Book Notice: Bilingual Eduation in S. America

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu May 12 15:18:51 UTC 2005

Forwarded from LINGUIST List 16.1494 Wed May 11 2005

AUTHOR: Mejia, Anne-Marie de
TITLE: Bilingual Education in South America
SERIES: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 50
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2004 Announced at

Dmitry V. Gerasimov, ILI RAN (Institute for linguistic research of the
Russian Academy of Sciences), St. Petersburg, Russia.

With its notable linguistic diversity, intensity of language contacts, and
a wide spread of multilingualism, South America has always been an
extremely interesting area for anyone specializing in the domain of
sociolinguistics and multilingual studies. The book under review comprises
eight essays on different aspects and issues of bilingual education in the
sub-continent, preceded by an introduction by the volume's editor. The
contents of this volume first appeared in the Special Issue of
International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, Vol. 7, no.
5, 2004. All eight papers were written especially for this Special Issue.
No changes were made to the text when republishing the journal issue as a
separate volume, save for removal of the Book Reviews section.

Although the book is not divided into any sections or chapters (in fact,
such internal organization is hardly necessary for so thin a volume), it
obviously falls into two parts. The first five essays (contributions by
King, Garcia, Skliar & Muller Quadros, de Mejia and Buffy & Day) take
wide-raging linguistic and historical perspectives in addressing general
tendencies and problems of bilingual education in different regions of
South America. The remaining three contributions (those by Spezzini,
Simpson and Ordonez) represent more specific case studies, each based on
author's own fieldwork in some bilingual educational institution. In the
following paragraphs I will briefly describe and discuss each article.


In the Introduction Anne-Marie de Mejia, the editor of this volume, gives
a short synopsys of the eight following essays and outlines the
problematics to which the volume is dedicated. Traditionally in South
America, as elsewhere, debate on bilingual education has been conducted in
two separate spheres. On the one hand, there is a widespread practice of
education in international languages like English, the students usually
being native speakers of Spanish from upper- and upper-middle class
backgrounds. On the other, there are community-based bilingual projects
aimed at maintaining and enriching the use of indigenous Amerindian
languages by ethnic minority groups. These two facets of bilingual
education raise different sets of problems and give birth to two different
traditions in bilingual education studies. The goals of the present volume
are to show convergences and interrelations between majority and minority
language contexts, give the reader an integrated perspective on the issues
of bilingual education on the sub-continent and try to bridge the gap
between the two traditions. The tone for the first "survey- oriented" part
of the volume is set by "Language Policy and Local Planning in South
America: New Directions for Enrichment Bilingual Education in the Andes"
by Kendall King. The paper starts with the discussion of bilingual
education model types in South America, referring to Hornberger's (1991)
typology of bilingual education programme types and models. The latter
distinguishes between enrichment models (aimed at the acquisition of
additive bilingualism in English or French by Spanish-speaking students
from upper-class backgrounds) and transitional models (aimed at students
dominant in indigenous language and resulting in a subtractive form of
bilingualism). The paper then focuses on the recent planning decisions by
the Saraguro ethnic group to formally instruct Quichua as a second
language in community schools. The author comes to the conclusion that
this instance of localized planning, though not without its weaknesses,
represents a completely new type of bilingual education which integrates
best sides of both enrichment and transitional models; this type of
language planning is claimed to be "one viable avenue" towards maintaining
linguistic diversity and cultural identity in the face of globalization.
The case of Saraguro is also analyzed in the today context of heritage
language programmes in the USA. It is shown that the former is made
possible by the same shifts in language policy and general attitude
towards bilingualism and, on the other hand, shares the same challenges
and flaws. The overall composition of King's paper doesn't seem very
successful to me; the author could have arranged her material in another
way to make her main claims sound more supported. Anyway, the observations
on Saraguro bilingual education program and the insights derived from it
are very enlightening and the paper is very interesting.

The focus on bilingual indigenous education is maintained by Maria Elena
Garcia in "Rethinking Bilingual Education in Peru: Intercultural Politics,
State Policy and Indigenous Rights". After a brief but very informative
historical survey of Peruvian multilingualism starting from as early as
the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, the author presents her
analysis of changes in bilingual education policy in Peru during the
1990s. Both government-initiated educational reforms and indigenous
activist groups' discourses are considered and critically evaluated. What
seems important is that the paper outlines and criticizes numerous gaps
between intercultural education rhetoric and the real state of affairs.
Garcia clearly demonstrates that the problems of intercultural education
implementation and inclusion of indigenous groups are manifold and
serious. She concludes her essay with valuable suggestions to future
policy-makers in the region.

