Colin Baker and the Bilingual Education

Colin Baker is perhaps best known for being the author of a widely read textbook on bilingual education, Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, which has undergone four editions. The book has sold over 60,000 copies and has been translated into Japanese, Spanish, Latvian, Greek, and Mandarin.

For Baker, early experience was no predictor of his later career. Born on October 1, 1949, in Danbury, a hilltop village in southeastern England, he remembers only one bilingual person in that village. She was a Belgian refugee speaking French and English, considered by villagers as "different." In elementary school, teachers and students were monolingual English speakers, matching his nuclear and extended family.

In high school, Baker learned Latin and French through the grammar-translation method. Conversational French was regarded as nonacademic and insufficient as a brain-developing activity; hence, it was largely avoided. All students were native English speakers and were required to use a prestigious variety called "the Queen's English."

Despite encouragement from his high school principal to attend a top English university, Baker's main interest was walking mountains. Having traversed the highest peaks in England, he wished to walk the higher Welsh mountains. Bangor is located very near those mountains, and Bangor University became Baker's home. The university overlooks a small city. The many surrounding villages are populated with bilinguals, with the great majority of the indigenous population speaking both Welsh and English fluently and some immigrants from England learning Welsh for employment or cultural enjoyment.

University students can take some humanities subjects through the medium of Welsh, and bilingual education is predominant in all elementary and most high schools. In this context, bilingualism is a natural topic for study. One of Baker's tutors, W. R. Jones, was a world expert on the relationship between bilingualism and IQ and on empirical studies of the effectiveness of bilingual education. Jones also taught Baker advanced statistical analysis for his PhD, although Jones' "teaching" mostly meant Baker's self-teaching.

Thus, for young Baker, the foundations had been laid. Another event was probably more influential in precipitating a lifelong interest in studying bilingualism. As a freshman, Baker sang in a church choir and fell in love with his future wife across the choir stalls. Anwen was the daughter of the pastor of that church, and her family lived their lives speaking mostly Welsh. Students were warmly welcomed to the house, and Baker found a second home.

The seamless and effortless movement in that family between two languages, two literacies, and two cultures was in stark contrast to monolingual Danbury. The diversity and value-addedness of bilingualism became apparent and appealing. In years to come, it bore fruit in a thoroughly bilingual Baker household, with three children who were educated in two languages.

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Importance of Bilingual Education

Most of you will be aware of the importance of globalization. The spread of the internet is already making way for a more closely knit "global village" and this will only become more so in the future. More and more people are taking up learning a second language as it not only helps to broaden their perspective and become sensitive to other people's culture but also gives a sizable boost to their career prospects.

Of all the languages that have gained importance in recent times perhaps the most sought after language today is Chinese, more particularly Mandarin Chinese. As this is the most widely spoken language throughout China, and China becoming the most important manufacturing and business hub of the world in recent times, many people have resorted to taking up studying Chinese. This trend has gained great popularity in the United States as many colleges and schools have started offering courses in Mandarin and other Chinese dialects. However the west has a lot of catching up to do if it hopes to match the monumental effort been made by the Chinese to educate their youth in English. Consider the facts: about 50,000 of the 504 million total students population of the United States is studying Chinese; this in stark contrast to the almost 200 million students in China studying English. Of course the good people in the White House have something to worry about!

If we continue to keep business opportunities in perspective then also the heavy amount of out sourcing of manufacturing to China brings the importance of studying Chinese. In fact many companies naturally prefer to hire persons who are bilingual and fluent in conversing in (Mandarin) Chinese.

Although most will prefer to take up the study during their college, it is highly recommended that a language be learnt as early as possible. A small child picks up a language much faster than an adult. The National Research Council's study "Preventing Reading and Learning Difficulties in Young Children" states that children who are exposed to learning and reading at an early age make the symbol/language connection more accurately and are more likely to be learning the language much faster.

