of the bilinguals ("The Balance Theory", "The
Iceberg Analogy" and "The Threshold Theory"). Afterwards the
relevance of these theories to curriculum design is brought up,
preparing the reader to the second part of the book on bilingual

Chapter 9 ("An Introduction to Bilingual Education") focuses on
the case of bilingual education in the United States of America.
It is concluded that bilingual education thrived or was
suppressed under different socio-political climates. Several
varieties of bilingual education are then introduced, but,
according to the author, these are "weak forms" which aim at
assimilating minority students to the majority language (e.g.
"submersion") or preserving the minority language (e.g.
"segregationist education"). Chapter 10 (Bilingual Education for
bilingualism and Biliteracy) introduces other varieties of
bilingual education which are "strong forms" aiming at genuine
bilingualism. Among these forms are the immersion programs in
Canada, where students use both English and French for the same
function (e.g. reading), and dual language schools in US, where
students speaking a majority language (e.g. English) are mixed
with those speaking a minority language (e.g. Spanish) from an
early stage. Chapter 11 ("The Effectiveness of Bilingual
Education") reviews research on the effectiveness of bilingual
education. Earlier studies which favor monolingual education are
criticized. There is, however, a general consensus that "strong
forms" of bilingual education (e.g. immersion) are effective in
fostering genuine bilingualism among students. Chapter 12 ("The
Effectiveness of Bilingual Education: The United States Debate")
returns to the case of the United States, showing that there has
been scant government support for bilingual education despite its
effectiveness. The author also shows that some studies may be
biased by the political orientations of the researchers who
oppose bilingual education. Chapter 13 ("Language Development and
Language Allocation in Bilingual Education") stresses the need to
preserve the minority language and its cultural awareness through
schooling. The use of two languages in the classroom is then
considered. Instead of random code-switching, the author appears
to favor the strategic use of two languages taking into account
the background of the students. Finally, the situation of the
deaf people is briefly considered, and it is suggested that
special care is needed for those deaf people who acquired a
minority variety of sign language.

Chapter 14 ("Bilingual Schooling Issues: Underachievement,
Assessment and Special Needs") refutes the idea that bilingualism
is the cause of underachievement or language impairment. The real
cause is the myriad of socio-economic disadvantages affecting the
bilingual students whose mother tongue is a minority language.
Methods of assessing bilingual students should be reviewed to
avoid bias against bilingualism. Chapter 15 ("Literacy in
Minority Language and Multicultural Societies") introduces major
approaches to literacy in a multilingual and multicultural
context. The author appears to favour the development of
"critical literacy", in which learning to write in a second
language not only fulfils certain functions (e.g. writing an
assignment in school) but only empowers the minority students to
understand another culture and express themselves in that
culture. Chapter 16 ("Literacy and Biliteracy in the Classroom")
elaborates chapter 15 by introducing classroom strategies (or
activities) that can be taken to foster second language literacy
of those speaking minority languages (e.g. story-reading). Their
first language literacy, argues the author, need to be fostered
too, so that they can meet the linguistic demands of a bilingual
network, say, using the majority language in office with
colleagues and using the minority language in home with parents.
Chapter 17 ("Immersion Classrooms") outlines features of
immersion programs. It is stressed that two languages should be
used separately and the enthusiasm of parents and teachers is the
key to success.

Chapter 18 ("The Politics of Bilingualism") examines the
relationship between bilingual education and politics. In this
light, language is seen as a potential problem (i.e. as
multilingualism fosters national disunity and segregation), a
right (i.e. each individual has a right to choose his or her
language) and a resource (i.e. learning a second language opens
up career or business opportunities). Various groups who speak a
minority language may have different orientations towards
bilingual education-either more assimilationist (i.e. learning
the majority language) or more pluralist (i.e. supporting
linguistic diversity). Chapter 19 ("Multiculturalism and Anti-
racism") suggests that policy makers in bilingual or multi-
lingual education need to take into account the cultures
associated with the minority languages as well. Students should
be taught to respect those whose cultures and races are different
from theirs. Chapter 20 ("Bilingualism in the Modern World")
forecasts trends of bilingualism and bilingual education in the
contexts of tourism, mass media and the economy. Although
bilinguals are sometimes the underprivileged in certain
societies, it is predicted that the world may well demand more
bilinguals in the near future, which means that they would have a
competitive edge over monolinguals in career opportunities.