The third paper in this volume, "Bilingual Deaf Education in the South of
Brazil" by Carlos Skliar and Ronice Muller Quadros introduces a very
special minority context -- that of Deaf bilingual education. After a
comprehensive discussion of various methodological, linguistics and
psycholinguistic perspectives on the concepts of "Deaf Identity", "Deaf
Culture" and "Deaf Bilingualism" the authors present their analysis of
Deaf Education in Brazilian Sign Language and Brazilian Portuguese in the
specified region based on research carried out over the last 5-7 years.
They provide a reader with a concise survey of existing education policies
and practices, especially focusing on those cases when they suffer from
being derived from the "Hearing" perspective and can be improved by
undertaking the genuine "Deaf" view. I hesitate to give this essay any
evaluation, being absolutely ignorant in the complicated field of Deaf
education. Again, as in the case of King's paper, the composition looks
somewhat fuzzy, but the material and the discussion presented seem very
interesting to me.

The next paper, "Bilingual Education in Colombia: Toward an Integrative
Perspective" by Anne-Marie de Mejia, is again concerned with the
opposition of minority and majority contexts in bilingual education, this
time in Colombia. Having presented a brief historical survey of bilingual
education both in ethnic minority contexts (in Amerindian as well as
Afro-Caribbean communities) and in majority language contexts, the author
compares the two traditions and shows some notable points of convergence.
She then discusses the situation in English-Spanish bilingual schools in
more detail, thus focusing mainly on the bilingual education in majority
language context. She concludes that the two traditions of bilingual
education have many areas of convergence and some problems previously
attributed exclusively to the bilingual education in ethnic minority
groups (e.g.  loss of cultural identity, underestimation of the importance
of L1 proficiency, lack of concrete guidelines to be adhered to in
classroom practice, etc.) apply to the bilingual education in majority
language contexts as well. The central conclusion, as it seems, is that
the two types of bilingual education should be treated within a single
integrated perspective and that they both can benefit considerably from
interchanging experience.

In "The Evolution of Bilingual Schools in Argentina" Cristina Banfi and
Raymond Day provide a preliminary descriptive account of bilingual schools
within the Argentine education system. The authors discuss similarities
and differences among Argentine bilingual schools and demonstrate that
institutions that are traditionally unified under this label in fact show
a high degree of diversity, despite the common perception of bilingual
education in Argentina as a homogeneous system. They also track the
history of the development of these institutions and argue that bilingual
schools have undergone several important transformations since they were
first founded in the 19th century. While their origins should be traced
back to Heritage Schools founded for the needs of particular immigrant
communities, they have changed to Dual Language Schools with programmes
aimed mainly at monolingual Spanish speakers, and, finally, to a new type
of bilingual education institutions, for which the authors employ the term
"Global Language School". The latter model is characterized by a cluster
of features, all of which stem from the advance of globalization and
weakening of ethnicity-based cultural links and traditions. The paper
concludes with some suggestions for future research, pointing out that
detailed and systematic analysis of bilingual schools and their role in
the society has not yet been conducted.

The next paper in this volume modulates to a very different tonality.
"English Immersion in Paraguay: Individual and Sociocultural Dimensions of
Language Learning and Use" represents Susanna Spezzini's field-based
investigation of processes of learning English in immersion classrooms in
one particular American overseas school, the American School of Asuncion
(ASA), Paraguay. Spezzini explores mechanisms of L2 acquisition, patterns
of language use and levels of comprehensibility among 34 predominantly
Spanish-speaking 12- graders, relying both on qualitative data from
students' language learning histories and taped interviews and
quantitative data from questionnaires and comprehensibility rating tests.
Students' introspection reveals many interesting facts about their
motivations in language learning and patterns of language use in different
kinds of situations. It is worth noting that some students describe their
language use in peer-to-peer communication as a unique "ASA talk",
Spanglish with some words from Guarani. In spite of apparent homogeneity
for L2 programs at ASA, the students have shown considerable variability
in their L2 output and perceived comprehensibility. The author discusses
various factors responsible for this variability, such as gender (girls
doing better than boys), age at which a student has entered ASA (transfer
students doing better than those whose English input was limited to ASA
only), motivation, etc. Linguistic features that influenced the perceived
comprehensibility, such as intonation and fluency rate, are treated in
detail in a separate section. Finally, the author provides suggestions for
future practice and research. I would dare to state that implications from
Spezzini's study would be of great value and interest to anyone concerned
with L2 immersion programs, not only in South American context.

