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Review of  Power, Prestige and Bilingualism

Reviewer: Joseph Sung-Yul Park
Book Title: Power, Prestige and Bilingualism
Book Author: Anne-Marie de Mejía
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 14.382

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Date: Wed, 5 Feb 2003 12:15:11 -0800
From: Joseph Park
Subject: Power, Prestige, and Bilingualism: International Perspectives on Elite Bilingual

de Mejia, Anne-Marie. (2002) Power, Prestige, and Bilingualism: International
Perspectives on Elite Bilingual Education. Multilingual Matters, paperback ISBN
1-85359-590-X, xiv+325pp, Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 35.

Joseph Sung-Yul Park, University of California, Santa Barbara

This book is devoted to the topic of elite bilingual education, educational
provisions that 'cater mainly for upwardly mobile, highly educated, higher
socio-economic status learners of two or more internationally useful languages'
(x). It surveys the field from various viewpoints, including educational,
sociolinguistic, and cultural perspectives, and with respect to both the theory
and practice of elite bilingual education, supplemented with ample case
sketches in various nations and educational contexts. However, this book is not
merely a survey of existing information and research; the author also presents
her own arguments as to how the research and policy making on elite bilingual
education should proceed. In sum, this is a comprehensive overview of the state
of the art of elite bilingual education research, a field which has been
largely neglected so far. As the book is written in a clear, approachable style
with few theoretical presuppositions, it will be useful for a very wide
audience, including teachers, students, parents, and policy makers working in
the area of elite bilingual education, not to mention researchers who want to
get a broader perspective on the issue or need a solid reference on the subject

The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 presents an overview of the general
issues that relate to elite bilingual education from various perspectives. In
chapter 1, the author surveys the major types of education provisions often
discussed under the rubric of elite bilingual education: international schools,
European schools, and Canadian immersion programs, and also two types which are
considered to be more peripheral, finishing schools and language schools.

Chapter 2 discusses some of the terminology that relates to the field of
bilingualism and bilingual education in general. Central to de Mejia's
discussion is the notion of language as symbolic capital (Bourdieu 1982, 1991),
which allows us to see education as powerful means of providing access to
valued symbolic resources (37).

Chapter 3 looks as the issue of elite bilingual
education from the point of view of intercultural communication. Since elite
bilingualism and bilingual education often occur in contexts of cross-cultural
contact, factors such as intercultural marriage, international travel, and
international business are important issues to be considered in understanding
elite bilingual education.

Chapter 4 focuses on language use in elite bilingual
education classrooms, surveying issues in previous research, such as the need
to acknowledge code-switching in immersion classrooms, the relationship between
language and academic content, and how cultural content should be incorporated
in the teaching process. This discussion is given more detail as several
transcripts of instances of code-switching in classrooms in Colombia and Hong
Kong are presented and analyzed.

In Chapter 5, various issues relating to elite
bilingual education are discussed from the perspectives of the different
participants in this process -- parents, administrators, teachers, and
students -- and the expectations and concerns of each group are explained.

Chapter 6 outlines the trends in elite bilingual education research, noting the
shift from research focusing on educational outcomes to an acceptance of a
wider range of directions such as curriculum design or ethnographic research
projects. Based on her own work, the author also suggests that empowerment of
research subjects (teachers and administrators at an elite bilingual school in
de Mejia's case) should be an integral part of the research process so that the
gap between researchers and practitioners can be reduced.

Part 2 presents in more detail the forms and issues in elite bilingual
education across specific social and historical contexts. In particular,
Chapters 7 through 11 take the reader to five different continents (Africa,
South America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania) and overviews the bilingual education
provisions within several sample nations accompanied by detailed discussion of
their historical and sociolinguistic background.

Chapter 7 deals with two
African nations, Morocco and Tanzania. French and English International Schools
are discussed in the Moroccan context. In the case of Tanzania, the importance
of English as a language of prestige still has strong influence on secondary
and post-secondary education systems, despite growing recognition of Kiswahili
as the national language.

