ERIC Identifier: ED435168
Publication Date: 1999-08-00
Author: Tucker, G. Richard
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
A Global Perspective on Bilingualism and Bilingual Education.
The number of languages spoken throughout the world is estimated to be 6,000
(Grimes, 1992). Although a small number of languages, including Arabic, Bengali,
English, French, Hindi, Malay, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish serve
as important link languages or languages of wider communication around the
world, these are very often spoken as second, third, fourth, or later-acquired
languages. Fewer than 25% of the world's approximately 200 countries recognize
two or more official languages, with a mere handful recognizing more than two
(e.g., India, Luxembourg, Nigeria). However, despite these conservative
government policies, available data indicate that there are many more bilingual
or multilingual individuals in the world than there are monolingual. In
addition, there are many more children throughout the world who have been and
continue to be educated through a second or a later-acquired language, at least
for some portion of their formal education, than there are children educated
exclusively via the first language. In many parts of the world, bilingualism or
multilingualism and innovative approaches to education that involve the use of
two or more languages constitute the normal everyday experience (see, e.g.,
Dutcher, 1994; World Bank, 1995). The results from published, longitudinal, and
critical research undertaken in varied settings throughout the world indicate
clearly that the development of multiple language proficiency is possible, and
indeed that it is viewed as desirable by educators, policy makers, and parents
in many countries.
MULTIPLE LANGUAGES IN EDUCATION
The use of multiple
languages in education may be attributed to numerous factors, such as the
linguistic heterogeneity of a country or region, specific social or religious
attitudes, or the desire to promote national identity. In addition, innovative
language education programs are often implemented to promote proficiency in
international language(s) of wider communication together with proficiency in
national and regional languages. In Eritrea, for instance, an educated person
will likely have had some portion of their schooling in Tigrigna and Arabic and
English, and will have developed proficiency in reading all these languages,
which are written using three different scripts (Ge'ez, Arabic, and Roman). In
Papua New Guinea, a country with a population of approximately 3 million,
linguists have described more than 870 languages (Summer Institute of
Linguistics, 1995). Here it is common for a child to grow up speaking one local
indigenous language at home, to speak another in the market place, to add Tok
Pisin to her repertoire as a lingua franca, and to learn English if she
continues her schooling. Analogous situations recur in many parts of the world
in countries where multilingualism predominates and in which children are
exposed to numerous languages as they move from their homes out into surrounding
communities and eventually through the formal education system.
RESEARCH ON THE USE OF THE FIRST AND SECOND LANGUAGES IN
A comprehensive review of research on the use of first and second
languages in education, carried out for the World Bank (Dutcher, 1994), examined
three different types of countries: (1) those with no (or few) mother tongue
speakers of the language of wider communication (e.g., Haiti, Nigeria, the
Philippines); (2) those with some mother tongue speakers of the language of
wider communication (e.g., Guatemala); and (3) those with many mother tongue
speakers of the language of wider communication (e.g., Canada, New Zealand, the
United States). Several conclusions can be drawn from this study:
* Success in school depends upon the child's mastery of
cognitive/academic language, which is very different from the social language
used at home.
The development of cognitive/academic language requires time (4 to 7 years of
Individuals most easily develop literacy skills in a familiar language.
Individuals most easily develop cognitive skills and master content material
when they are taught in a familiar language.
Cognitive/academic language skills, once developed, and content subject
material, once acquired, transfer readily from one language to another.
The best predictor of cognitive/academic language development in a second
language is the level of development of cognitive/academic language proficiency
in the first language.
Children learn a second language in different ways depending upon their culture
and their individual personality.
If the goal is to help the student ultimately develop the highest possible
degree of content mastery and second language proficiency, time spent
instructing the child in a familiar language is a wise investment.
COMMON THREADS OF SUCCESSFUL PROGRAMS
In the research
review conducted for the World Bank (Dutcher, 1994), the following common
threads were identified in successful programs that aimed to provide students
with multiple language proficiency and with access to academic content material.
Development of the mother tongue is encouraged to promote cognitive development
and as a basis for learning the second language.
Parental and community support and involvement are essential.
Teachers are able to understand, speak, and use with a high level of proficiency
the language of instruction, whether it is their first or second language.
Teachers are well trained, have cultural competence and subject-matter
knowledge, and continually upgrade their training.
Recurrent costs for innovative programs are approximately the same as they are
for traditional programs, although there may be additional one-time start-up
Cost benefit calculations can typically be estimated in terms of the cost
savings to the education system, improvements in years of schooling, and
enhanced earning potential for students with multiple language proficiency.
Two cross-cutting themes that appear
critical for policy or planning discussions within the domain of language
education reform are discussed below.
"Nurturing the first language." Despite decades of sound educational
research, there still remains a belief in many quarters that when an additional
language is introduced into a curriculum, the child must go back and relearn the
academic concepts already mastered. Although there remains much to be learned
about the contexts and strategies that facilitate transfer across languages, the
fact that such transfer occurs should not be a topic of debate. The work of
Hakuta (1986) and his colleagues provides clear evidence that a child who
acquires basic literacy or numeracy concepts in one language can transfer these
concepts and knowledge easily to a second or third or other later-acquired
languages. The literature and our practical experience are replete with examples
confirming the importance of nurturing the child's mother tongue. Gonzalez
(1998), in particular, writes and speaks especially compellingly about the need
to develop basic functions of literacy, numeracy, and scientific discourse in
the first language to the fullest extent possible while facilitating transfer to
the second language.
