Book Review

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Nov 5 21:31:05 UTC 2003

With this message, we inaugurate a book review series.  Joe LoBianco of
Language Australia has volunteered to be editor of our book reviews, so
people who have books to review should communicate with him at
<lobianco at> It also happens that the first book reviewed is
a book Joe edited, but that will not be the case in the future.

H. Schiffman
Title: Voices from Phnom Penh: Development and Language
Publisher: Language Australia Ltd
Publication Year: 2002
Editor: Joseph Lo Bianco
Available from:; $44Aust. plus postage.

Reviewer: L. Oladipo Salami, DPhil., Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.
e-mail: diposalami at, lsalami at

Introduction. This is a collection of edited papers arising from a conference held in
Cambodia in 2001. As noted by the editor, the aim of the conference was to provide a
forum for professionals in the field of language teaching in development contexts to
discuss issues related to how language education, and communication in general,
impact on development processes (p.19). Thus the general focus of the book is the
place of language in development activities, though a few of the chapters are only
tangentially related to language issues. The book takes a broad view of the
relationship between language and development and argues that language-communication
is critical to a nation’s development. There are twenty-five chapters in all,
including the introduction.


The opening chapter - ‘Destitution, wealth, and cultural contest: language and
development connections’ - written by the editor of the book, Joseph Lo Bianco, sets
out the theme of the conference from which the papers in this book were drawn. Bianco
notes that the book aims at contributing, in terms of theory and practice, to
discussions on issues of economically motivated globalisation and its cultural
consequences particularly from the analysis of the complex relationship between
language and development.

In the second chapter, Appleby examines English language teaching in East Timor and
students’ worldview in response to forces of globalisation as implicated in their
classroom practices. This examination is done against the background of a country
that is being rebuilt following its independence from Indonesia after close to
twenty-five years of series of devastating social and political crises. She notes
that from their journal writings, the East Timor students learning English want to
advance economically through English but also are aware that their access to the
language would empower them to use it to build more localized interests and construct
their identities.  She concludes that the role of the English language in development
cannot be the transfer of skills only or enhancing language proficiency for the
workforce but that language development programmes must also be flexible as to be
able to embrace new discourses engendered by the specific experiences of learners in
a particular country.

In chapter three, Kham and Ngoc examine initial teacher training in Vietnam and argue
that as a result of the changing context of education, there is a real need for
partnership between university/higher education and schools in the training of
teachers in that country. This, they say, is against the background that there exists
a gap between practice in schools and theory of teaching in Vietnam higher
institutions and that university-school partnership is a tool for bridging that gap.
In chapter four, Castro reports the linguistic empowerment of minority indigenous
language groups in the Philippines particularly in the use of their languages in
education and transactions with development agencies through the enactment of the
Indigenous People’s Rights Act in 1997.

Man and Chang, discuss, in chapter five, the process of capacity building activities
and sustainability in the Department of English at the Royal University of Pnomh
Penh, Cambodia arising from the need to rebuild some of the institutions that were
damaged by the 30-year war which the country experienced. They conclude that capacity
building has several dimensions and argue that it should not only be appropriate to
the local context but that it should also be demand-driven. In chapter six, Clayton
discusses the role of international languages in education in developing countries
with specific focus on the place of English in Cambodian educational system. He
attempts to explain the use of English and French in secondary and higher education
in Cambodia using five explanatory principles viz; national integration, comparative
cost, international communication, elite closure and global economic integration and
argues that some of these principles cannot explain the use of French and English in
Cambodia. He concludes that reasons for the selection of international languages by
policy makers for use in education in developing countries are rather complex but
that it is important to take note of local detail and unique historical experience of
a given country in our attempt at trying to explain language policy decisions.

