Tove Skutnabb-Kangas and Teresa L. McCarty
KEY CONCEPTS IN BILINGUAL EDUCATION: IDEOLOGICAL,
HISTORICAL, EPISTEMOLOGICAL, AND EMPIRICAL FOUNDATIONS
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 in ways 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 French-
Canadian immersion for middle-class Anglophones (Cummins & Swain, 1986; Lambert &
Tucker, 1986). The term was misleadingly appropriated by U.S. policymakers to describe
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 Indigenous-
language 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 these varied 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 the social 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 writing to 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 – the term “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
Key Concepts and Terms
Additive language learning. A new language is learned in addition to the mother tongue,
which continues to be developed. The learner’s total linguistic repertoire is extended.
Key Concepts in Bilingual Education (Skutnabb-Kangas & McCarty, 11/06) 2
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 learn the mother tongue/heritage
language as a subject, often outside regular school hours; (3) submersion (“sink-or-swim”)
programmes; and (4) segregation programmes. Weak forms aim for strong dominance in the
majority language, and include transitional (1) early-exit, and (2) late-exit programmes. Strong
forms include: (1) mother-tongue maintenance or language shelter programmes; (2) two-way
bilingual (dual language) programmes; and (3) plural multilingual programmes such as the
special European Union Schools. Only strong forms lead to high levels of bi-/multilingualism
and are associated with greater academic success for language minority students (Thomas &
Collier 2002). These programmes also respect linguistic human rights.
Bi-/multilingualism. Includes: (1) individual bi-/multilingualism, sometimes called
plurilingualism, involving proficiency in and use of two or more languages by an individual; the
term does not always imply an equally high level of proficiency in all the relevant languages; (2)
societal bi-/multilingualism, when two or more languages are widely used in a community or
state; the term does not always assume official status for the languages; (3) bilingualism as an
educational goal, a bilingual speaker who is able to function in two or more languages in
monolingual or multilingual communities at the same level as native speakers and in accordance
with the sociocultural demands for communicative and cognitive competence by these
communities and the individual, and who identifies positively with both (or all) language groups
and cultures, or parts of them (Skutnabb-Kangas, 1984: 90).
Content and language-integrated learning (CLIL)/ Cognitive academic language learning
(CALLA). The teaching of some subjects through the target language; an approach to language
learning through content-area study (www.clilcompendium.com/brief.htm; Chamot & O’Malley,
Ecology of languages. The study of languages in their ecological and sociocultural context; a
perspective on the relationship between languages guiding language policy strategies, with the
goal of achieving a harmonious balance between all languages in a given environment (Fill &
Mühlhäusler, 2001; Haugen, 1972; Hornberger, 2003; Mühlhäusler, 2003; Skutnabb-Kangas,
Maffi, & Harmon, 2003).
English-as-a-second-language (ESL). English can be a second language: (1) in terms of the
order of learning (as opposed to a first language); and/or (2) when used in the environment
outside the classroom (as opposed to English-as-a-foreign language [EFL], which involves
Key Concepts in Bilingual Education (Skutnabb-Kangas & McCarty, 11/06) 3
primarily classroom learning). ESL contexts include those in which English is learned by those
for whom it is not the mother tongue (e.g., Indigenous peoples and immigrants in Australia), and
postcolonial settings in which English remains the language of power (e.g., Nigeria, Singapore).
English is also a second language in European countries in which English proficiency is required
for key functions such as in higher education or commerce (e.g., the Netherlands, Sweden), and
where there is considerable exposure to English in the wider society (e.g., in the media).
English-only. Also called U.S. English and Official English (http://www.us-english.org/inc),
this U.S.-based political movement seeks to ban instruction and public discourse in languages
other than English (Crawford, 1992; González & Melis, 2000, 2001). English-only policies exist
in 23 U.S. states.
Ethnicity/ethnic identity. Historical, geographical, cultural, linguistic, sociolinguistic, and/or
national associations that bind individuals together as a distinct, self-identified group. Group-
defining characteristics may include common descent (“factual” or “mythical”), religion, and
social organization. Although language is not a defining characteristic of ethnicity for all people,
it has been accorded priority by many (Fishman, 1989, 1999; Smolicz, 1979). All people, not
only minorities, possess ethnic identities.
