A word in your ear

27th October 1995 at 00:00
Teaching Bilingual Children. Edited by Adrian Blackledge Trentham Books #163;11.95 - 1 858560144

Bilingualism, Education and Identity. Edited by Bob Morris and Paul A Singh Ghuman University of Wales Press #163;12.95. - 0 7083 1288 8

Crossing Language and Ethnicity Among Adolescents. By Ben Rampton, Longman #163;16.99 - 0 582 217911

The work of teachers and schools in this country in multilingualism is quite remarkable, despite the opposition of the government. The educational establishment would do well to build on the linguistic diversity of these islands as we become part of a multilingual Europe.

The argument that minority languages are divisive and of no interest to the dominant English speakers needs rethinking, given the powerful evidence to the contrary presented in these three books.

Adrian Blackledge has collated essays on bilingualism from schools in various countries which describe how they take into consideration home cultures in teaching the primary curriculum. He draws on extensive research which supports the thesis that children's performance is improved when a second language builds upon the first. The use of a dominant language which ignores the languages which children bring to the classroom is seen as oppressive.

In schools where there is resistance to linguistic diversity, there may be a need for consultation among staff. The example of whole-school policies in teaching Maori and Samoan children in New Zealand is instructive in this context.

The book also contains descriptions of projects in multilingual schools in Britain. An example is the use of theatre-in-education techniques. A Birmingham-based theatre has used Indian stories with movement and music with linguistically diverse school groups. Useful guidelines to develop bilingual theatrical work are provided.

The disparity between public and private cultures is seen as an issue in Britain where minority cultures have to confront white middle class norms. The role of education in providing a route out of a marginalised existence can be facilitated if bilingual teachers can help children to perform better in school. The book raises the further issue of the need for more teachers from ethnic minorities and for in-service work for monolingual teachers to acquire cultural and linguistic understanding.

Bob Morris and Paul Ghuman have collated a series of essays to honour Professor Jac Williams who worked towards bilingualism in Wales. The discussions and debates about linguistic diversity in Britain and Europe have generally been seen as "indigenous" and "immigrant". The importance of this book published in Cardiff is that it brings together these linguistic phenomena in one volume.

A socio-historic analysis of Welsh and its links with English raises issues for other languages in similar positions. Smaller languages which are narrowly nationalistic can undermine intercultural learning, and where such languages have a close affinity with religion another important set of questions is raised. The status of languages which are only sustained by schools is different from languages which have wider support.

This book compares the position of English as learnt by Welsh speaking students with the learning of Welsh by English speaking children where use is restricted mainly to the school. The limited role which a curriculum can provide in learning a language is made very clear.

A study of bilingualism from a psychological perspective explodes some of the common myths associated with bi- and multilingual learners. Jac Williams' contribution to the field and to theories of intelligence is appraised, as are Vygotsky's concerns about the role of teaching methods and the social contexts within which bilingualism is analysed.

The volume also draws on Australian, Canadian and Nigerian bilingual experiences and the debates about languages and culture among Aboriginals, European and other immigrants in Australia are discussed.

Ben Rampton uses ethnographic and interactional analysis of talk in schools and youth clubs and contextualises this with theories of discourse,code switching, ritual and resistance. His book is informed by a range of disciplines including sociolinguistics, sociology, anthropology and cultural studies.

A study of urban youth culture in the multiracial Midlands demonstrates the use of Punjabi by adolescents of Afro-Caribbean, Asian and Anglo origins. An analysis of the use of Creole and stylised Indian English is also undertaken. These linguistic forms are seen as having implications for ethnic and race relations.

This book breaks new ground in examining stylised Indian English and builds on Roger Hewitt's pionerring work on Creole. Young people engage in this "heretical discourse" for complex reasons which may include a break with the ordinary order to establish a new common language.

Different aspects of ritual, serious or playful, lengthy or fleeting are described and analysed. These interactions among British-born adolescents, who know each other well and have roughly similar institutional positions,are markedly different from previous studies of adults who came from different backgrounds and had very little in common. While the earlier work suggested a reproduction of racism, the current work suggests a playful interaction and constitute a form of anti-racism.

The north American musical forms of soul, funk and hip hop tend to be seen as being more influential than reggae. The Punjabi bhangra dance music was itself influenced by hip hop and has a limited following among youth across racial lines. Different recreational activities predominate during school breaks among boys (playing games) and girls (listening to music) which influences linguistic barrier crossing.

This book draws on the youths' own use of language which demonstrates that linguistic diversity does not lead to social fragmentation but cross-ethnic friendship. It also demonstrates that minority languages are not only of interest to youth from those communities but that black and white young people demonstrate a strong interest in these languages. In educational terms the positive aspect of crossing barriers presents a large number of creative possibilities.

Jagdish Gundara is head of the centre for multicultural education, Institute of Education, University of London.

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