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Bilingual Basics

Bilingual Basics News, Volume 10:2 (December 2007)

by User Not Found | 11/03/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Editor’s Overview of This Issue
    • BEIS/TEDS Steering Committee 2008-09
    • Call for Manuscripts
  • Articles and Information
    • ELLs and Official Language Bilingualism in Canada: Free Will Versus Policy
    • Official Multilingualism in Rwanda: Challenges and Goals
    • Minority Language Teaching: Preserving Global Multilingualism
    • Parental Influences on the Biliteracy Development of Chinese Children

Leadership Updates Editor’s Overview of This Issue

Imagining a multilingual society is the theme of this issue of Bilingual Basics. In reality we do have a multilingual society, for there are a multitude of peoples speaking a multitude of languages and dialects. However, the multilingual society envisioned by the authors of the articles that follow speaks to a variety of levels of multilingualism. It is obvious from the discourses contained here that multilingualism is not the mere presence of many languages but the rights of peoples to nurture and keep their mother tongues alive, for it is a part of their identities, a part of their human selves.

It is also evident from the voices of some of the authors that multilingualism is in danger, for language is a tool of oppression. Those in power seem to use language as a way to weaken and eventually annihilate the cultures, languages, and identities of those who have less power. Thus, imagining a multilingual society is not simply a thought, but a vision that deserves the active work of all of us in this community of language educators, specifically educators of English. Our practices as English educators can only become more effective and context-based as a result of our reflections upon the issues brought forth by our writers.

The articles presented in this issue explore the preservation of multilingualism in society by examining

  • The concerns over the language rights of immigrants in Canada,
  • The tensions created through the multilingual policies of Rwanda,
  • The success of educational programs that seek to preserve the mother tongue in Ireland and Papua New Guinea, and
  • The parental attitudes and home practices that foster the development of biliteracy in the children of Chinese immigrants.

The first article, written by Catherine Killbride and Natalie Rublik explores the issues of agency in English language learners as they negotiate the educational practices imposed by governmental policies in Canada. The article represents a synthesis of a dialogue generated in a Discussion Group during the last TESOL convention in New York City. The context of the convention provided for a rich dialogue that includes the perspectives of educators in Canada and the United States.

As part of imagining a multilingual society, we at the Bilingual Education Interest Section decided to widen the scope of our dialogue by allowing articles to be written in different languages. This is the third multilingual issue of Bilingual Basics and it contains one article in French. The article, written by Pascal Munyankesha, examines the challenges that emerge from the official multilingual policies of Rwanda. Although the article is in French, an abstract in English is provided. A special thank you to Shelley Taylor who served as the editorial reviewer for this article.

The third article, by Tamara Vanderveen, presents two examples of governmentally supported educational programs that aim to preserve the mother tongue in Papua New Guinea and Ireland. Though the contexts of these two examples are sharply different, their common goal of preserving the culture and language of their people is commendable and provides us with examples of how native language is valued and preserved.

Finally, the last article, written by Xiaoxiao Du, examines parental attitudes and home practices that promote the development of biliteracy in children of Chinese immigrants in Canada. The article includes recommendations for bilingual educators who work with Chinese immigrant children.

BEIS/TEDS Steering Committee 2008-09

Shelley Taylor

Chair Elect
Nancy Dubetz

Past Chair
David Schwarzer

Maria Coady

Members at Large

Mayra Daniel
Cheryl Serraco
Francisco Ramos
Patrick Smith
Farahnaz Faez
Mario Lopez-Gopar
Jane Nickerson (TEDS)
Kristin Snoddon (TEDS)

Nominating Committee
Maria Lucia

BEIS Newsletter Editors
Sarah Cohen (General Preconference Issue)
Alcione N. Ostorga (Themed Issue)

Darcy Christianson

Call for Manuscripts

The goal of the BEIS online peer-reviewed publication, Bilingual Basics, is to provide a forum for the discussion of educational and sociopolitical issues in pre-K through postsecondary bilingual and multilingual educational settings around the world including the teaching of English to Deaf students. The audience for Bilingual Basics is bilingual teachers (including Deaf educators), researchers, and teacher educators in TESOL. The newsletter serves as a vehicle for the expression of ideas and scholarship related to teaching and learning in bilingual classroom settings. The newsletter also takes an advocacy position with respect to bi-/multilingual education. It includes articles, research summaries, book reviews, convention information, and general commentary.

~Call for Manuscripts for Upcoming General Preconference Issue~

What topics are appropriate for this general issue of the newsletter?

  • Short articles based on completed or ongoing research that is related to the topics described above;
  • Summaries of the Discussion Groups you organized for TESOL 2008 if of a general nature (summaries shorter than the length specified below are acceptable);
  • Reactions to Discussion Group sessions that outline and further the dialogue related to bilingualism, multilingualism, and all educational contexts for diverse language learners;
  • Summaries of BEIS talks or workshops that you presented or attended at TESOL 2008; and
  • Timely issues of relevance to our interest section.

What else will appear in the preconference, nonthemed BEIS newsletter? The general issue includes preconference information, ballots, and a wider range of articles than in the theme issue.