This textbook is laudably user-friendly and pedagogic in terms of
format. On the first page of each chapter, there is a list of the
headings of the major sections. In the chapters, there are many
tables which provide succinct definitions of key terms
introduced. At the end of each chapter is a "Conclusion" which
nicely summarizes not only the ideas and but also the flow of
thought of the author. The "Key Points to Remember" enables the
reader to recap the main points before he/she proceeds to the
next chapter. There are also a helpful "Suggested Further
Readings", and a list of "Study Activities" which is an inspiring
source for class discussion and student projects. After the
chapters there is a conceptual map which outline the connections
between the chapters graphically. In this aspect, this textbook
is again unique among other textbooks on bilingualism available
in the market.

In terms of content, the book is extremely informative and
comprehensive. Indeed, the book covers a lot of diverse areas
ranging from language policy to language testing and from
language acquisition to language choice. Judging from the
illustrations throughout the book, it is obvious that the author
is very knowledgeable in many of the bilingual communities around
the world, although he seems to concentrate on the experience of
the United States (as a case study to show how bilingual
education and politics are intertwined) and Canada (in his
discussion of immersion). Besides, it is educational for the
author to give a critique rather than only summarizing the major
proposals in the literature.

Paradoxically, my own reservation of the book is that it is
perhaps too massive and ambitious as an introductory textbook.
The book not only explains basic concepts, which seems genuinely
introductory, but also devotes substantial space to literature
review and critique, which appears to cater for more advanced
students and even researchers. Another potential problem for the
students is that a lot of different approaches (with different
goals and methodology) to bilingualism and bilingual education
have been touched upon (e.g. from psycholinguistics to
sociolinguistics, from curriculum design to language testing,
from sociology to politics). This may cause confusion to some
newcomer to the field of linguistics. However, be fair, the
involvement of different approaches is perhaps necessary for all
other textbooks in bilingualism as well (e.g. Romaine 1995),
because bilingualism and bilingual education essentially refer a
set of phenomena rather than distinct sub-disciplines of
linguistics. My own assessment is that the textbook is most
suitable for advanced undergraduates (i.e. last year) or

Another comment: There are transitions between sections (within
chapters) which I find rather abrupt, for example, the
introduction of language choice after the classification of
various types of bilinguals (Chapter 1), the introduction of
endangered languages after the discussion of "diglossia" (Chapter
3), the introduction of code-switching (an area on its own) after
the introduction of childhood bilingualism (Chapter 5), the
discussion of how to use two languages in classroom amidst the
stress on protecting the cultural and linguistic heritage of
minority groups, including deaf bilinguals (Chapter 13).

Finally, some words about the author's own ideology. Although the
book is written in an objective, academic tone throughout, it is
not difficult to feel that he himself supports bilingual
education and whole-heartedly appreciates the "language garden"
where various languages and cultures flourish harmonically and
eclectically. This can be seen from the author's mention of
endangered languages to his dismissal of the "strong forms" of
bilingual education. He constantly criticizes research that hints
at the superiority of monolingualism or monolingual education
(See Chapter 4, Chapter 7, Chapter 11, Chapter 14 in particular).
Actually, the author states his orientation clearly in the
Introduction and the Acknowledgement. Unfortunately, the reality
remains that those in power (either economically or politically)
often fail to tolerate cultures and languages different from
theirs and want others to conform to them at the expense of
diversity and respect. In this regard, language and society do
interact, which, I believe, opens up the horizons of those who
have been primarily concerned with the formal properties of
language, say, myself.


Romaine, S. (1995) Bilingualism. Second Edition. Blackwell.

Brian Chan is a Language Instructor in the Department of English,
Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He taught English and
Linguistics at the City University of Hong Kong and the Chinese
University of Hong Kong. His research interests lie in
bilingualism, in particular code-switching. He finished his
dissertation on code-switching in 1999 at University College

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