Baker, Colin (2001) Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism,
3rd Ed. Multilingual Matters, xii+484 pages, paperback ISBN 1-83539-523-3.
Reviewed by Dr Patrick-Andre Mather, McGill University, Montreal
[Another review of this book can be found at
This work is intended as an introductory textbook, although it provides
in-depth coverage of various topics and issues. Its 20 chapters fall into
three broad categories: the first 8 chapters deal with bilingualism from
individual and collective perspectives, and discuss mainly sociolinguistic
issues like language revival, language planning, diglossia, etc. Chapters 9
to 17 deal with bilingual education proper and analyze various pedagogical
and political issues, for example biliteracy, immersion classrooms, minority
languages, and in particular the bilingual education debate in the United
States over the past couple of decades. Finally, chapters 18 through 20
analyze the broader implications of bilingualism and bilingual education
from an international, political perspective in this era of globalization.
Each chapter begins with a list of headings and ends with a summary of key
points, suggested readings and study activities. As such, the textbook is
Chapter 1 provides basic definitions of bilingualism, stressing the
difference between individual bilingualism and the use of two or more
languages within a community or region. It also introduces various
definitions, such as "double semilingualism", which is used to describe
those whose languages are both under-developed in a context of subtractive
bilingualism (e.g., when minority language speakers are schooled in the
majority languages but never master this language, nor become literate in
their own L1).
Chapter 2 deals with the problem of measuring bilingualism, e.g. relative
fluency in the L1 and L2. This issue is extremely complex since
self-reporting (e.g., in government censuses) is very unreliable, and even
objective fluency tests are often flawed since they only measure certain
skills, (e.g., grammatical competence) and exclude others, such as overall
communicative competence in various situations.
Chapters 3 and 4 provide a general introduction to sociolinguistics:
chapter three explains terms such as diglossia, language maintenance and
shift,minority language communities, and language planning, while chapter
four focuses more specifically on cases of language revival and
revitalization,discussing success stories like Hebrew in Israel and
not-so-successful cases like Irish. There is also an in-depth presentation
of Fishman's (1991) model of "Reversing Language Shift".
Chapter 5 focuses on the development of bilingualism, in particular during
childhood. The author distinguishes between formal and informal acquisition,
and discusses the influence of the home language and of early schooling in
two languages, the role of codeswitching, and various controversial issues
such as the critical period in language learning. Baker's view is that there
is no critical period, although he acknowledges that older speakers are at a
disadvantage, a relatively uncontroversial point.
Chapter 6 discusses the various personal and societal motivations for
bilingualism, and then reviews the main pedagogical approaches to second
language teaching in chronological fashion: from audiolingualism (based on a
behaviorist view) to more structural approaches (inspired by Chomsky's
mentalist view of language) and to current communicative approaches. Baker
also reviews various personal and psychological factors that explain the
variable outcomes of second language learning.
Chapter 7 (Bilingualism and Cognition) discusses a wide range of topics,
e.g. the 19 th century idea that bilingual children are less intelligent
than monolinguals, neurolinguistic issues (e.g. aphasia), various
representations of the bilingual mind, bilingualism and metalinguistic
Chapter 8 outlines the development of a widely accepted theory of
bilingualism and cognition, the "Thresholds Theory", based mainly on Cummins
(1978, 2000). This theory suggests that individuals that have
age-appropriate competence in two languages have cognitive advantages over
monolinguals. The chapter also investigates the time needed for immigrants
to acquire basic skills in the target language.
Chapter 9 (An Introduction to Bilingual Education) moves away from the
cognitive/sociolinguistic issues of previous chapters and focuses mainly on
the history of bilingual education in the USA, highlighting recent trends
against bilingual education and favoring the assimilation of
minority-language children. The chapter also outlines ten varieties of
bilingual education (including Submersion and Transitional Bilingual
Education, both of which are dismissed as ineffective in achieving
Chapter 10 analyzes immersion bilingual education (relying mainly on
Canadian data), heritage language education and the rise of dual language
schools in the US, and cases of trilingual education, e.g. in Luxembourg
where Luxembourgish-speaking children are schooled in both French and
German. It also assesses the effectiveness of bilingual education programs
mentioned in the preceding chapters. Overall, bilingual education does not
lower the performance of students elsewhere in the curriculum, and strong
forms of bilingual education (when the students' home language is also
taught at school) are shown to be an economically valuable policy.
Chapter 11 deals exclusively with the effectiveness of bilingual education
in the USA, highlighting how this issue is a highly political one,
especially in California.
Chapter 13 ("Language Development and Language Allocation") looks at the
first-language development of minority language students, and outlines how
the two languages can be separated in the classroom by setting boundaries
between subjects, teachers, time slots, etc. The chapter ends with a
discussion of bilingualism among deaf people, who are also bicultural due to
their involvement with both the hearing and deaf communities.
Chapter 14 discusses various problems, including the underachievement of
minority language children, and children with special needs (including
various learning difficulties) who typically benefit from bilingual
Chapter 15 deals with literacy in multicultural societies, including African
countries, and discusses five approaches to literacy, namely functional
literacy, the whole language approach, construction of meaning,
sociocultural literacy and critical literacy. Each approach is based on
different expectations of children, and is often fueled by political motives
such as understanding and disseminating government propaganda.
