Changing Perspectives
Celtic Bilingual Education
Colin Baker
Bangor University
Four Perspectives on Bilingual Education
A Contemporary View of Bilingual Education
Child-Centred Bilingual Education
‘Bilingual Education’ is ambiguous;
To establish common ground:
‘where some, most or all curriculum
content is learnt through more than
one language’;
Bilingual has increasingly gained
positive associations.
Four Perspectives on Bilingual
Bilingual Education (BE) cannot be understood from just
an educational perspective. It requires multidisciplinary
1. Language Planning Perspective
where BE is often an essential production
line for new speakers when there is
a shortfall in family language reproduction.
But there can be over-optimism about the impact of
schools on producing language communities and
‘new speakers’.
2. Political Perspective
Behind Bilingual Education are debates about national
identity, dominance and control by elites and counter
elites, power relationships, political and social cohesion,
unity and diversity.
This relates to both minority language education and
where there are ‘immigrant’ languages.
3. An Economic Perspective
on Bilingual Education is also valuable.
Example: Nadine Dutcher’s (1995, 2004) research for the
World Bank suggests that Bilingual Education is
economically cost-efficient by providing higher levels of
achievement in fewer years of study; lower drop-out rates;
and creates a more skilled workforce and less
4. The Pedagogical Perspective
on Bilingual Education typically begins with a
immersion; heritage language; dual language;
mainstream bilingual; etc.
Typologies have limitations:
- static, many variations within models;
- not about processes nor provide explanations;
- essentialist and reductionist ... and ... do not
capture variety (immigrant, indigenous, immersion)
that can occur within one classroom;
It is more valuable to engage the key language issues in
Bilingual Education on which pedagogic
decisions are needed.
Ten Language Issues in
Bilingual Education
1. Language(s) of children in the classroom
- majority
- indigenous minority
- bilinguals from birth
- international languages? A class may contain a mixture.
2. Language balance of the intake (e.g. majority / minority
language): strategic or laissez-faire?
3. Language allocation in content teaching
(e.g. science, mathematics).
- developmental strategies across grades
- hidden and non-curriculum use of languages
- code-switching
- scaffolding
4. Language profile of ALL the staff
(competence, use, attitude)
5. Language of curriculum resources
especially electronic (e.g. ICT, e-learning, WWW)
6. Language aims, targets, outcomes:
- bilingualism
- multilingualism
- biliteracy
- employability
- identity
- community integration
- overall achievement of children
Bilingual Education is no guarantee of effective
schooling. Type of language learnt at school is often
academic – not vernacular.
7. Effectiveness of Bilingual Education
Research on Canadian Immersion and US
Dual Language schools used to market to
parents, public and politicians. The value
of Bilingual Education is not self-evident.
We have to market and persuade.
8. Defining the role of English and other languages
(e.g. Spanish, Mandarin, French)
9. The Role of Parents
- Cultural ‘Funds of Knowledge’
- language partners
- homework
10. Teacher training, extended professional development
and teacher supply are foundational.
These four perspectives (language planning, political,
economic, pedagogic) are about systems. We also
need a fifth – a child-centred perspective.
Language planning, political, economic and pedagogic
perspectives on bilingual education do not capture the
humanist European tradition of child-centeredness in
education that is our historical legacy, e.g. from Comenius,
John Locke, Rousseau, Pestalozzi , Froebel, Maria
5th Perspective: The Potential Advantages
for Children from Celtic Bilingual Education
1. Communication:
- ‘Two languages: Twice the Choice’
- high levels of competence in both languages
- bridging between language generations,
groups and crossing language borders
- increased social capital.
2. Biliteracy / Multiliteracies:
- accessing different literatures, world-views,
ways of thinking and acting enshrined in
heritage and modern literacies.
3. Biculturalism / Multiculturalism:
- accessing more varied accumulated meanings
and widening understandings for different languages
4. Cognitive benefits:
- IQ, divergent and creative thinking
- sensitivity in communication, metalinguistic advantages
5. Character benefits:
- self esteem: being proud of switching languages
- compare to olden days of language repression
- identity
- tolerance?
6. Curriculum achievement:
- solid research from U.S. on Dual Language Schools
and Canadian immersion
- a growing European literature on the superior
performance of those in bilingual education
7. Learning a third or fourth language:
- bilinguals appear to have advantages in new
language learning
8. Economic and Employment advantages:
- increasing demand for bilinguals / multilinguals wherever
there is a customer interface. Sometimes due to
government policy, sometimes to profit. Sometimes
‘essential’, other times ‘valued added’ e.g. translation
and interpretation.
US Dual Language Schools and particularly Canadian
Immersion Education have the most prolific literature
showing bilingual education is typically preferable to
monolingual education.
Bilingual education stands the chance of giving a new
generation of Celtic children child-centred advantages:
Potential Advantages for
Celtic Children from Bilingual Education
Therefore, is any child not educated
bilingually in Ireland being disadvantaged?

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