European Union Schools. Special EU schools with sections for various languages in which each
language (mostly students’ mother tongue) is the primary medium of education. The first foreign
language is taught as a subject from grade 1; a few context-embedded subjects (e.g., physical
education, arts, etc.) are taught in mixed groups through this language from grade 3, preferably
with no mother tongue speakers; a few additional subjects are taught through it in later grades,
but decontextualised verbally and intellectually demanding subjects (e.g. history) are taught
through the medium of the first foreign language only from grade 8, when students have studied
the language as a subject for seven years and have had some less demanding subjects taught in it
for five years. There is more teaching through the mother tongue in grades 10-12, especially in
demanding subjects. Instruction in a second foreign language (one of the languages of other
sections) begins in grade 7. All teachers are minimally bilingual. For each subject, students
choose the language in which they take their final exams. Everyone becomes minimally bilingual
at a high level, and many become trilingual.
First language (L1). Often a synonym for mother tongue, or in contrast to a second language
(L2); the language first learned, best known, and/or most used.
Foreign language (FL). A language learned mainly in the classroom, for reading texts and/or
communication with its speakers (e.g., Arabic in Korea, English in Mongolia, French in Russia).
Immersion programmes for dominant language speakers. Parents of linguistic majority
children with a high-status mother tongue (e.g., Anglophones in Ontario, Canada) choose
voluntarily to enroll their children in a programme in which instruction is conducted through the
medium of a foreign/minority language. Most of the children in these classes are majority
language children with the same mother tongue. Teachers in these programmes are bilingual so
Key Concepts in Bilingual Education (Skutnabb-Kangas & McCarty, 11/06) 4
that children can initially use their own language and still be understood. These programmes are
implemented in additive language learning contexts in which children’s mother tongue is not in
danger of being replaced by the language of instruction. Although children enrolled in French
immersion programmes in Canada initially represented a largely homogenous Anglophone
population, increasingly, children whose mother tongue is neither English nor French are
enrolling in these programs.
Immersion programmes for Indigenous peoples or minorities. Dominated-group children
who have partially or completely lost their ancestral language choose voluntarily, among existing
alternatives, to be instructed through the medium of the Indigenous/minority language, in classes
with children with the same goal and target language, in which the teacher is bilingual so that
children can initially use their dominant language, and in contexts in which that language is not
in danger of being replaced by the Indigenous/minority language; an additive language learning
Indigenous education. There are at least three senses of this concept: (1) natural systems
(“formal” and “informal”) of child socialization developed by Indigenous peoples in accordance
with local norms, to teach Indigenous knowledge and skills through the Indigenous language; (2)
imposed colonial and post-colonial schooling, usually through the dominant language, with
assimilation as a goal; and (3) contemporary Indigenous self-determinant schooling, usually
based on culturally relevant content and pedagogy, and including instruction in and through the
Indigenous peoples. Communities, peoples, and nations which, having a historical continuity
within pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed within their territories, consider
themselves distinct from other sectors of the society(ies) now prevailing in those territories.
They form non-dominant sectors of society determined to preserve, develop, and transmit to
future generations their ancestral territories, identity, and often, their language as the basis of
their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their cultural practices and social and
legal systems (Cobo 1987: 4). The International Labour Organisation’s (ILO’s) 1989 definition
may be the strongest legally: “…peoples in independent countries who are regarded as
indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a
geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonization or the
establishment of present state boundaries and who, irrespective of their legal status, retain some
or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.” Self-identification is
included within the ILO definition “as a fundamental criterion for determining the groups to
which the provisions of this Convention apply” (http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/62.htm).
Language. The system of sounds, words, signs, grammar, and rules for (1) communication in a
given speech community for spoken, written, or signed interaction; (2) storing, acting out, and
developing cultural knowledge and values; and (3) displaying, analyzing, structuring, and
creating the world and personal and social identity. Theoretically, language also can be seen as
existing only in practice, when being used, created, and enacted. The existence of discrete
Key Concepts in Bilingual Education (Skutnabb-Kangas & McCarty, 11/06) 5
languages (rather than continua of mutually intelligible dialects) has also been called a Western
myth (e.g., Mühlhäusler, 2003).