In chapter seven, Coleman examines language use in the evaluation of development
projects by multilateral agencies and notes specifically the problem of defining and
use of such concepts like output, outcome and impact in evaluating language education
for development projects. He is of view that using these concepts in evaluating
language in education projects can be problematic and concludes that there is a need
to be careful with the language we use in project evaluation.  Dyer, in chapter
eight, discusses higher education reforms in Vietnam against the background of the
values, beliefs and practices of that country’s workers in higher education. In doing
this, she examines five dimensions of general national culture as they impact on
organizational structures and argues that since Vietnamese society is culturally
different from the west, reforms in its education sector, which look to western
practices, are not likely to be sustainable. Dyer concludes, therefore, that there is
a need to explore ways in which the efforts at reforms would take into consideration
the culture of the people and, perhaps, also the economic context for such efforts to
achieve sustainability.

Chapter nine discusses the role of language in book development. In that chapter,
Ferns notes that there is an inter-relationship among the language policy of a given
country, literacy, and book sector development, as these constitute the cultural
component of that nation. He argues that for historical reasons, different countries
adopt diverse language policies which tend to dictate the directions and levels of
literacy and book developments and concludes, therefore, that to ensure sustainable
educational and literacy development, these points must be looked into as they impact
on a country’s literacy level.

In chapter ten – ‘Gender, language and power in community based programs’- Hajncl and
Fitzgerald discuss the role of language in the empowerment of women; focussing
specifically on literacy projects and the use of English in programmes run by some
foreign aid agencies in East Timor as well as vocational education in outreach
programmes in Cambodia. For women in both countries, their literacy rate is low and
to empower them means that they must have access to information which can be done via
education. They observe that although for both countries there are local languages,
the English language is the language of opportunities and power and skills have to be
provided in it. However, the realities of life in both countries show that though
women, in various groups, showed interest in the language skills and literacy
project, conflicting domestic demands such as economic survival and organizational
responsibilities, shame over illiteracy as well as lack of defined learning goals
tend to mitigate against its success. For Hajncl and Fitzgerald, therefore, the
lessons of the language and literacy projects in East Timor and Cambodia are that
such programmes need to be carefully planned to take care of participants’ time, real
needs, changing circumstances and possibilities.

 Hausmann discusses English language teaching programmes funded by Soros
Foundation/Open Society Institute in Eastern Europe and the success of bilingual
education specifically in Hungary and Bulgaria in chapter eleven. Hausmann observes
that good international language education programmes would facilitate the emergence
of a group of fully functional people in a second language who would constitute a
developing country’s leaders in international business, administration, medical,
legal, engineering and educational professionals. He concludes that for developing
countries, globalisation requires international language training such that their
citizens can have the capacity to work with international businesses, government and
non-governmental organizations.

In chapter twelve, Hayes discusses the roles of language and textbooks in social
equity and harmony in Sri Lanka; focussing particularly on how the implementation of
a primary school level English language programme funded by the British Department
for International Development (DFID) has contributed to forging social harmony
between Sinhalese and Tamil ethnics in that country.  Hill, in chapter thirteen,
reports and discusses multilingual literacy programme involving Lingala, French and
Ngbaka among Ngbaka people in the Democratic Republic of Congo which had suffered
set-backs in educational and economic development for about a quarter of a century.
Hill observes that the literacy programme exposed the people to reading and writing,
issues of health, agriculture and arithmetic and that one important lesson from that
country’s multilingual literacy project is that it has shown that cost, which is
usually cited as an impediment to use of mother tongue in initial literacy, is not
afterall a big problem especially as this programme has been shown to be

In chapter fourteen – ‘In the Field: intercultural communication through radio and
other media’, Jawoski, K. and M. Jawoski report on the making of a programme series
on radio, print and web-based media by a British-based institute (Natural Resources
Institute) in collaboration with BBC English for the dissemination of research
outcomes on local initiatives among the poor to tackle problems of livelihood in
Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. They observe that although many
people in the targeted audience of the radio programmes do not speak and use English,
the goal of communicating was achieved through the effective use of language by
avoiding complex and technical scientific terms as well as unnecessary jargon.

