14.457, Review: Applied Linguistics: Ada and Baker (2001)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-457. Sun Feb 16 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.457, Review: Applied Linguistics: Ada and Baker (2001)

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Date:  Thu, 13 Feb 2003 12:32:51 +0000
From:  Shaw Nicholas Gynan <sngynan at cc.wwu.edu>
Subject:  Guia para padres y maestros de ninos bilingues

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Thu, 13 Feb 2003 12:32:51 +0000
From:  Shaw Nicholas Gynan <sngynan at cc.wwu.edu>
Subject:  Guia para padres y maestros de ninos bilingues

Ada, Alma Flor and Colin Baker (2001) Guía para padres y maestros de
niños bilingües. Multilingual Matters, paperback ISBN 1-85359-511-X,
xxii+231 pp, £12.95/ US$19.95/ CAN$24.95Parents' and Teachers' Guides


Shaw N. Gynan, Western Washington University

This volume was supposedly written to answer ''the questions most
frequently asked by parents and teachers on raising and educating
bilingual children.'' The answers are provided in what is described as
clear and simple language, avoiding academic terminology. An
introductory chapter to the Spanish edition goes into more detail
about the audience, specifying US Latino parents who raise
Spanish-speaking children, mixed marriages, and English-speaking
parents who wish to raise their children in another language. Yet
another introductory chapter adds monolingual parents and teachers,
doctors, speech therapists, psychologists, and counselors.  The book
is divided into sections on the family, language development,
problems, literacy, pedagogy (including types of bilingual education,
achievement, and languages of the classroom), general questions,
references, and a glossary. Each section has typically around twenty
questions.  The issue of bilingual education has become highly
politicized in the US.  Millions of parents are on their own when it
comes to determining the right language policy for the home. Can a
single volume provide what all of the people listed in the
introduction need?  Is this format useful? The publisher classifies
this book as applied linguistics, but that is
questionable. Linguistics is supposed to be science, not advocacy. The
authors are forthright in declaring their advocacy and their intention
that this work not be academic. This text, nevertheless, is replete
with academic terminology. One example of this is the statement that
''To be bicultural is somewhat different from having two monocultures
united'' (page 17). Reading, writing, speaking, and hearing are
referred to as dimensions and then shortly thereafter as
abilities. Majority and minority languages are referred without
explanation. In a discussion of mixing, a number of terms is presented
(page 64, transfer, alternation, interference) The meaning of those
terms is not necessarily transparent, and the language here is not
straightforward. Indeed, the glossary has over 400 terms. These are
not indexed and there is no consistent way of directing the reader's
attention to them. Words in the texts are frequently printed in
boldface, but many times this is merely for emphasis. No systematic
way of directing the reader's attention to the glossary is developed.
There is a problem with a book that is supposedly simple and that
tackles complex issues. First, the assumption is condescending and
patronizing.  Secondly, the very field the authors purport to
represent is dismissed as unnecessarily technical. The result is a
book that instead of being easy to use is very difficult. The
questions presented are supposedly those most asked by parents and
teachers, but we learn nothing about who they are, and in some cases,
the questions simply don't seem to have been generated by the audience
specified: ''What are the most important factors so that a child will
become bilingual? This does not sound like a question a parent would
ask, and although the authors claim that these are frequently asked
questions, there is no reference to how they might have been gathered.
In the chapter on family questions, there are a number of questionable
recommendations. The authors present a plan of action for parents who
want bilingual children, but this is before they explain anything at
all about the nature of language acquisition. They recommend that if a
couple gets in an argument about bilingualism, they should make a
list. In response to a question about whether bilingualism affects
marriages, the authors cite no studies to back their contention that
there are no problems.  This is a recurring problem in this book - no
specific data, either from large-scale or small-scale longitudinal,
ethnographic work are cited in support of many contentions. On
repeated occasions, studies are referred to without any
documentation. To cite just a few examples, on page 69, children in
bilingual programs are claimed to show superior achievement. No
reference is given, but an asterisk takes us to page 69, where we are
then directed to pages 2 and 61. There are no references to these
studies on those pages either. On page 70 the authors note that there
have been many studies on bilingual brains, but that these are at an
early stage and that no conclusions may be drawn. There is no
documentation of this. Many references are embedded deep in the text
with no cross-listing in the bibliography. We find bibliographical
references on pages 26, 32, 39, 92, and 150, for example, but these
are not at the end of the book. On pages 96 and 97 there is no
documentation of claims made with respect to cross-linguistic
interference in reading. Another conspicuous omission, from a section