Language endangerment. Situation in which intergenerational transmission is proceeding
negatively, with fewer children in each generation acquiring the language in childhood. Other
criteria include low numbers of speakers, reduced number of communicative domains, and low
status. Fifty to 90 percent of the world’s spoken languages may be extinct or seriously
endangered by 2100 (Krauss, 1992; UNESCO Ad Hoc Expert Group on Endangered Languages,
Language maintenance or language shelter programmes. Linguistic minority children (often
with a low-status mother tongue) choose voluntarily, among existing alternatives, to be
instructed through the medium of their mother tongue, in classes with minority children with the
same mother tongue, in which the teacher is bilingual and there is a pedagogically sound
instructional programme in the majority language as a second or foreign language, also provided
by a bilingual teacher.
Language planning. Sociocultural process undertaken by an authorizing body (e.g.,
government, schools), communities and/or families to promote language change through: (1)
status planning, decisions and activities specifying how languages will be used, by whom, in
what contexts, and for what purposes; (2) corpus planning, including language codification,
elaboration, standardization, and development of print materials; and (3) acquisition planning,
language program development (Cooper, 1989; Haugen, 1983; Kaplan & Baldauf 1997).
Language planning may be guided by one or more orientations: (1) language-as-a-problem, in
which linguistic diversity is viewed as a problem to be overcome; (2) language-as-a-right, the
negotiation of language rights, often in contested contexts; and (3) language-as-a-resource, the
promotion of linguistic democracy and pluralism (Ruiz, 1984). (See also Grin, 2006 on
economic considerations in language planning and policy).
Language policy. Sociocultural process that includes official acts and documents as well as
everyday language practices that express normative claims about legitimate and illegitimate
language forms and uses, and have implications for status, rights, roles, functions, and access to
languages and varieties within a given polity, organization, or institution; the scholarly study of
how decisions about language are formulated and implemented, often considered a subset of
language planning (see, e.g., Lo Bianco, 1987).
Language regenesis. For an endangered language, deliberate language planning and policy
activities aimed at: (1) language revival, restoring oral and/or written functions for a language no
longer spoken, and for which little or no literary tradition exists; (2) language revitalization,
giving new vitality to endangered-language domains and functions; and/or (3) reversing
Key Concepts in Bilingual Education (Skutnabb-Kangas & McCarty, 11/06) 6
language shift, producing new generations of speakers (Amery, 2000; Fishman 1991, 2001;
Huss, Camilleri, & King, 2003; Paulston, 1993; Romero & McCarty, 2006).
Language rights. Negative language rights concern the right to non-discrimination in the
enjoyment of human rights; positive language rights involve the freedom to practice or use
distinctive aspects of a group’s culture, including language and religion. Positive language rights
typically require a state obligation to support minority languages.
Limited English proficient (LEP)/Non-English proficient (NEP). A definition in U.S.
language policy in which minority students are identified negatively, in terms of what they do
not yet know fully; revised in 2001 to English language learner (ELL), a more positive term but
one that nonetheless emphasizes what linguistic minority students do not know and invisibilises
what they do know (e.g. their own or their parents’ language and culture).
Linguicism. Beliefs, attitudes, and actions whereby differences of language serve to structure
inequality between linguistic groups; ideologies, structures, and practices used to legitimate,
effectuate, regulate, and reproduce an unequal division of power and resources between groups
defined on the basis of language (Skutnabb-Kangas, 1988: 13).
Linguistic human rights (LHRs). Individual and collective language rights that every
individual has because of being human, in order to be able to fulfill her/his basic needs and live a
dignified life. In theory, LHRs are so inalienable that no state or person may violate them
(Skutnabb-Kangas, 2000; Skutnabb-Kangas & Phillipson, 1994).
Linguistic imperialism. A form of linguicism in which one community or collectivity
dominates another, as in colonialism, imperialism, and corporate globalisation, and in which the
language of the dominant power is privileged structurally in the allocation of resources and
ideologically in beliefs and attitudes toward languages (Phillipson, 1992).
Linguicide/linguistic genocide. The deliberate elimination of a language, without killing its
speakers; forcing speakers to give up a mother tongue through “forcibly transferring children of
the group to another group”; “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group”
(United Nations International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
Genocide 1948, E 793, Articles 2e and 2b); or “prohibiting the use of the [mother tongue] in
daily intercourse, or in schools, or the printing and circulation of publications in the language of
the group” (from the 1948 Final Draft of the above, not part of the Convention).
