Key concepts in bilingual education: ideological, historical, epistemological, and empirical foundations

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Tove Skutnabb-Kangas and Teresa L. McCarty

In Volume 5, Bilingual Education, eds Jim Cummins & Nancy Hornberger. Encyclopedia of Language and Education, 2nd edition. New York: Springer, 3-17.

Introduction: Why Do We Need to Define Concepts? The concepts we use are almost never neutral.In contested arenas such as bilingual education, words and concepts frame and construct the phenomena under discussion, making some persons and groups visible, others invisible; some the unmarked norm, others marked and negative. Choice of language can minoritise or distort some individuals, groups, phenomena, and relations while majoritising and glorifying others. Concepts also can be defined inways that hide, expose, rationalize, or question power relations. Because concepts and terms develop historically, the same concept may have several definitions. For example, “language immersion” has historically been associated with FrenchCanadian immersion for middle-class Anglophones (Cummins & Swain, 1986; Lambert & Tucker, 1986). The term was misleadingly appropriated by U.S. policymakers todescribe submersion programmes (called “structured immersion”), despite protest from the concept’s originator (Lambert, 1984: 26-27). Recently the term has taken on new meaning in Indigenouslanguage immersion programmes to revitalize endangered Indigenous languages (Bear Nicholas, 2005; Hinton & Hale, 2001; Hinton et al., 2002). The ideological, historical, epistemic, and empirical bases for thesevaried uses of “immersion” are distinct, as are program practices. A further reason for interrogating concepts is the presence of multiple paradigms. For example, literacy can be defined as the ability to read and write. Yet this definition masks two different paradigms informing literacy research and practice. Autonomous views characterize literacy as abstract, neutral, and independent from thesocial context and language users (Ong, 1982). Ideological views characterize literacy as “socially and historically situated, fluid, multiple, and power-linked” (McCarty, 2005: xvii-xviii; Street, 1984, 2001). Educationally, an autonomous view emphasizes discrete language skills, often taught through direct instruction and scripted phonics programs. An ideological view binds reading and writingto oracy, emphasizing the development of different literacies (and multiliteracies) for different purposes through meaningful social interaction and critical examination of authentic texts. In this chapter, we define and “unpack” key concepts in bilingual education, focusing on those encountered most frequently in the research and pedagogical literature. We then examine one illustrative case – theterm “limited English proficient” in U.S. language policy – to illustrate the ideological, historical, and empirical underpinnings of such concepts. We conclude by considering the implications of this work for bilingual education practice and linguistic human rights. Key Concepts and Terms Additive language learning. A new language is learned in addition to the mother tongue, which continues to bedeveloped. The learner’s total linguistic repertoire is extended.

Key Concepts in Bilingual Education (Skutnabb-Kangas & McCarty, 11/06)


Assimilation. Process by which minoritised peoples are brought into conformity with the dominant language and culture, often through coercive practices to replace heritage languages and cultures with those of the majority. Bi-/multilingual education.Use of two or more languages as media of instruction in subjects other than the languages themselves (Andersson & Boyer, 1978). Non-forms of bi-/multilingual education lead to monolingualism, and include: (1) mainstream monolingual programmes with foreign language teaching for dominant language speakers; (2) monolingual dominant-language medium programmes in which Indigenous/minority children...
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