"Importation of models versus importation of cycles of discovery." Swain
(1996) described the need to "transfer" the stages and processes of evaluation,
theory building, generation of hypotheses, experimentation, and further
evaluation that will help to ensure the implementation of programs appropriate
for the unique sociocultural contexts in which they will operate. That is, she
cautioned that it is not a particular model of innovative language education
(and, in particular, a Western model) that should be transferred but rather a
"cycle of discovery" that should be transferred. Swain reminded us that the
so-called threshold levels of second language skills required for successful
participation in formal education may differ dramatically across content areas,
and that a majority of children face a language gap that must be bridged when
they move from learning the target language to using the target language as a
medium of instruction. Many policy makers have characterized bilingual education
as a high risk undertaking, by which they mean that it is necessary to attend to
a complex set of interacting educational, sociolinguistic, economic, and
KEY ISSUES WARRANTING FURTHER ATTENTION
Based upon a review
of available literature, four areas have been identified that appear to deserve
additional attention. These include (1) sociolinguistic research throughout the
world; (2) a more thorough examination of the concept and parameters of
transfer; (3) materials development, reproduction, and distribution in the truly
less commonly spoken languages (e.g., the majority of the African languages
spoken in Namibia); and (4) development of a cadre of trained teachers who are
proficient speakers of these languages. Despite several decades of extensive
sociolinguistic fieldwork in many areas, there remains much to be done to
describe the language situation in many parts of the world. Many of the world's
languages have yet to be written, codified, or elaborated. Furthermore, there
are no materials available for initial literacy training or for advanced
education; nor are there teachers who have been trained to teach via many of the
world's languages. These are all issues that have been identified as crucial by
the World Bank (1995) in a recent report of priorities and strategies for
enhancing educational development in the 21st century. They are issues that must
be dealt with effectively before systemic reform that will encourage
multilingual proficiency can be widely implemented.
QUESTIONS TO ADDRESS REGARDING MULTILINGUAL EDUCATION IN YOUR
The cumulative evidence from research conducted over the last
three decades at sites around the world demonstrates conclusively that
cognitive, social, personal, and economic benefits accrue to the individual who
has an opportunity to develop a high degree of bilingual proficiency when
compared with a monolingual counterpart. Below are a number of important
questions to be addressed whenever parents, educators, and administrators
discuss the prospects of multilingual education for their communities.
What are the explicit or implicit goals for formal education in the region?
Is there general satisfaction throughout the region with the level of
educational attainment by all participants (both those who terminate their
education relatively early and those who wish to go on to tertiary studies)?
Is the region relatively homogeneous or is it heterogeneous linguistically and
culturally, and how would bilingual education complement the linguistic and
cultural characteristics of the community?
Does the region have an explicit or implicit policy with respect to the role of
language in education, and how would bilingual education fit or not fit with
this existing policy? Is this policy based upon tradition or the result of
language (education) planning?
What priorities are accorded to goals such as the development of broadly based
permanent functional literacy, the value of education for those who may
permanently interrupt their schooling at an early age, and the power of language
to foster national identity and cohesiveness?
Are the language(s) selected for instruction written, codified, standardized,
Is there a well developed curriculum for the various levels/stages of formal
education--that is, a framework that specifies fairly explicitly a set of
language, content, cognitive, and affective objectives that are then tied to or
illustrated by exemplary techniques, activities, and supported by written
Are sufficient core and reference materials available for teachers and students
in the language(s) of instruction? If not, are there trained individuals
available who can prepare such materials?
Is there a sufficient number of trained and experienced teachers who are fluent
speakers of the language(s) of instruction and who are trained to teach via that
Dutcher, N., in collaboration with Tucker, G.R.
(1994). "The use of first and second languages in education: A review of
educational experience." Washington, DC: World Bank, East Asia and the Pacific
Region, Country Department III.
Gonzalez, A. (1998). Teaching in two or more languages in the Philippine
context. In J. Cenoz & F. Genesee (Eds.), "Beyond bilingualism:
Multilingualism and multilingual education" (pp. 192-205). Clevedon, England:
Grimes, B.F. (1992). "Ethnologue: Languages of the world." Dallas, TX: Summer
Institute of Linguistics.
Hakuta, K. (1986). "Mirror of language: The debate on bilingualism." New
York: Basic Books.
Summer Institute of Linguistics. (1995). "A survey of vernacular education
programming at the provincial level within Papua New Guinea." Ukarumpa, Papua
New Guinea: Author.
Swain, M. (1996). Discovering successful second language teaching strategies
and practices: From program evaluation to classroom experimentation. "Journal of
Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 17," 89-104.
World Bank. (1995). "Priorities and strategies for education." Washington,
DC: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.