Chapter 16 ("Literacy and Biliteracy in the Classroom") deals with practical
issues in the bilingual classroom, namely teaching methods and strategies,
and stresses the importance of cross-curriculum, collaborative and
personalized approaches, as well as parental involvement, in achieving
Chapter 17 analyzes teaching strategies and results in immersion classrooms,
particularly in Finland and Canada, where the goal is to achieve an additive
form of bilingualism where both languages and cultures are highly valued.
Over the years, an immersion methodology has been developed based on the
While chapters 9 to 17 deal mainly with the bilingual classroom, Chapter
18 discusses bilingualism as it relates to power and status structures and
political systems. It analyzes different ways of viewing minority language
situations: as problems, as a human rights issue, or as national assets. The
social status of minority language speakers, discrimination, and policies of
linguistic and cultural assimilation in the United States are also
discussed. Finally, different forms of bilingual education are linked to
different political agendas.
Chapter 19 discusses broader issues related to bilingualism and
assimilation, namely multiculturalism, values and attitudes toward ethnic
and linguistic minorities, and how goals of awareness and tolerance can be
achieved within the classroom through multicultural programs.
Finally, chapter 20 provides an overview of "Bilingualism in the Modern
World", and its repercussions in the workplace, on the tourism industry, and
in the mass media. With the rapid spread of English in information
technology for instance, it is crucial that other languages develop their
own terminologies to keep pace. Alongside English, other major world
languages may play an increasing role in international trade. In addition to
French, German, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish, other international
languages such as Arabic, Mandarin, Swahili and Hindi/Urdu may play a
greater role in the future. As such, bilinguals are at an advantage since
they will be required in many occupations, including trade and tourism.
As I mentioned in my introduction, this book is very well organized and
user-friendly, as it provides overviews of chapters, headings, suggested
readings and activities. The information provided is in-depth, informative
and addresses a wide range of interrelated issues. It will be useful reading
for students of bilingualism, second language pedagogy, and sociolinguistics
in general. A few criticisms are in order, however:
(1) Although Baker claims that "the book was written for an international
audience", many chapters focus mainly, or even exclusively, on North America
and Britain, although there are passing references to other countries. This
bias may be due to the fact that much of the available research focuses on
English versus other minority languages, but greater emphasis on research in
France and Spain for example would have been helpful.
(2) Ideologically, it is very clear where the author stands, e.g. for
linguistic diversity and minority languages. While this bias is certainly
commendable, some passages seem very idealistic and somewhat removed from
reality. For example, Baker states (p. 47) that "in Canada francophones
have the right to use French wherever they travel across Canada". He repeats
this claim on page 65, but fails to point out that this is a purely
theoretical right, since in practice it is impossible to live or have ready
access to French services outside Quebec and some areas of New-Brunswick and
North-Eastern Ontario. Thus, though the Canadian government officially
supports the personality principle, in practice the territorial principle is
the rule (French in Quebec province and northern New-Brunswick, English
elsewhere in Canada).
(3) Although two chapters are devoted to the cognitive/psycholinguistic
aspects of bilingualism, Baker never mentions the considerable literature on
second language acquisition within the generative framework, for instance
the issue of the availability of Universal Grammar to second language
learners, the role of L1 Transfer, etc. Yet these issues are constantly
discussed in journals like Studies in Second Language Acquisition and Second
Language Research (see e.g. Epstein et al. 1996 for an overview of these
issues). Even though Baker is concerned mainly with bilingual education and
sociolinguistic issues, the lack of any mention of this kind of theoretical
work is a serious flaw.
(4) Finally, even though on the whole the book is very clear and
well-organized, there is a need for more careful editing, as some sentences
are either much too long, strangely structured, or even ungrammatical, and
thus difficult to parse/understand (especially by an "international
audience"!), e.g. p. 137: "What is intelligent behavior or not requires a
subjective value judgment as to the kind of behavior and the kind of person
regarded as of more worth". Or p. 142, bottom: "This is not just an
academic question but relates to how clinical diagnosis and rehabilitation
(e.g. in a bilingual aphasic)". (verb?)
These criticisms should not overshadow the fact that, overall, this book is
well-written, informative and very useful for professors and (advanced
undergraduate or first-year graduate) students alike.
Cummins, J. (1978). Metalinguistic development of children in bilingual
education programs: Data from Irish and Canadian Ukrainian-English programs.
In M. Paradis (Ed.), Aspects of Bilingualism. Columbia: Hornbeam Press.
Cummins, J. (2000). Putting language proficiency in its place: responding to
critiques of the conversational /academic language distinction. In J. Cenoz
& U. Jessner (eds.), English in Europe: the Acquisition of a Third Language.
Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Epstein, S., S. Flynn and G. Martohardjono (1996). Second Language
Acquisition: Theoretical and experimental issues in contemporary research.
Behavioral and Brain Sciences 19, 677-758.
Fishman, J. A. (1991). Reversing Language Shift. Clevedon: Multilingual
A NOTE ON THE REVIEWER
Patrick-Andre Mather teaches French, linguistics and translation at McGill
University (Montreal). He has published several articles on language
contact in Eastern France (French-German) and on the genesis of
French-lexifier creoles. His current research focuses on case studies of
second-language acquisition, and their significance for theories on the
origin and development of Caribbean and Indian Ocean creoles.