Majority language. Language of a dominant group, in terms of numbers and/or power.
Minorities. Defined similarly to ethnic groups (numbers, dominance, characteristics), and by a
desire to maintain distinctive characteristics; there is often no common descent (e.g. women; gay,
lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons; Deaf persons). Ethnic minorities can have
national/autochthonous or immigrant origins. Few countries state how long an immigrated
minority must reside in a country before becoming a “national” minority (Hungary: 100 years);
Key Concepts in Bilingual Education (Skutnabb-Kangas & McCarty, 11/06) 7
some countries are unwilling to accept that they have immigrants (“guest workers”). “Being” a
minority in the sense of having less power than some other group(s) (i.e. being minoritised) is a
relationship rather than a characteristic; it presupposes that (an)other group(s) has/have been
majoritised. Human agency can transform these relations in a more equal direction. In
international law, the existence of a minority does not depend on a decision by the state but must
be established by objective criteria. Minorities have some rights in education that are not accorded
in international law to children under other labels (e.g. “linguistically diverse students,” “English
language learners”). In international law, minorities do not have a right to self-determination
(e.g., independence), whereas Indigenous peoples do.
Minority language. Language that is not the dominant language of a territorial unit such as a
state, because the speakers of the language have less power (they have been minoritised), and the
language is generally spoken by a smaller number of people. Power relations – not numbers –
constitute the defining characteristic of “minority” languages (e.g., Navajo speakers are
numerically dominant within the Navajo Nation yet their language is minoritised within and
outside their lands; many African languages are minority languages from a power point of view
although they have more speakers than those of official languages). In many countries, all groups
Monolingual ideology. False belief that monolingualism at both the individual and societal
levels is normal, desirable, sufficient for most purposes, and unavoidable; monolingual
Monolingualism. Functioning in a single language (includes dialectal variation; one may be
bidialectal but monolingual).
Mother tongue. Language(s) one learns first, identifies with, and/or is identified by others as a
native speaker of; sometimes also the language that one is most competent in or uses most.
There may be a change of mother tongue during a person’s lifetime according to all other criteria
except the first. A person may have two or more mother tongues ("bilingualism/multilingualism
as a mother tongue"). Indigenous or minority mother tongues are sometimes called heritage
languages (often when children do not know them well), home languages (implying that they
are/should not be used for official purposes), or community languages (falsely implying that
majority populations do not form a community). The last three terms can (but need not)
contribute to the minoritisation of the language(s). Even if they do not yet know (much of) a
language, Deaf persons and Indigenous peoples have the right to claim a Sign language or an
ancestral language as their mother tongue on the basis of identifying with it.
Native speaker. Individual whose competence in a language almost always derives from the
language being the mother tongue and first language learned.
Non-native speaker. Label that defines a person’s language competence negatively, vis-à-vis
others for whom the language is a mother tongue, rather than positively as a user of the language
as a second or foreign language.
Key Concepts in Bilingual Education (Skutnabb-Kangas & McCarty, 11/06) 8
Oracy. High levels of spoken language proficiency; to be a competent speaker or storyteller.
An orate is an individual who communicates through listening and speaking but not reading and
writing; orates often have superb memory strategies in comparison with persons considered
literate because orates carry their entire “library” in their heads. Orature is oral literature.
Oralism. Teaching Deaf people to “lip-read” and speak only; discouraging or prohibiting them
from using a natural Sign language.
Second language (L2). Language learned after acquiring the mother tongue (as opposed to first
language), or learned and used in the environment, often in addition to school (as opposed to
Segregation programme. Linguistic minority children with a low-status mother tongue are forced
to accept instruction through the medium of their mother tongue in classes with minority children
with the same mother tongue, where the teacher may be monolingual or bilingual but is often poorly
trained, the class/school has poorer facilities and fewer resources than classes/schools for dominant
group children, and teaching of the dominant language as a second/foreign language is poor or non-
existent. Later integration is not a goal in these programmes.
