Colin Baker and the Bilingual Education

Colin Baker is perhaps best known for being the author of a widely read textbook on bilingual education, Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, which has undergone four editions. The book has sold over 60,000 copies and has been translated into Japanese, Spanish, Latvian, Greek, and Mandarin.

For Baker, early experience was no predictor of his later career. Born on October 1, 1949, in Danbury, a hilltop village in southeastern England, he remembers only one bilingual person in that village. She was a Belgian refugee speaking French and English, considered by villagers as “different.” In elementary school, teachers and students were monolingual English speakers, matching his nuclear and extended family.

In high school, Baker learned Latin and French through the grammar-translation method. Conversational French was regarded as nonacademic and insufficient as a brain-developing activity; hence, it was largely avoided. All students were native English speakers and were required to use a prestigious variety called “the Queen’s English.”

Despite encouragement from his high school principal to attend a top English university, Baker’s main interest was walking mountains. Having traversed the highest peaks in England, he wished to walk the higher Welsh mountains. Bangor is located very near those mountains, and Bangor University became Baker’s home. The university overlooks a small city. The many surrounding villages are populated with bilinguals, with the great majority of the indigenous population speaking both Welsh and English fluently and some immigrants from England learning Welsh for employment or cultural enjoyment.

University students can take some humanities subjects through the medium of Welsh, and bilingual education is predominant in all elementary and most high schools. In this context, bilingualism is a natural topic for study. One of Baker’s tutors, W. R. Jones, was a world expert on the relationship between bilingualism and IQ and on empirical studies of the effectiveness of bilingual education. Jones also taught Baker advanced statistical analysis for his PhD, although Jones’ “teaching” mostly meant Baker’s self-teaching.

Thus, for young Baker, the foundations had been laid. Another event was probably more influential in precipitating a lifelong interest in studying bilingualism. As a freshman, Baker sang in a church choir and fell in love with his future wife across the choir stalls. Anwen was the daughter of the pastor of that church, and her family lived their lives speaking mostly Welsh. Students were warmly welcomed to the house, and Baker found a second home.

The seamless and effortless movement in that family between two languages, two literacies, and two cultures was in stark contrast to monolingual Danbury. The diversity and value-addedness of bilingualism became apparent and appealing. In years to come, it bore fruit in a thoroughly bilingual Baker household, with three children who were educated in two languages.

UK Falls Behind in Further Education League

As the world becomes economically smaller and smaller, the world job and trade markets are becoming more and more competitive. In this type of market, it is imperative for a country to have a superb school system in order to produce competitive workers for the top fields.

England Steps Down

In recent years, England has stepped down in educational rankings when compared to other countries around the world. South Korea and Finland scored in the top positions for writing ability whereas Taiwan and Finland achieved the highest scores in maths.

Were do these numbers come from?

The figures that back this information up come from the International Student Assessment, (otherwise known as Pisa) performance tables. These tables are based on tests that are taken by children fifteen years of age. They are aimed at assessing their ability to apply their school gained knowledge to real world situations. These tests are performed every three years. Pisa ratings are based on tests that are given to 400,000 students within 57 countries. These tests are an attempt to measure the attainment of different students within different educational systems.

How is England’s progress?

In the latest report, the UK’s performance has declined in reading and in maths compared to other international competitors. The UK is the only group to have placed in the top performing group of the year 2000, to have slipped down into the lower group. The UK has also lost ground in the area of sciences.

In the year 2000, the UK placed eighth in maths and seventh in reading. From there they have slipped down to 24th place in maths and into seventeenth place in reading, Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and Korea, the other countries that rounded out the upper group and are still placed within that group.

Passed By

The UK was passed up by Slovenia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria in the area of maths. The UK is still declining in science and reading skills also. A reading performance test was given to ten year old children in England and it was found that they had fallen from third place all the way down to nineteenth place according to the ‘Progress in International Reading Literacy Study’.

Urgent Need

The UK government has recognized the issues facing them with declining marks in an ever increasingly competitive world. Great efforts are being put together in order to intervene where students may be struggling. The ‘Every Child Counts’ program promises personalized learning so that no student falls behind. Schools are still concerned, they complain that every year the government boasts about improvements it is making to the educational system, yet every year the country falls further behind.

Visit Boston and Experience New England

New England may offer a colder climate and fewer opportunities for sunshine than the country’s more vacation-friendly West Coast, but this north-eastern region remains a popular destination for tourists in the United States. Consisting of the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, New England – one of America’s most historical locations – boasts a busy produce industry that counts seafood, potatoes and maple syrup among its main exports. However, if you’re planning a visit to New England and only have time to visit one location, make it Boston, Massachusetts – the region’s largest city by population.

As one of America’s earliest founded cities, Boston is famous as the site of some of the most important turning points in the American Revolutionary War. From the Boston Tea Party of 1773 to the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere in 1775, Boston’s rich heritage is reflected in its diversity of museums and galleries. When in Boston, make sure you visit the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the MIT Museum, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum and the Museum of Science, among a host of other attractions.

Moreover, Boston is renowned as one of the United States’ foremost centres of education and higher learning. Often referred to as “the Athens of America”, the Greater Boston area is home to more than 100 colleges and universities – from the likes of Harvard University (located across the river in Cambridge), MIT and Tufts University to smaller conservatories and art schools, including the Massachusetts College of Art, the Boston Conservatory and School of the Museum of Fine Arts. As a result, it boasts a lively, youthful atmosphere that makes it irresistible to many a visitor.

Indeed, Boston’s vibrant urban lifestyle and cosmopolitan culture has won the hearts of many. Among the numerous novels that have been set in or near Boston are Henry James’ “The Bostonians”, “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner and, most recently, Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty”. Moreover, Boston has been represented on screen numerous times, in popular TV shows like Cheers and Ally McBeal as well as iconic Hollywood films, including Good Will Hunting and Martin Scorcese’s The Departed. So anyone planning a visit to Boston is sure to have an immediate frame of reference in mind.

If you’re visiting Boston, make sure you don’t miss out on its native cuisine, which generally presents itself as a fine example of the food you’d find in New England. Among the most well-known Boston dishes are New England clam chowder, lobsters, steamed or fried clams and fish and chips. Boston also offers visitors and residents a variety of first-class restaurants, including the Union Oyster House – the USA’s oldest operating restaurant.

Finding a hotel in Boston during your visit is easy too, as many of Boston’s hotels are located in its downtown Theatre District. From here, you’ll find it’s simple to locate Boston’s main performance venues, its busy Chinatown or the calming Boston Public Garden, as well as a host of other central locations in the city. So you’ll truly be able to appreciate New England’s premier city in style!