In an examination of the teaching of English language for development (ELT) in
Vietnam in chapter fifteen, Kennett argues for the need for continued funding of ELT
in that country by DFID as English is critical to its educational development rather
than pander to the shifting phases of socio-political agenda. He concludes that aids
agencies should work to enable recipients to choose their needs while they, as
donors, should do only what they know better.  In chapter sixteen, Kosonen discusses
the role of vernacular language in community development using vernacular literacy
project within Chong community in Thailand as an example. He notes that although
Chong is a minority ethnolinguistic group, the promotion of vernacular literacy in
that community has contributed to the development of the Chong language, enhanced the
self-esteem and self-identity of members of the community, improved their skills as
well as contributing to their motivation to be active in national development.
Kosonen concludes from the experience of Chong, however, that a vernacular literacy
programme would only succeed because of a number of factors including partnerships
between local community and outside technical support, sufficient funding and a
conducive political climate.

In chapter seventeen, Levesque discusses how the findings of cognitive psychology can
be applied by classroom teachers in achieving success in over-crowded and
resource-poor environments in developing countries. From her experience of teaching
English in China, she argues that games and songs in the classroom are not only
enjoyable but they are also good tools for language teaching because they help to
lower the anxiety of learners who learn more easily when they are relaxed. Chapter
eighteen is an examination of the impact of globalisation, power and hegemony on
language development in both Guatemala and Philippines where the Latino cultural
group and the English language are dominant respectively. For both societies, Martin
and Litton observe that minority languages and cultures have problems succeeding
because of the attitudes of the dominant groups as well as global influences such as
the need to interact internationally, access to literary works, science or computer
technology and international business contact.

In chapter nineteen, Mbida-Essama examines the importance of language to educational
development focussing specifically on basic education and argues that since the
development of human capital is indispensable to growth, developing economies must
invest in basic education along World Bank’s goal of Universal Basic Education
because it would not only help economic growth but it would also go a long way in
relieving countries of social misfits.

In chapter twenty, Samuel examines the concept of sustainability against the
background of an ongoing multi-literacy curricular project in a semi-rural community
in Malaysia. He observes that the sustainability of the multi-literacy project
derives from the dynamism of the lived experiences of learners who, for example,
talked about how they would re-design their school experiences so that they would be
more relevant to their worlds and their futures. Samuel concludes that sustainability
in this case involves situating practice in project site and involving participants
actively in its design and direction.  Chapter twenty-one reports and discusses the
processes of the development of the curriculum and materials for the teaching and
learning of Lao as a second language in Laos. This project was specifically for the
improvement of the life of ethnic minorities in that country especially in terms of
the relevance, quality and efficiency of their education.

In chapter twenty-two, Sproat describes a distance education project also for ethnic
minority peoples displaced by armed conflict in Burma and how the issue of language
in education has been tackled through the creative use of English and local languages
in literacy delivery in that country.

Tran, in chapter twenty-three, describes the procedures involved in the design of a
test system for the selection of language teachers in lower secondary school in
Vietnam for the purpose of attending a BA English upgrade programme. It is observed
that this process is supported from outside but that its sustainability requires
practice, compatible testing team made up locals with knowledge of testing and
assessment as well as regular meetings and support from the government. In chapter
twenty-four, Sinh examines the need to inculcate self-monitoring capabilities in
teachers of English in Vietnam. This is against the background of teacher-in-service
education program in Hanoi action research where he noted that the training program
was lacking in developing the skills and knowledge of teachers to self-monitor own
performance and capabilities. Chapter twenty-five is an examination of the
contribution of foreign languages, especially German, to modernization or development
process in China in recent times.