Sign languages. Natural languages that developed in Deaf communities similarly to the way in
which spoken languages developed in hearing communities. Examples are AUSLAN (Australian
Sign Language), ASL (American Sign Language), and Swedish Sign Language. Sign languages
are complex, abstract linguistic systems with their own grammars. They have a small closed set of
distinctive features, meaningless in themselves, that combine in ways peculiar to each language to
form morphemes, which are then combined into meaningful signs. In analyzing a sign, the
equivalent of the phoneme is the chereme. Cheremic variation in individual signs plays the same
role in differentiating one sign from another as does phonological variation in distinguishing
words. There are five parameters within which cheremic variations occur in natural Sign
languages: (1) handshape(s); (2) location of sign; (3) palm orientation; (4) movement(s); and (5)
nonmanual features (e.g., facial expressions, use of shoulders and body). By changing the chereme
in any one of these five areas, the meaning of a sign is altered.
Structured immersion. An approach in the United States in which linguistic minority students
are submersed in the dominant language with little or no support for their mother tongue; combines
aspects of English-as-a-second-language and submersion/”sink-or-swim,” with the goal of
replacing the mother tongue with English.
Submersion/”sink-or-swim” programme. Linguistic minority children with a low-status mother
tongue are forced to accept instruction through a foreign majority/official/dominant language, in
classes in which the teacher does not understand the minoritised mother tongue, and in which the
dominant language constitutes a threat to that language, which runs the risk of being replaced; a
subtractive language learning situation. In another variant, stigmatised majority children (or groups
of minority children in a country with no decisive numerical and/or power majorities) are forced to
Key Concepts in Bilingual Education (Skutnabb-Kangas & McCarty, 11/06) 9
accept instruction through the medium of a foreign (often former colonial) high-status language
(because mother tongue medium education does not exist). This often occurs in mixed mother
tongue classes, mostly without native speakers of the language of instruction, but also in
linguistically homogenous classes, sometimes because mother tongue education does not exist or
because the school or teachers hesitate to implement a mother tongue-medium programme. The
teacher may not understand children’s mother tongue(s). The foreign language is not learned at a
high level, at the same time as children's mother tongues are displaced and not learned in formal
domains (e.g., mother-tongue literacy is not achieved). Often the children are made to feel ashamed
of their mother tongues, or at least to believe in the superiority of the language of instruction.
Subtractive language learning. A new, dominant/majority language is learned at the cost of the
mother tongue, which is replaced or displaced, with a resulting diglossic situation. The individual’s
total linguistic repertoire does not grow.
Transitional early-exit and late-exit programmes. Linguistic minority children with a low-
status mother tongue are initially instructed through the medium of their mother tongue for a few
years; the mother tongue is used as an instrument for acquisition of the dominant language and
content. In early-exit programmes, children are transferred to a majority-language medium
programme as soon as they develop (some) oral communicative competence in the majority
language, in most cases after one to three years. In late-exit programmes children may receive some
instruction through L1 up to the fifth or sixth grade; sometimes the mother tongue is taught as a
subject thereafter. For both program types, the primary goal is proficiency in the dominant
Two-way bilingual (dual language) programmes (sometimes erroneously called double or dual
immersion in the U.S.). Approximately 50 percent majority and 50 percent minority students (with
the same mother tongue) choose voluntarily to be instructed by a bilingual teacher, initially mainly
through a minority language (the 90 percent/10 percent model) or through both languages (the 50/50
model), with the dominant language taught as a subject (at the beginning separately to both groups,
e.g., mother tongue English to native English-speakers and ESL to minority language speakers in
the U.S.). The percentage of instruction in the dominant language increases in all 90/10 models, in
some to 40 to 60 percent by grade 6, whereas it stays the same in the 50/50 model. In cases where
there is no follow-up through the medium of the minority language after grade 6 when many
children move to another school, two-way models can be placed in the transitional model category
when considering the child's full educational (K to 12) career. Two-way models thus combine in
one classroom a maintenance model for minorities (especially in the 90/10 model) and an
immersion model for the majority, while maximizing peer-group contact in the other language for
both groups. In some cases two-way immersion may include instruction in two minoritised
languages (e.g., Navajo and Spanish in the U.S.), coupled with ESL instruction for both groups.