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A Limited Mandate For the Transitional Bilingual Education

The transitional bilingual education (TBE) program resulting from the Aspira consent decree was a political compromise. It was something less than the developmental or maintenance bilingual program that was supported by the Puerto Rican and Latino community and that the Aspira plaintiffs had wanted.

TBE was never established as a legal right for all Latino pupils, only for those whose command of English was deemed inadequate. Later commentators faulted Aspira's leaders and the PRLDEF lawyers for adopting a narrow litigation strategy; many community activists and bilingual advocates viewed the consent decree as founded on an assimilationist model of education that would lead to a deficit-based, remedial type of bilingual education.

Over the years, this compromise created a rift between two groups: On one side were the bilingual professionals responsible for implementing and administering TBE and ESL instructional programs, along with grassroots education reformers; on the other side were the community leaders who continued to embrace developmental bilingual program models, including late-exit "maintenance" bilingual programs and, later, dual-language or two-way immersion programs.

Many Latino educators and community leaders also regarded the limited TBE mandate as a weakness of the consent decree because it did not address all the endemic conditions faced by the larger Latino student population. As a negotiated compromise, the decree was based on the then-reigning ideology that regarded the acquisition of English as the paramount social and educational imperative.

The board of education had insisted on keeping a smaller proportion of Latino ELLs in TBE programs. Approximately 40% of Latino students were to be included in the programs mandated by the decree. But the cutoff for ELL eligibility was set at the 20th percentile, a significantly low test score based on the Language Assessment Battery (LAB), a norm referenced test of English proficiency. Most important, there were no new services or any changes in mainstream monolingual English instruction for most Latino students.

Despite these limitations, the consent decree recognized the legitimacy of the Latino community's concerns and its interest in having Spanish as a medium of instruction. From a Puerto Rican/Latino perspective, the historical context for bilingual education in New York City included a set of persistent conditions, many of which arguably still exist.

Among these were the disproportionate Latino drop-out rate, Latino academic underachievement, the lack of adequate and culturally appropriate guidance and support services, the discouragement of parent and community involvement, and the low representation of Puerto Ricans and Latinos in teaching and school administrator roles.

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Bilingual Education Policies

Bilingual education policies may, for example, be designed to (a) promote English and one or more additional languages; (b) accommodate speakers of minority languages in English-only instruction; (c) restrict the use of some languages, as in the case of German during World War I; or (d) repress or even eradicate languages, as during the late 19th century, when American Indian boarding schools were used for that purpose.

Among additional factors to consider, Colin Baker, for example, suggests (a) the type of program, (b) type of child, (c) language(s) to be used in the classroom, (d) broader societal aims or goals, and (e) the language and literacy aims or goals. Baker's classification scheme also juxtaposes types of bilingual education into two broad categories: weak forms, or those that promote monolingualism and/or limited bilingualism, and strong forms, or those that promote bilingualism and biliteracy.

Identifying policies associated with specific types of programs is useful because the bilingual education label has been too elastic and ambiguous. Federally sponsored transitional bilingual education (TBE) programs, for example, have typically fallen under the former weak category. Voluntary programs, such as two-way or dual-language programs, more typically offered through elite schools, have typically fallen under the strong category. Under Title VII, TBE, submersion, also known as structured English immersion and structured English immersion with English as a Second Language (ESL) pull-out, was the most common approach.

The latter two types of programs did not involve the use of the primary language of the home. Nevertheless, because students enrolled were speakers of minority languages, these programs were often depicted as being bilingual, thus adding to the public's confusion over the types of programs in which the children were actually enrolled. As noted in the opening definition, language planning and policies are typically intended to solve communication problems.

If programs are evaluated to this end based on their goals, it is clear, critics say, that many of the programs that wear the bilingual label have neither been well-informed by language planning nor clearly connected to the goal of solving communication problems of language minority students. Structured English immersion (SEI), for example, as required in several states that have restricted bilingual education, draws more from political mandates than from any clearly articulated body of research on language acquisition.

It is not clear that many SEI programs require any extensive knowledge or training that would distinguish them from failed, unplanned, "sink or swim" English-only programs of the past.

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