  • Please note that we are now accepting submissions of articles that are either bilingual or written entirely in languages other than English! This reflects the efforts of this interest section to encourage a multilingual focus within TESOL. Acceptance of these articles is, however, dependent on our access to editorial readers with fluency in the language of the submitted article.

Please send all inquiries and submissions to:

Sarah Cohen, Editor (
Submission & abstract info: Length, style, tips
Submission Length: 1,000-2,000 words (max)
Abstract: 50 words (500 characters or less)
Style: Publication Manual of the American Psychological
Association (5th ed.)
Tips: Begin with central ideas or conclusions, keep sentences
short (16 words max), keep paragraphs short, and chunk
information (heads, subheads)
Deadline: December 30, 2008

Articles and Information ELLs and Official Language Bilingualism in Canada: Free Will Versus Policy

Catherine Kilbride, The University of Western Ontario,, and Natalie Rublik, L'Université du Québec à Chicoutimi,

Inclusive Canada: Bilingualism for Some, But Not for All

In Canada, an officially bilingual, officially multicultural country, allophone students—learners whose mother tongue or home language is neither English nor French—do not have the same language rights as their Anglophone and Francophone peers. Under current legislation, allophones are ensured education in the dominant official language of the province or territory in which they reside (Official Languages Act, 1969; Multilingualism Act, 1985); unlike their Francophone and Anglophone Canadian peers, however, they are not guaranteed any amount of schooling in the second official language.

The Discussion Group “ELLs and Official Bilingualism: Free Will Versus Policy” that we presented at TESOL Convention 2008 sought to problematize the issue of allophones' access to education in both of Canada's official languages. (The terms allophone and ELL, or English language learner, are often used synonymously in English-dominant Canadian contexts and throughout the present article; however, it must also be noted that Francophones in French-dominant contexts are also English language learners.) What emerged from the dialogue was both refreshing and sobering. Participants engaged openly and critically with an issue that we had been warned would likely be received as contentious and threatening (or perhaps as timely, under the best possible circumstances). The themes that emerged from the dialogue, though conflicting in many ways, reflect the complexity of the issue at hand, and beg further dialogue around the question of equitable language rights in Canada. We present here a synthesis of this discussion.

Official Language Policy As a Precursor to Student Free Will

The overarching emergent theme, official language policy as a precursor to student free will, represents the view that policy plays a critical role in the generation and formation of micro-level practices and student agency (Tollefson & Tsui, 2004). Participants from outside of Canada suggested that policy determines the richness and scope of medium-of-instruction practices and the extent to which learners and teachers are able to exercise their will in relation to language planning measures. Canadian language policies, particularly those that ensure a right to education in both official languages for Anglophone and Francophone students, were viewed by Discussion Group participants as portals to emergent multilingualism. Their mere existence was thought to forge a sociopolitical space through which individual agents could freely exercise their desire to study more than one language at school.

Monolingual Imperialism and an Absence of Policy: Silencing Agents

Canada is commonly regarded as a unified mosaic (Gibbon, 1938) characterized by inclusion, tolerance, diversity, and freedom. Many discussion participants compared this recurrent and widespread representation of Canada to their own context, where discourses of exclusion, homogeneity, and assimilation dominate and translate into restrictive medium-of-instruction conditions. They argued that where bilingual or multilingual policies do not currently exist, student free will is supplanted by English-only language policies or by the absence of an overt policy. In other words, monolingual policies, even covert ones, and an absence of overt policies were framed as inexorable forces in the free-will-policy issue, ones that overpower, or silence, the interests of agents.

The American Context

United States-based participants in the discussion cited their own teaching contexts as points of reference for the argument that English monolingualism and an absence of policy suppress the free will of learners. One U.S. educator indicated that “all of [her] students” want to learn a foreign language in school, but are only able to do so very late in their education, when the option first becomes available. U.S. educators' insights about their students' favorable attitudes toward minority-language learning and the limited medium-of-instruction options they face as a result of living in an English-dominant,policy-less context, suggest that in those particular situations, both student free will and emergent multilingualism are dominated by a covert policy of English monolingualism. In response to this illustration of linguistic imperialism (Phillipson, 1992; García, Skutnabb-Kangas, and Torres-Guzmán, 2006), American participants argued favorably and passionately for bilingual and multilingual education, both in Canada and more broadly. They lamented the loss of bilingual education in the United States and its subtractive impact on linguistic diversity there: “Bilingualism is being ripped away from the United States.”

The Canadian Context

The argument that policies could act as critical scaffolds, conduits, or spaces for minority learners' interests and agency can be extended to the case(s) of English language learners in Canada. Research on English language learners in Canada tends to focus on L1 maintenance. However, the relatively small number of studies that do explore English language learners and second official language programming in Canada (Lapkin, 2008; Mady, 2003 & 2007) suggest that English language learners

  • Tend to regard official language bilingualism as an important aspect of Canadian identity;
  • Tend to place a relatively high value on language learning in general;
  • Are highly motivated to learn the second official language; and
  • Fare well in the acquisition of the second official language, relative to their Canadian peers.