Chapter 8 surveys three South American nations; in
Argentina and Colombia, elite bilingual education, once largely a provision for
expatriate children, is now becoming more of a national concern in the
education system, while in Brazil, foreign language education is still centered
around institutes and language schools.

Chapter 9 deals with Japan, Hong Kong,
and Brunei Darussalam, which differ from each other significantly in colonial
history and cultural heterogeneity, yet whose bilingual education in English is
expanding from its previous private nature into more open provisions.

In chapter 10, four countries in Europe are discussed, Finland, Sweden, Belgium,
and Catalonia (Spain), where, due to different historical and political
circumstances, different language pairs became significant (Swedish and Finnish
in Finland, Swedish and English in Sweden, Flemish and French in Belgium,
Spanish and Catalan in Catalonia), and different types of modalities of
bilingual education developed (immersion programs in Finland and Catalonia,
International Schools in Sweden, and European Schools in Belgium).

In Chapter 11, Australia is considered among the countries of Oceania. Here, there is
rapid expansion of immersion-type programs for learning foreign languages, as
the country tries to recognize and value its multilingual nature and establish
an anti-isolationist economic and foreign policy.

After surveying these different countries, the remaining chapters present two
more unique perspectives on elite bilingual education. In chapter 12, the
author presents a critical discourse analysis (based on Fairclough's (1989,
1992) framework) of the discourse of elite bilingual education. More
specifically, she analyzes several texts of advertisements for elite bilingual
education programs around the world, and also a speech given by the Bruneian
Minister of Education at the "Bilingualism and National Development Conference"
in Brunei, 1991, showing how the ideologies represented through these
discourses can be seen as closely linked to contemporary capitalist ideologies
and reproducing existing social inequalities by appearing to offer equal
opportunity of access to the symbolic capital of language.

Chapter 13, on the other hand, takes the practitioner's perspective and
overviews the common problem areas as identified by teachers working in
elite bilingual education classrooms based on questionnaire research. Several
problems areas, such as motivation and opportunities to use the foreign language,
student language proficiency level, development of biliteracy, language and content,
and parental involvement, are discussed with case sketches, along with suggestions
by the teachers themselves regarding how to resolve these problems in teaching.

Chapter 14 is the conclusion of the book, where the author reviews the major
themes and makes several recommendations for effective policy and practice,
which include suggestions such as i) formulate explicit bilingual policy
statements based on empirical studies, ii) question monolingual classroom
language practices in bilingual contexts, iii) situate classroom language use
in wider local and global contexts of language use, iv) increase the scope and
reach of bilingual education teacher development, and v) provide international
opportunities to discuss issues related to elite bilingual education (300-302).

While research on bilingualism and bilingual education in minority contexts has
a long and rich tradition, elite bilingualism and bilingual education have
received little attention so far, with a few exceptions, most notably that of
Canadian Immersion programs. The author suggests three possible reasons for
this gap in the introduction (x-xi). First, for researchers pursuing a role of
advocacy, minority contexts, where inequality of language rights become a
crucial issue, may seem to be a more worthy area of study. Second, minority
bilingual education programs often receive state or federal funding, and thus
need to be under constant evaluation by authorities, leading to state-funded
research or at least accountability that is open to research (which partly
explains the abundance of research on Canadian Immersion). However, elite
bilingual education is generally offered in the private sector, with less need
for such accountability; in fact, the competitiveness among institutions causes
them to avoid sharing details of their programs, therefore making research
difficult. Third, even in potential contexts for elite bilingual education,
such as International Schools, multilingualism has not been a prime concern
until recently, as the students were often expatriates and were expected to
return to their home countries. Therefore, there has generally been a lack of
interest towards the notion of elite bilingualism and bilingual education.