The study presented by JoEllen Simpson in "A Look at Early Childhood
Writing in English and Spanish in a Bilingual School in Ecuador" examines
the written production of first-graders. The author's aim is to see
whether the differences between Spanish and English writings reported in
earlier studies for elder bilinguals can be observed at this age as well.
Starting with a brief survey of existing literature on Spanish-English
contrastive rhetoric, Simpson points out that no previous study has ever
taken into account the writing production of younger schoolchildren. To
fill this gap she analyzed physical characteristics (number of T-units,
words, errors and error types, connectors) and topical structure of 20
short Spanish and English narratives written by first-graders from a
private English immersion school in Quito. The results show that the
children have a similar syntactic ability in both of their languages,
though they are still more fluent in Spanish. The greater complexity and
elaborateness of Spanish writing style as compared to English is not
reflected in the results, most likely because the writers are very young
and are just learning to write. In terms of the topical structure
analysis, it is shown that the children employ the same amount of
sequential progression and extended parallel progression in both
languages, but more parallel progression in English. Finally the author
points at promising directions for future research, noting that it would
be especially interesting to follow the same children throughout their
primary education in a longitudinal study.

Finally, "EFL and Native Spanish in Elite Bilingual Schools in Colombia: A
First Look at Bilingual Adolescent Frog Stories" by Claudia Lucia Ordonez
takes a general look at the type of bilingual education adopted in
Colombian English immersion schools and its effects on the Spanish and
English oral narrative proficiency. The data consist of 72 narratives told
following a picture-book. 18 Spanish and 18 English stories from
15-year-olds with 10 years of bilingual education in a Colombian bilingual
school constitute the main sample.  The other 36 stories, 18 from
15-year-olds in Colombian monolingual schools and 18 from comparable
English-monolingual adolescents from a high school in the Boston area, are
used to compare the bilingual stories to monolingual productions. The
range and variability of the stories in the bilingual group are discussed,
as they are compared to the monolingual stories. The results are somewhat
unexpected and potentially worrying: while bilingual productions exhibit a
similar level of variability to monolingual stories, they are sparse in
several linguistic variables that reflect narrative proficiency (i.e.
complex representation of events, evaluative expressions, logical
connections). Thus, bilingual stories in both languages show clear
evidence of underdevelopment in comparison to monolingual stories.  The
author calls for further research in order to find out what are the costs
of an early foreign language acquisition for the first language
proficiency and how can they be minimized.


The contributions to this volume vary in terms of content, methodology and
perspective, and also in terms of quality. Anyway I must admit that all
authors show a considerable depth of expertise in their respective topics.
The perspectives and methodology adopted are always well supported by
references to existing literature. Statistical calculations presented in
the case studies are accurate and convincing, and can be easily verified
by anyone familiar with the statistical apparatus.  Unfortunately, general
composition of some papers lacks cohesiveness and is sometimes difficult
to follow. The book fails to provide the reader with the whole picture of
the problematics of bilingual education in South America (thus, to my
personal disappointment, an interesting problem of bilingual
Spanish-Guarani education in today's Paraguay (see Gynan ms.) is not
addressed). Of course, it can hardly be considered a fault, as it is
obvious that the volume doesn't really aim at this goal. In fact, the
choice of subjects seems to be rather successful: while not all issues are
covered, those that are are fairly representative and able to give even an
unprepared reader the general notion of main problems and tendencies. The
combination of general discussions and more specific case studies under
one cover seems to be a very good idea. The only minor sin the book may be
accused of in this respect is that it too strongly focuses on the majority
language contexts of bilingual education. While the first part of the
volume is mainly concerned with interrelations between bilingual education
in minority and majority language contexts, it is the latter on which more
information is given. And all three case studies in the second part are
dedicated exclusively to the issues raised in relation to teaching of one
and the same international language (namely, English) in elite bilingual
schools. I would dare to say that the volume could considerably benefit
from inclusion of a case study carried out in a minority language context.
Nevertheless, the volume certainly reaches its goal specified by de Mejia
in the Introduction: "to provide the reader with an integrative
perspective on the issues raised in relation to bilingualism and bilingual
education in the sub-continent, and to try to bridge the divide between
the different traditions".  Despite any flaws mentioned above, this volume
is a valuable contribution to the study of bilingual education. Some
articles contain important observations on the today state of affairs in
the planning and organization of bilingual education in particular South
American countries and are thus an absolute must for teachers, activists
and policy makers involved into respective bilingual education programs.


Gynan, Sh. N. (ms.) Single Design and Differentiated Modality:
Bilingual Education in Paraguay. Ms., Western Washington University
[available at]

Hornberger, N. H. (1991) Extending enrichment bilingual education:
Revisiting typologies and redirecting policy. In: O. Garcia (ed.)
Bilingual Education: Foccusschrift in Honor of Joshua A. Fishman (Vol.
1), pp. 215-234. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.


Dmitry Gerasimov is a post-graduate student/assistant of ILI RAN
(Institute for linguistic research of the Russian Academy of Sciences),
St. Petersburg. He is currently working on a typologically oriented
study of the Tense-Aspect system of Paraguayan Guarani with special
emphasis on aspectual composition. Other academic interests of his
include typology of word classes, syntax of sentential
complementation and the phenomenon of split intransitivity. He is
involved in an extensive field-based study of complementation
strategies in Adyghe (West Caucasian).

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