These findings were recently revisited by Canada's Commissioner of Official Languages (Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, June 2008) in an address at the inauguration of the Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute ( in Ottawa, Canada's capital.

Mounting evidence suggesting that English language learners ought to have equal and equitable access to second official language programming in Canada is often overlooked, and the voices of English language learners are all but silenced in processes related to official language bilingualism. Despite these learners' desire to fully participate in Canada's official language duality, they are often denied access to second official language programs in favor of other courses or streams. Although policy scaffolds are in place to support official language bilingualism in Canada, they do not apply to English language learners.

The Irrelevance of Current Official Language Policy in the Face of Group Resistance

In response to questions around the future of language rights for English language learners in Canada, some participants argued about the irrelevance of current official language policy in the face of group resistance. This view was introduced by Canadian participants from English-dominant areas of British Columbia and Ontario, and from French-dominant areas of Manitoba and Québec. One Francophone participant argued that ongoing conflicts between Anglophones and Francophones (both represented discursively by this participant as groups of agents) prevent official language bilingualism from being realized in Canada. He admitted that for him, issues around French and English languages and cultures are inextricably tied to so many powerful forces. Examples cited in the discussion were

  • Québec's relationship to the Catholic Church and
  • Resistance on the part of English and French groups to each other’s languages and cultures.

This participant felt “the [French-English] language issue,” which has played a large role in sociopolitical, economic, and religious life in Canada since colonization by the French and the English in the 17th century, “cannot be discussed logically.” This sobering perspective suggests that present-day intergroup tensions throughout Canada, in addition to an absence of policy around English language learners and second official language programming, could serve not only to silence the interests of agents, but to overpower official language policy measures, as well.

In response to this point of view, Francophone and Anglophone participants from across Canada argued vehemently for the problematization of “Canadian” identities, and repeatedly drew attention to the undeniable complexity of language rights issues in Canada, a complexity that is often diluted by the homogenizing discourses of Canadian bilingualism and multiculturalism. Participants argued that the use of homogenizing labels in Canadian discourses oversimplifies complex language issues (examples included the French/Francophones, the English/Anglophones, and even our use, as presenters, of the terms “English-dominant parts of Canada” and “French-dominant parts of Canada”).

Thus, in terms of French-English relations, the free will of Anglophone and Francophone individuals and groups, real or imagined (Andersen, 1991), was framed by participants as an obstacle to official language bilingualism in Canada, not only for English language learners, but for all Canadians. Canadian participants called for more dialogue around the question of intergroup relations and Canadian identities as we re-imagine the future of language rights in Canada. This view, though markedly less optimistic than that highlighted by the first theme, plants seeds of transformation by calling on willing readers and listeners to consider the varied and complex issues, such as the dismissal of regional diversity, that are often hidden behind language policy rhetoric around bilingualism and multiculturalism.

The Future of Language Rights in Canada: Re-Imagining Inclusion

The dialogue that emerged from the discussion problematized not only English language learners’ access to official language programming, but the future of Canada's entire language rights system, as well. Some participants argued for the power of policy to bring to life the interests of individuals and groups. Others underscored the importance of not oversimplifying concepts and processes related to identity, of which language is a significant part. While policy structures were viewed as necessary means toward emergent multilingualism, it was also argued that dialogue and the renegotiation of identities and interests must continue long after policy and planning measures have been put in place. An absence of discourses and policies around the place of the English language learner in second official language programming hints at a conflict with a truly inclusive representation of Canada. If Canada is to be both supportive of linguistic duality and inclusive, consistent in its self-representations and its actions, we, as educators, researchers, policymakers, and members of this community that we continue to build together, must open a space for the voices of English language learners in second official language policy by ensuring that they have the same rights and opportunities as their Francophone and Anglophone peers.


Andersen, B. (1991). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (2nd ed.). London, England: Verso.

García, O., Skutnabb-Kangas, T., & Torres-Guzmán, M. E. (2006). Imagining multilingual schools: Languages in education and globalization. North York, Canada: Multilingual Matters.

Gibbon, J. M. (1938). Canadian mosaic: The making of a northern nation. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.

Lapkin, S. (2008). Rising to the challenge: A research perspective on how to double the proportion of secondary school graduates with a functional knowledge of their second official language. Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Government of Canada. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on August 07, 2008,

Official Languages Act, Government of Canada. (R.S. 1985, c. 31 [4th Supp.). Department of Justice. Retrieved on July 01, 2008, from

Canadian Multiculturalism Act, Government of Canada. (R.S., 1985, c. 24 (4th Supp.)[C-18.7], Canadian Heritage Department. Retrieved on July 01, 2008, from

Mady, C. (2003). Motivation to study and investment in studying core French at the secondary level: Comparing English as a second language and Canadian-born students. Unpublished master’s thesis, the University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.

Mady, C. (2007). Allophone students in French second-official-language programs: A literature review. Canadian Modern Language Review/La Revue Canadienne des langues vivantes, 63(5), 727-760.

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Tollefson, J. W., & Tsui, A., (Eds.). (2004). Medium of instruction policies: Which agenda? Whose agenda? London, England: Erlbaum.