An Illustrative Case: Historical, Ideological, and Empirical Underpinnings of
“Limited English Proficiency” in U.S. Language Policy
Key Concepts in Bilingual Education (Skutnabb-Kangas & McCarty, 11/06) 10
In the U.S., a child’s identification as “limited English proficient” (LEP) is the primary criterion
for participation in state and federal bilingual education programmes. As defined by federal law,
“limited English proficient” refers to (1) persons not born in the United States or whose native
language is other than English and who come from an environment in which a language other
than English is dominant; (2) Native Americans or Alaska Natives who come from an
environment in which a language other than English has had a significant impact on her or his
English proficiency; and (3) persons classified as “migratory,” with a native language other than
English and who come from an environment in which a language other than English is dominant.
In all cases, individuals so identified must demonstrate “sufficient difficulties” speaking, reading,
writing, or understanding English as to deny them opportunities to learn successfully in English-
language classrooms and participate fully in society
Emphasizing what individuals lack rather than the proficiencies they possess, the term
LEP reveals the “language as problem” orientation in U.S. language policy (Ruiz, 1984). The
centerpiece of this policy is the Bilingual Education Act of 1968, the purpose of which was,
according to its legislative sponsor, not “to create pockets of different languages throughout the
country,” nor to “stamp out the mother tongue,” nor to make [minorities’] mother tongue the
dominant language,” but rather to “make those children fully literate in English” (cited in
Crawford, 2004: 107). The compensatory and transitional nature of the policy is underscored by
the fact that it gave preference to children from low-income homes and did not require
instruction in children’s native language (Crawford, 2004: 117).
In 1973, the policy was modified to direct schools to use students’ native language “to the
extent necessary to allow a child to progress effectively through the education system”
(Crawford, 2004: 114). Five years later, a one-word qualifier reaffirmed the policy’s
transitional approach: LEP students’ primary language could be used only to the extent necessary
to further their English-language development. Subsequent reauthorizations reserved funding for
“special alternative” (English-only) programs. In 2001, the legislation was re-titled the English
Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement Act, with the sole
purpose of ensuring that LEP children “attain English proficiency, develop high levels of
academic attainment in English, and meet the same challenging State academic content ...
standards as all children” (English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and
Academic Achievement Act, Part A, Sec. 3102). The term LEP has been replaced by “English
language learner” (ELL), a term that appears benign but is consistent with the dismantling of a
“bilingual education” policy discourse. These changes in terminology have been coterminous
with policies to regulate immigration, particularly along the U.S.-Mexico border. As such, the
terminology contributes to a larger discourse of containment aimed at regulating diversity
deemed threatening to national interests (McCarty, 2005).
Implications and Future Directions
In this chapter we have shown how terminological choices shape and are shaped by broader
ideological, historical, and sociopolitical forces. These choices have far-reaching consequences
for language learners and their communities. In the U.S. example above, language choice serves
to delegitimatise minority students’ mother tongues as languages for academic development,
while linking those languages and their speakers to poverty and low social status. Other
Key Concepts in Bilingual Education (Skutnabb-Kangas & McCarty, 11/06) 11
examples (e.g., immersion programmes for Indigenous peoples or minorities) illustrate the ways
in which concepts and terms can frame and support democratizing educational goals.
As researchers and educators, our first charge is to carefully and critically examine the
terms and concepts that constitute the “toolkit” for our work. How do they describe and frame
the characteristics of language learners and their communities? To what extent do they
circumscribe or expand learners’ opportunities and potentials? What language planning
orientations underpin particular terminologies and concepts? Whose interests do they serve?
We can then employ these tools strategically toward social justice ends. While changes in
terminology alone cannot reverse educational inequities, they are nonetheless essential to the
development of a counter-hegemonic discourse that respects and promotes linguistic human
Amery, R.: 2000, Warrabarna Kaurna! Reclaiming an Australian Language, Swets and
Andersson, T., and Boyer, M.: 1978, Bilingual Schooling in the United States (2nd ed.), National
Educational Laboratory Publishers, University of Texas, Austin.
Bear Nicholas, A.: 2005, Education through the medium of the mother-tongue: The single most
important means for Saving Indigenous Languages. Rationales and Strategies for
Establishing Immersion Programs, presentation at the Symposium on Immersion Education
for First Nations, St. Thomas University and The Assembly of First Nations, Fredericton,
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Dual language programs
English as a second/foreign language
“Limited English proficiency”
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Linguistic human rights
Mother tongue/first language
Subtractive language learning
Transitional bilingual education programs