However, we can no longer afford to simply ignore elite bilingualism and
bilingual education. As the author suggests, increasing globalization means an
increasing need for international communication, and the major languages of the
world (which, for that reason, also tend to be perceived as prestigious) are
increasingly considered to be important resources for upward socio-economic
mobility. Neither is elite bilingual education for the select minority of rich
people, as the term ^Ñelite^Ò might suggest. Teachers, businessmen, government
officials, and other professionals, who may not necessarily wealthy, all
recognize the importance of being bilingual and strive to learn these major
languages. In this sense, elite bilingualism is no longer a minor phenomenon
that applies only to a closed, privileged group of people. Elite bilingualism
and minority bilingualism are in fact like the two faces of a coin, since both
are loci where one can observe and study the ideologies of language held by the
participants in bilingual education and the society at large. The practice and
discussions surrounding minority bilingual education are important sites where
language ideologies (and based on those ideologies, racial, political and other
group identities) are produced, reproduced, challenged, and contested, as has
been documented, for example, in the case of bilingual education in North
America (cf. Schmid 2001). Similarly, efforts to acquire and provide access to
prestigious world languages in various contexts can be seen in terms of how
they represent language ideologies that reproduce the hegemony of such
languages. The ideological nature of English language teaching in colonial and
postcolonial contexts and its consequences has been well documented (Pennycook
1994, 1998, Philipson 1992). While many elite bilingual education provisions
seem to have the effect of 'empowering' learners of prestigious languages by
providing them with access to arenas associated with those languages, it is
also true that the promotion of such languages constitutes an institutionalized
mechanism of reproducing the hegemony of those languages. Therefore, studying
elite bilingual education from an international perspective allows us to
complement our understanding of how institutionalized practices of language
teaching and their ideologies can have the effect of reproducing those
ideologies based on minority bilingual education. Such knowledge can also
contribute to the fields of sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology, where
language ideology has been one of the crucial issues.

de Mejia's book is very welcome in this regard, since, in addition to providing
a rich international perspective with examples from many different countries
and contexts, it also strives to move beyond a purely educational perspective
(without abandoning it) and achieves a more critical perspective. Following
Heller^Òs (1990, 1994) suggestion to look beyond the immediate school situation
to understand the social situatedness of bilingual education, the author widens
the horizons of elite bilingual education research. Her chapter 12, where she
presents a critical discourse analysis of some texts representing elite
bilingual education institutions, is especially interesting for this reason.
Ultimately, I would have liked to see more research in this direction,
especially in combination with ethnographic and interactional data, since such
research will let us observe more clearly how the participants themselves deal
with and are influenced by the ideologies that underpin the discourses of elite
bilingual education. However, of course, due to the closed nature of the area
of elite bilingual education mentioned above, collection and analysis of such
data remain methodologically quite difficult, so for the time being we can say
that the analysis presented in this volume makes an important contribution in
raising the issue. Overall, given the lack of material written on elite
bilingual education, this book provides an ideal starting point for future
research, which promises to have many implications beyond the immediate field
of elite bilingual education itself.


Bourdieu, Pierre. 1982. Ce Que Parler Veut Dire. Paris: Fayard.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1991. Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press.
Fairclough, Norman. 1989. Language and Power. London: Longman.
Fairclough, Norman. 1992. Discourse and Social Change. London: Polity Press.
Heller, Monica. 1990. "French immersion in Canada: A model for Switzerland?"
Multilingua 9(1), 67-85.
Heller, Monica. 1994. Crosswords: Language, Education and Ethnicity in French
Ontario. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Pennycook, Alastair. 1994. The Cultural Politics of English as an International
Language. London: Longman.
Pennycook, Alastair. 1998. English and the Discourses of Colonialism. London:
Phillipson, Robert. 1992. Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University
Schmid, Carol L. 2001. The Politics of Language: Conflict, Identity, and
Cultural Pluralism in Comparative Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Joseph Sung-Yul Park is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Linguistics, University of California, Santa Barbara. His research interests include discourse analysis, interactional linguistics, and sociolinguistics. His dissertation research focuses on the ideologies of English in South Korea.