Catherine Kilbride is a PhD candidate in French studies at the University of Western Ontario and a French as a second language teacher in Ottawa. Her research interests include second language acquisition, official language bilingualism, the use of metaphor in policy and media discourses, and relationships between language and power.

Natalie Rublik is a teacher with over 19 years of experience in four different countries. She currently teaches ESL methodology courses in the Department of Arts and Letters at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi, in Quebec, Canada. Her current research interests include teacher education, second language acquisition, and multiculturalism.

Official Multilingualism in Rwanda: Challenges and Goals

Pascal Munyankesha, The University of Western Ontario,

Les Defis du Plurilinguisme Officiel au Rwanda
Pascal Munyankesha, The University of Western Ontario,

Comparé aux autres pays d’Afrique subsaharienne, le Rwanda présente une situation linguistique exceptionnelle: la population est majoritairement unilingue rwandophone et, par conséquent, le problème de l’intercompréhension entre les citoyens ne se pose pas. Au-delà de cette homogénéité linguistique de surface, il existe une diversité linguistique de profondeur où le kinyarwanda standard et ses dialectes côtoient quelques langues africaines dont le kiswahili, le kirundi, le lingala et le luganda, ainsi que deux langues européennes, le français et l’anglais. Au niveau de la législation linguistique, la langue nationale est le kinyarwanda et les langues officielles sont le kinyarwanda, le français et l’anglais. On doit noter que les dialectes du pays, variantes locales du kinyarwanda standard localisées dans des zones frontalières avec les pays voisins, n’interfèrent pas dans l’intercompréhension entre les Rwandais car, en dehors de sa région natale, tout le monde utilise la forme standard acquise essentiellement par le biais de l’école.

La répartition des langues dans les divers secteurs d’activités au Rwanda semble respecter le profil linguistique général de la population. Ainsi le kinyarwanda garde le monopole des échanges quotidiens, et domine dans la presse orale et écrite ; le français domine dans l’enseignement secondaire et supérieur et dans l’administration, tandis que l’anglais prend de l’essor pour avoir les mêmes prérogatives que le français dans les mêmes domaines. En effet, depuis 1996, l’anglais est la troisième langue officielle du Rwanda, en plus d’être une des branches obligatoires dans l’enseignement primaire et secondaire. L’anglais est encore une des langues d’enseignement à l’université comme dans les autres institutions d’enseignement supérieur du pays. Le grand perdant reste le kiswahili qui ne jouit d’aucun statut officiel au Rwanda même si, dans la pratique, il reste la langue officielle de commandement dans l’armée. Mais il n’en demeure pas moins que cette langue reste très importante, plus particulièrement dans les relations commerciales du Rwanda avec les pays d’Afrique orientale et australe. Le problème de taille qui se pose actuellement dans le pays est celui de la gestion des langues officielles, de la concrétisation de la politique du trilinguisme officiel dans cette société où le nombre d’analphabètes reste toujours élevé et donc préoccupant.

Le présent travail tente aussi de déterminer les principaux enjeux et défis du plurilinguisme officiel au Rwanda. Parmi les enjeux majeurs figurent l’équité en matière linguistique, l’ouverture du pays au monde extérieur par le développement du bilinguisme individuel et collectif et le développement harmonieux de tous les groupes linguistiques en présence. Les principaux défis qui se posent au plurilinguisme officiel au Rwanda concernent surtout l’apprentissage des langues étrangères à une population majoritairement unilingue et analphabète, et la satisfaction des attentes d’une population qui aspire plus à l’ouverture au monde moderne. Cela suppose un gros investissement dans la recherche des moyens matériels et humains susceptibles de faire aboutir un tel projet de société. Un chapitre est entièrement consacré à l’analyse et à l’interprétation des résultats du sondage sur les attitudes linguistiques au Rwanda. En général, les grandes révélations de l’enquête sont les suivantes :

L’ignorance des langues étrangères est généralisée dans la population illettrée. Même chez certains intellectuels rwandais, la maîtrise des langues étrangères comme le français, l’anglais et le kiswahili reste approximative. Si le peuple rwandais manifeste un très grand attachement à sa langue maternelle et nationale, le kinyarwanda, il reconnaît toutefois les limites de cette langue. C’est le symbole de l’identification et de la cohésion nationale, mais son champ d’influence se limite au Rwanda et dans les zones frontalières avec ses voisins. Sur le plan économique, les répondants lui reprochent de ne pas être compétitif comme le français ou l’anglais dans la recherche de l’emploi dans les organismes internationaux qui opèrent au Rwanda.