Concluding Remarks

Tollefson (1991), observes that language is built into the economic and social
structure of society so deeply that its fundamental importance seems only natural (p.
2). In achieving its aim, contributions to ‘Voices from Phnom Penh…’ have been able
to situate critically the connection between language and development especially in
relation to current forces of globalisation. The general thrust of the essays in the
book has been to demonstrate that language and culture are involved in development
and this they have done by covering all strands of development practice in the area
of language-communication including capacity building, teacher education, distance
education, literacy and text book development.

It is a stimulating book which I consider a must read especially for scholars from
the global south, development practitioners and researchers on language-communication
and development. It is also a very useful book for the specialist as well as the
general reader on theories and empirical studies in language-related development
issues.  Although Fardon and Furniss’ edited book - ‘African languages, development
and state’ - seems like a similar work that is also looking at the relationship
between language and development, ‘Voices from Phnom Penh…’ has more reports on
practice and also has been able to demonstrate that the language-development
connection is complex and not subject of simple analysis. The cases of African
countries, like those of Asia-Pacific reported, are apposite. As noted by Omoniyi
(2003), for example, in spite of over two decades of policies that promote initial
mother-tongue education in Nigeria and a number of other African countries such as
Ghana and Botswana, the politics that belie the selection of school languages are
anchored to the larger politics of ethnic nationalism and identity. Also interesting
is Appleby’s study of English in East Timor which though is based on a different
historical context, is very significant in that it foreshadows similar scenarios
about the possible future rise in the profile of the English language in Afghanistan
and Iraq.  Furthermore, one notes that Africa is also not immune from the crises of
development resulting from the complex web of culture and language-communication as
has been well articulated in this book. Just as in the countries reported in ‘Voices
from Phnom Penh…’, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo, Rwanda, Sudan and so on are examples
of the theatres of socio-economic and political disruptions in which
language-communication and culture form major components.

I wish to say, however, that I do not seem comfortable with the conclusions of one or
two of the contributions to the book. For example, I share Omoniyi’s (ibid.)
observation that multinationals, transnational capital flow and the former colonial
languages now in official language toga heighten the tensions that exist between and
within various ethnolinguistic communities in Africa because these official languages
bring substantial pressure to bear on local systems and languages. Omoniyi’s view can
be placed against the conclusions of Haussman and Wannagt in chapters eleven and
twenty-five of ‘Voices from Phnom Penh…local development via international (colonial)
languages in less developed economies. This is also in spite of the fact that it has
been shown that there is a relationship of exploitation and dominance to language
problems in several parts of the world (see, for example, Tollefson, ibid.).

This interesting book is marred by a lot of spelling errors and typos. There are
numerous examples but it will suffice to point out the following: ‘citisens’ (p.
154), ‘sise’ (p. 134), ‘suster’ for ‘sister’, ‘researhes’ in place of researchers’
(p. 244), ‘exited’ in place of excited’, ‘Chinse’ for ‘Chinese’ (p. 272),
‘languistic’ for ‘linguistic’ (p. 275), ‘prise’ for ‘prize’ (p. 342). There are
editorial problems such as : ‘solving solutions’ (p. 48), ‘ …if that nation was
characterized (?) the absence of the sentence ‘seals that a peace accord’ (p. 164),
the research team has decide’ instead of ‘…the research team has decided…’(p. 'th
Overall, it has been stimulating reading (listening) to ‘the Voices from Pnomh


Fardon, R. and G. Furniss (eds.). 1994. African languages, development and the state.
      Routledge: London & New York.
Omoniyi, Tope. 2003. Local Policies and Global Forces: multiliteracy and Africa’s
      indigenous languages. Language Policy 3(2): 133 – 152.
Tollefson, James W. 1991. Planning language, planning inequality: language policy
     in the Community. Longman: London and New York.

About the Reviewer:

Dr L. Oladipo Salami teaches sociolinguistics in the Department of English, Obafemi
Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. His research interests include bilingualism,
English as a second language, language and social policy and language and identity.

Available from:; $44Aust. plus postage.

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