that runs from pages 104 to 107, is documentation of studies that show
that the whole language approach is superior to phonics (incorrectly
translated as the phonetic approach). On page 164, mention is made of
bilingual children being improperly placed in special education
classes, but no documentation is provided. On page 187 we learn that
many politicians are opposed to bilingual education, but no names are
mentioned, no campaigns against bilingual education are
highlighted. And a final strange tidbit is the ''fact'' that 100,000
languages have died. Since the highest estimate of languages currently
in the world is around 6,000, the larger figure must refer to all
languages that have ever existed. In any event, there is no reference
to the name of the author who wrote about this calamitous sequence of
events.  Reference is made to the issue of diglossia and bilingualism,
with no attribution (Fishman is never mentioned, for example). An
inaccurate description of language use in Paraguay is also
undocumented. (Paraguayans are described as using only Guaraní at
home, which is false. Readily available census data show that over 50%
use both or only Spanish.) The reference list is not highlighted as a
bibliography. There is no alphabetical list of authors. Perhaps this
is all done to avoid making the book an academic work; however, author
and subject indexes, bibliographies, and proper documentation
throughout texts do not render them inaccessible, but instead make
them more user-friendly. In the absence of such organization, a text
is opaque and impenetrable.  The authors lament that there is much
prejudice regarding bilingualism, and recommend that it be combated
with ''real and truthful information,'' but time and time again they
provide none. We read of questions about racist attitudes, but no
studies citing such attitudes are mentioned. Parents might be left
with the impression that such attitudes abound, when indeed they may
be an exception. Whatever the truth may be, no attempt is made here to
discern it. By page 23, which is well into the chapter on familial
aspects of bilingualism, we are finally presented with a specific
example, that of a Finnish family that adopts a seven-year old Russian
girl. The problem is that this example is entirely hypothetical. Of
far more use to parents would be a systematic exposition of life
stories. There are occasional references to the authors' own families,
but we learn almost nothing even of their own experiences. The authors
easily could have used their families as sources of detail and
inspiration on how to manage languages at the family level.  In such a
loosely organized work, it is difficult to discern themes, and there
are in fact many contradictions. The authors begin the work
questioning the existence of balanced bilinguals but repeat the
recommendation throughout the book that equilibrium be the goal. Along
with equilibrium, the authors are fairly consistent in recommending
that the two languages be separated, and while they make mention of
the fact that mixing is inevitable, they continue to push for
separation as a goal.  On page 34, we are told to develop bilingualism
in our children as soon as possible, that the second language will not
affect the first language negatively, and this just after we have read
that the family needs to establish a good foundation for L1 when it is
a minority language. Much later, on page 111, we are told of parents
who do not wish to send their children to an English language school
at a young age for fear of how that experience may affect the home
language. If the minority home language is maintained, there should be
no reason why another language could not be learned in pre-school, and
if that were the only exposure the child had to the second language,
then the experience would be very helpful in facilitating the
development of English. Whatever the truth may be about this matter,
the book presents contradictory recommendations about it.  Yet another
conspicuous contradiction is found in reference to the issue of
bilingualism and cognitive ability. On page 40 we are told to approach
claims of advantage with caution, but on page 68 the relationship is
described as positive.  Along with contradictory recommendations,
there are others that are simply ineffective. One that is truly
mystifying is that parents have ''faith in bilingualism'' (page
22). In the section on language development, the reader is warned not
to compare bilingual languages abilities with the ability of
monolinguals. Well, one might wonder why not? Right or wrong, children
will be compared with monolingual standards throughout their years in
school.  Parents should be educated about bilingualism, but an
introductory course in linguistics would be better than a self-help
book. It would be very difficult to design a course around this
guide. The authors have left most of the work to the teacher. Let's
hope for a better contribution from this team in the future, one in
which they share with us the myriad personal experiences that they and
others have had in bringing up and educating children bilingually.


Shaw N. Gynan teaches Spanish and linguistics at Western Washington
University, in Bellingham, Washington. Gynan studies sociolinguistic
aspects of language contact, principally the US and Paraguay. He has
published articles on US or Paraguayan bilingualism in Ethnic Studies
Review, Southwest Journal of Linguistics, Hispanic Linguistics,
Journal of Sociolinguistics, and Current Issues in Language Planning.


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