Les Rwandais aspirent à l’ouverture au monde extérieur. C’est ainsi qu’ils manifestent un engouement pour les langues étrangères de grande extension comme l’anglais et le français. Ces deux langues sont particulièrement appréciées pour leur fonction instrumentale (expression des réalités du monde moderne et ouverture au monde extérieur) et leur fonction sociale de prestige (marque d’intellectualisme et de snobisme). L’enquête révèle aussi le désir des répondants de garder le statu quo en matière de langues officielles du pays. Ils se prononcent majoritairement pour le maintien du trilinguisme officiel kinyarwanda – français – anglais, avec le ferme souhait que ces deux langues soient apprises à toute la population rwandaise. Dans la suite, les répondants manifestent très peu d’intérêt face au kiswahili malgré son usage quasi officiel au sein de l’armée et son enseignement dans certaines sections de l’école secondaire. Ils se prononcent ensuite contre l’adoption du kiswahili comme quatrième langue officielle du Rwanda. Cette attitude pourrait s’interpréter comme la conséquence directe de la marginalisation dont ont fait l’objet cette langue et ses locuteurs depuis la colonisation belge jusque maintenant.

Le dernier constat noté est qu’il n’existe pas de vrais conflits linguistiques entre les anglophones et les francophones au Rwanda. En effet, ces deux groupes partagent la même langue maternelle et ne diffèrent que par la langue seconde. La répartition entre francophones et anglophones n’est donc qu’un accident de l’histoire. Les répondants trouvent que les relations entre les deux principaux groupes linguistiques du pays sont bonnes. Les rares litiges que l’on entend ici et là ne sont alors que des répercussions de quelques conflits d’intérêts isolés qui ne concernent qu’une infime minorité de l’élite nationale.

Étant donné les nouvelles attentes et aspirations du peuple rwandais en matière linguistique, la situation linguistique du Rwanda appelle un nouvel aménagement linguistique. Toutefois, un tel projet ne peut se réaliser qu’avec l’adhésion et la participation de la population. C’est ainsi qu’il faut au préalable une campagne de sensibilisation auprès de celle-ci avec comme toile de fond l’alphabétisation et l’enseignement utilitaire des langues étrangères de grandes diffusion. L’aménagement linguistique du Rwanda doit commencer par la modernisation du kinyarwanda afin de mieux l’adapter aux réalités du monde moderne et de l’aider à remplir son rôle de langue nationale et officielle.

L’enseignement des langues étrangères de grande diffusion, à commencer par l’anglais et le français qui sont officiels, exige préalablement une formation solide des enseignants du primaire en didactique des langues secondes pour mieux les préparer à un système de professorat comme à l’école secondaire. L’enseignement efficace des langues étrangères exige encore une réforme des programmes d’enseignement des langues au primaire comme au secondaire, avec comme objectif d’accorder plus de place aux langues étrangères. Pour concrétiser tout cela, l’État pourrait envisager la création d’une Académie linguistique du Rwanda, qui serait un organe linguistique national permanent, avec comme mission de concevoir et superviser la politique linguistique du Rwanda.


Adegbija, E. (1994). Language attitudes in Sub-Saharan Africa. A Sociolinguistic Overview. Clevedon, England : Multilingual Matters.

Calvet, L.-J. (1981). Les langues véhiculaires. Paris: PUF.

Calvet, L.-J. (1999). La guerre des langues et les politiques linguistiques. Paris: Hachette Littératures.

Calvet, L.-J. (2002). Linguistique et colonialisme. Petit traité de glottophagie. Paris: Petite Bibliothèque Payot.

Karangwa, J. D. (1996). Rwanda: vers une nouvelle politique linguistique? In C. Juillard et L.-J. Calvet, Les politiques linguistiques, mythes et réalités (pp. 215-221). Montréal: FMA.

Munyakazi, L. (1984). La situation sociolinguistique du Rwanda: aspects endocentrique et exocentrique. Thèse de doctorat. Université de Nice.

Pascal Munyankesha holds a PhD in French linguistics and is an assistant professor at Huron University College in the University of Western Ontario. He is currently researching vehicular languages in Subsaharan Africa. His other research interests include sociolinguistics, second language acquisition and teaching, and language policy and management.

Minority Language Teaching: Preserving Global Multilingualism

Tamara Vanderveen, The University of Western Ontario,


Minority language teaching plays a significant role in preserving multilingualism and reversing language shift. The availability of bilingual instruction in schools allows for minority languages to thrive despite constant threat from other, more prominent languages. Without a constant minority language effort, a valuable global resource will be lost: multilingualism.

The Linguistic State of the World Today

The continuous decline in spoken languages seriously threatens multilingualism and, in turn, cultural resources in society. According to Skutnabb-Kangas (2001), languages are disappearing faster now than ever before. She stated, “Most of the world’s languages have relatively few speakers. The median number of speakers is probably around 5,000-6,000. 95% of the world’s spoken languages have fewer than 1 million native users; half of all the languages have less than 10,000” (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2001, p. 207). In addition, UNESCO (2008) estimated that

  • 96% of the world’s 6,000 languages are spoken by 4% of the world’s population.
  • 90% of the world’s languages are not represented on the Internet.
  • One language disappears every two weeks.

The small percentage of people representing such a vast number of languages suggests that the number of speakers per language is on a sharp decline. This is highlighted by the lack of representation of languages on the Internet and the rate at which languages are disappearing. The sharp decline in the number of speakers per language coupled with the lack of representation of languages on the Internet indicates that languages are dying. This poses a great threat to global multilingualism and cultural diversity.

To help mediate the constant threat to many languages and to help maintain and preserve multilingualism in society, some countries have gone to great measures in hopes of reversing language shift. Malone (2004) explained, “Language shift occurs when the lingua franca ceases to be added to the L1 and instead becomes the mother tongue” (p.10). Fishman’s (1991) eight-stage framework for reversing language shift begins with stage 8, considered the worst-case scenario for a language, and ends with stage 1, the height of achievement in language shift. The stages are depicted in Table 1.

Stage 8: Reconstruction of the minority language by professional collection of information from the few survivors in the older generation that speak the language.
Stage 7: The minority language is spoken only by the older (beyond child-bearing age) generation in the community.
Stage 6: The minority language is transmitted between generations. Specifically, the language is used between grandparents, parents, and children.
Stage 5: The minority language is used in the home, school, and community at levels beyond basic oracy or literacy.
Stage 4: The minority language is available in formal schooling in either public or private school systems.
Stage 3: The minority language is spoken out of the minority language boundaries and in some work spheres.
Stage 2: Lower level governmental services and the local mass media are open to the use of the minority language.
Stage 1: The minority language is used and represented in higher education, the media, and governmental services.

Table 1. Stages of language shift (Fishman, 1991)

Fishman’s (1991) framework is an indicator of how threatened a language might be. Skutnabb-Kangas (2001) stated, “A language is threatened if it has few users and a weak political status, and especially if the children are no longer learning it, i.e. when the language is no longer being transmitted to the next generation” (p. 207).

Reversing Language Shift in the School System: A Comparison

Fishman (1991) alluded to the importance of transmissibility between generations. He also highlighted the importance of offering formal education in minority languages to reverse language shift. Along with Fishman (1991), Baker (1996) also affirmed the important role of education in reversing language loss. He believes that “one of the first approaches into the majority language castle may be through education” (p. 70). In light of the emphasis placed on the value of education in reversing language shift, many countries have set up school programs to help combat language shift. In this paper, I provide examples of two countries where these types of programs have been implemented: Ireland and Papua New Guinea.

The Introduction of a Kaugel Pre-Primary School in Papua New Guinea

Kaugel is an indigenous language in Papua New Guinea but as a result of the pressure of two other dominating languages, specifically English and Tok Pisin, the number of Kaugel speakers was on a significant decline (Malone, 2004). Malone (2004) studied a mother-tongue pre-primary school, the Kaugel Tok Ples Pri Skul (KTPPS), in hopes of discovering how the program was maintained despite cultural and linguistic tensions (over 800 language and culture groups exist in Papua New Guinea). He described the context of Papua New Guinea in the early 1990s, citing the review of the education sector conducted by the federal government in Papua New Guinea. According to the report, the “existing education system was alienating students from the way of life of the people, while doing little to equip them with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to contribute positively to community or national development” (p. 3). The KTPPS was created to mediate some of the above concerns. The program’s goals were to preserve multilingualism and to reverse language shift. Some characteristics of the program were as follows:

  • Teachers were selected by members of the community.
  • Teachers had anywhere from a grade 6 to grade 10 education in the English language education system.
  • Teacher preparation and training consisted of a two-week literacy and awareness workshop, which was sponsored by the Western Highlands Provincial (WHP) government.
  • Experience as students in understanding the workings of the classroom was important and played a large role in preparation.
  • Funding for the KTPPS program came from a variety of sources including a local bakery, school fees, and the WHP Education Division (supplies).
  • Schooling materials, such as books, were written by gifted members of the community.

The KTPPS program met with success. From the original program implemented in 1991, it grew from three sites to fourteen, enrolling more than 500 children. The success of the KTPPS program is further reflected in the objectives of the country’s National Department of Education objectives, which, as Malone (2004) described, “plans to introduce a three-year pre-primary program of mother-tongue education to increase access to and relevance of early education for Papua New Guinean children” (pp. 202-03). This reform put forth by the department demonstrates the push for the preservation of the mother tongue and multilingualism in Papua New Guinea.

The Re-Introduction of Irish Into the Public School System in Ireland

While different from the program implementation in Papua New Guinea, governmental efforts in the Republic of Ireland also used the education system in hopes of reversing language shift. Prior to 1922, when the Republic of Ireland was under British rule, it was illegal to teach the Irish language in school; the only acceptable language was English. In 1922, the Irish constitution recognized two languages, Irish and English, as official languages. Sheehan (1945) explained that the goal of introducing Irish medium instruction was to “strength[en] the national fibre by giving the language, history, music and tradition of Ireland their natural place in the life of Irish Schools” (p. 215). Some characteristics of the program were as follows:

  • Teachers under the age of 45 were required to attend Irish classes in the summer.
  • All teachers had a teaching qualification.
  • Cost of instruction was absorbed solely by the newly formed Department of Education.
  • Textbooks were written by Irish leaders and scholars.

Consequently, 64% of secondary school pupils were receiving all or part of the instruction through the medium of Irish (Sheehan, 1945). Currently, Irish is compulsory for the Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. Both of these are secondary programs requiring a terminal examination before graduation (Department of Education and Science, 2008). The compulsory nature of these exams and the inclusion of the Irish language in the curriculum illustrate the extent to which the Irish government will go to ensure the preservation of the Irish language and multilingualism in Ireland.

Concluding Remarks

Given the vastly different socioeconomic contexts of both countries and program structure, the program implementation in both Papua New Guinea and Ireland share one main goal: to preserve the mother tongue, which consequently preserves multilingualism. The success of both programs is evident through the increased rate of enrollment in Papua New Guinea and the high percentage of students in Ireland receiving their instruction in the Irish language.

Increased enrollment in both programs illustrates Fishman’s (1991) hypothesis that education in the form of formal schooling plays a large role in reversing language shift. As a result of both programs, there exists the possibility of transmissibility between generations, which is noted by Fishman (1991) as the most important factor in reversing language shift.

Minority language teaching allows students the opportunity to not only learn a language, but as Malone (2004) described, allows students and community members the opportunity, “to take practical steps to prevent further erosion of language and culture domains” (p. 196). In protecting “further erosion of language and culture,” these programs are also aiding in the preservation of global multilingualism by giving minority language children an outlet in which to learn and speak their native language.

Multilingualism is a global resource that must be protected by revival efforts such as the two illustrated in this article. Minority language teaching not only preserves multilingualism but also has a significant role in reversing language shift.

As the examples of the school systems in Papua New Guinea and Ireland show, the importance of the school system in the maintenance of minority languages and reversing language shift is evident. By allowing students access to bilingual education, these school systems are preserving their citizen’s first language and, in turn, preserving multilingualism in their respective cultures.


Baker, C. (1996). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. Bristol, England: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Department of Education and Science. (2008). Second level education in Ireland. Retrieved July 10, 2008, from

Fishman, J. (1991). Reversing language shift: Theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages. Toronto, Canada: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Malone, D. (2004). The in-between people: Language and cultural maintenance and mother-tongue education in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Dallas, TX: SIL International.

Sheehan, T.W. (1945). Reviving a dying language. The Modern Language Journal, 29(3), 215-217.

Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2001). The globalization of (educational) language rights. International Review of Education, 47(3/4), 201-219.

UNESCO. (2008). Safeguarding endangered languages. Retrieved July 9, 2008, from

Tamara Vanderveen is a secondary school teacher of English and French and is currently completing a master’s degree in education at the University of Western Ontario with hopes to continue on to a doctorate. Her research interests include language preservation, minority language issues, and bilingual education.

Parental Influences on the Biliteracy Development of Chinese Children

Xiaoxiao Du, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada,


Canada is a multicultural and multilingual country with a high influx of immigrants from different parts of the world. According to the Immigration Overview (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2006), the People’s Republic of China has been the main source of immigrants to Canada since 1998. In 2006, there were 33,080 new immigrants from the People’s Republic of China. Of these, 11.2% speak Mandarin as their mother tongue. In fact, Mandarin has been reported as the largest minority language in Canada, since 1998. In light of this situation, it is vitally important for educators and researchers to further understand and study Chinese children’s bilingual literacy development in Canada. Bilingual literacy helps minority children maintain and develop their minority culture, while also fostering their participation in the majority culture, which monolingual literacy cannot do. Therefore, this article addresses this concern by focusing on Chinese immigrant children’s bilingual literacy events in their homes and how these events influence their development as bilingual learners in Canada.

The major research question is, What factors at home can influence children to become biliterate? A minor research question is, What can parents do at home, to help their children maintain the mother tongue and develop English literacy?

Many researchers point out that home literacy environment plays an important role in children’s literacy development. Leichter (1984) found that the home literacy environment may affect children’s reading development in three ways:

  1. Interpersonal interaction (e.g., literacy experiences shared by family members)
  2. Physical environment (e.g., print materials in the home)
  3. Motivational climate (parents’ attitudes toward literacy)

Li (2006) stated that the home literacy environment plays a crucial role for children’s success or failure in achieving biliteracy. Several factors have been linked to children’s achievement of biliteracy, such as parents’ understandings of their status in the society, their beliefs about the majority and minority languages, and their own proficiencies in the dominant language. Li further argued that positive parental or familial attitudes toward both Chinese and English languages along with some level of home literacy support can contribute to children’s biliteracy development.


This study carried out a qualitative case study research with the purpose of describing and analyzing in detail Chinese immigrant children’s biliteracy events at home that may contribute to biliteracy development. There were five Chinese families in the study and they all lived in a multilingual and multicultural community with a large number of Chinese immigrants. All children attended both public school and a community Chinese school. Semi-structured interviews and family visits were conducted to gather an understanding of the children’s literacy practices and their parents’ attitude and support of biliteracy at home. Interpretational and domain analysis methods were used to analyze the data (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2007; Wolcott, 1994).


On the basis of the data analysis, two major factors in the home literacy environment have influenced children’s biliteracy development: physical home literacy environment and motivational factors such as parents’ attitudes toward and support of bilingual literacy at home.

The physical home literacy environment can include home culture and at least a minimum amount of bilingual literacy materials and language used for communication at home. One of the participants in the study lived in a home that was decorated in the Western style with nearly all of the literacy materials in English. English was the main language used at home. The other four families in the study provided their children with both Mandarin and English literacy materials at home (such as newspapers, magazines, literacy reference books, children’s storybooks, and textbooks). In addition, both English and Mandarin were spoken at these homes.

It was evident from the data that children who lived in a bilingual home had more opportunities to get to know two languages (Mandarin and English) than did the children living in the English-only home. Based on the children’s literacy performance at the community Chinese school, the analysis suggested that the physical home literacy environment as well as the language used at home affected the children’s decision making and effort in maintaining the mother tongue.

Parents’ attitudes toward China and Canada as well as bilingual literacy also influenced children’s biliteracy and bicultural learning. Nearly all participating families talked about the fast development of Chinese economy in the 21st century and felt proud of being Chinese. On the other hand, they came to Canada for better living and working opportunities and demonstrated a positive view of their new homeland even while some maintained the possibility of moving back to mainland China in the future. This balanced view of two countries and two languages (English and Mandarin) helped children to build a positive perspective of the two countries and have a balanced view of learning two languages. In contrast, if parents favored Canadian culture and English in isolation, their children tended to follow what the parents did and gradually forgot their first language and culture.

Parents’ attitudes also influenced the development of bilingual literacy. Parents with a positive attitude toward bilingualism and biculturalism made great efforts to help children learn two languages. For example, some parents spoke both English and Chinese at home while others spoke mainly Mandarin at home to help children to maintain their mother tongue. Another way of exhibiting a positive attitude toward biliteracy was made evident in the practice of sending children to Chinese school (in addition to their regular school) to promote further development of the Mandarin language. Furthermore, parents made efforts to help children develop English and Mandarin languages at home especially through reading and writing. All participant parents went to libraries with their children at least once a week to borrow books and to read with them. They also helped their children with their writing, supervised their homework, and taught them new words. Some parents made full use of their time to help their children improve English and Mandarin at home; others said they were too busy to help children to read or write. Parents’ support at home had a great influence on children’s biliteracy development. When parents spent more time reading and writing, as well as communicating with their children through the use of both English and Mandarin, their children tended to have a positive attitude toward the two languages. In contrast, if parents paid much attention to English and neglected Mandarin, their children tended to lose interest in the Mandarin language and gradually became monolingual.


This study suggests that parents can play a pivotal role in their children’s biliteracy development and language choice. Educators should help parents understand their role in their children’s bilingual literacy development. How do parents cultivate balanced biculturalism and bilingualism in Canada? To promote biliteracy, Chinese immigrant parents need to have a balanced view of learning English and Chinese. They need to explicitly tell children that they highly value Chinese culture and language as well as English learning and Canadian culture. They can inform children that there is no harm in being proud of their Chinese heritage. They can also help their children learn Chinese and appreciate the Chinese culture. It is beneficial to value their Chinese culture and language. To further promote biliteracy and biculturalism, it is advisable that parents encourage children to go back to China for visits. They can visit their grandparents and family members during holidays and their knowledge of the Chinese language will make communication effective.

In addition to advocating for the Chinese heritage, parents also need to devote themselves to bilingual literacy and bicultural development support. This means that parents should pay attention to their children’s English literacy development while also supporting their children’s Chinese language and cultural maintenance.

Educators’ Suggestions to Parents

Educators can help parents understand their role and make suggestions for home practices that promote biliteracy. The cultivation of interest in learning Chinese plays a significant role in children’s Chinese literacy development and culture maintenance. Children at a young age need a lot of attention, praise, encouragement, and motivation. Breaking ideas or situations into little parts and step-by-step instruction means a lot to young children. Parents can spend time reading with children, listening to them reading Chinese texts, reciting poems and nursery rhymes, singing Chinese songs, supporting their journal writing, translating English nursery rhymes, and making crafts. All these activities should be accompanied by high praise and great encouragement. This will help to increase their interest and build their confidence and motivate them to continue to learn Mandarin. In brief, parents need to create a supportive and rich bilingual and bicultural environment for children to develop balanced bilingualism and biculturalism in Canada.

Home literacy environment plays an important role in children’s biliteracy development. Parents’ positive attitude toward bilingualism and continuous support are especially significant for children to become balanced bilingual learners. It is indeed possible for Chinese immigrant children to maintain their first language and at the same time learn English at home in Canada.


Citizenship and Immigration Canada. (2006). Facts and Figures 2006: Immigration Overview: Permanent Residents Canada. Retrieved February 5, 2008, from

Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P., & Borg, W. R. (2007). Educational research: An introduction (8th ed.). Boston, New York, and San Francisco: Pearson Education.

Leichter, H. J. (1984). Families as environments for literacy. In H. Goelman, A. Oberg, & F. Smith (Eds.), Awakening to literacy (pp. 38-50). London: Heinemann.

Li, G. (2006). Biliteracy and trilingual practices in the home context: Case studies of Chinese Canadian children. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 6(3), 355-381.

Wolcott, H. (1994). Transforming qualitative data: Description, analysis, and interpretation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Xiaoxiao Du is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. Her current research examines children’s literacy and biliteracy development. Other research interests include language development and second language acquisition.