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Pathways to Multilingualism: Evolving Perspectives on Immersion Education

reviewed by Kristen Campbell Wilcox - July 28, 2008

coverTitle: Pathways to Multilingualism: Evolving Perspectives on Immersion Education
Author(s): Tara Williams Fortune and Diane J. Tedick (Eds.)
Publisher: Multilingual Matters, Clevedon
ISBN: 1847690351, Pages: 248, Year: 2008
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What is “immersion” and what benefits do “immersion” programs offer students? These are central questions in the fields of second and foreign language teaching and learning, but more broadly to all educators who are attempting to adapt their programs and instructional practices for increasingly ethnically and linguistically diverse student populations. Research on effective programs and classroom practices to enhance bi and multilingualism is scarce, although some patterns regarding age of instruction, length of instruction, and relationships of second language (L2) and first language (L1) learning processes (i.e., “transfer”) are emerging .

Defining “Immersion” education and synthesizing the research base regarding the varieties of immersion programs being implemented around the globe are two of the central foci of this edited volume. Some of the key questions this volume explores include: What are the effects of implementation differences (decisions on how program languages are allocated-for example by time, by teacher, by content area)? What is the impact of sociocultural context on immersion programs? How can immersion instruction better support high levels of academic achievement? How can immersion instruction better support high levels of academic achievement? What pedagogical strategies are most effective for promoting second language learning in immersion classrooms? What design characteristics work best to create long sequences of language learning (preK-16) that include immersion ?

With empirical studies, literature reviews, and theory pieces intermingled, this volume is a rich resource useful to policy-makers, school administrators, program developers, and mainstream and language teachers alike. It begins with a chapter by Fred Genesee that is rooted in an “additive bilingualism” perspective, which he explains in detail, and in which he addresses the importance of bi and multilingual competence in the era of globalization in which we live. This chapter succinctly explains what is known from previous studies of immersion programs and would prove particularly useful to administrators and program developers in understanding and articulating the program options available. This chapter offers an invaluable resource for discussion around key questions regarding language instruction including-- age of instruction, length of instruction, and specific issues related to at-risk and special needs students’ language instruction.

The remainder of the volume is organized into three sections: Evolving Perspectives on Immersion Pedagogy; Evolving Perspectives on Language Development in Immersion Contexts; and Evolving Perspectives on Social Context and its Impact on Immersion Programs. Fortune, Tedick, and Walker’s chapter in section one, “Integrated Language and Content Teaching,” for example, provides a literature review and describes a study of immersion teachers’ experiences integrating language and content in their teaching. Immersion teachers may find the experiences of the participants resonate with their own and will find the implications of focusing professional development and teacher preparation programs to help improve teachers’ capacities to construct classroom environments that can successfully integrate content and language instruction encouraging.

In the second section of the volume, Swain and Lapkin, for example, explore language development in terms of lexical learning. They focus on the ways transcribing impacts students’ oral production. Findings from their study highlight the ways repetition creates opportunities for students to learn new lexical items and how “multitask activities” like “role-play—with-self-transcription-reformulation-and stimulated-recall” activity might contribute to helping prepare students for increasing literacy and academic demands in higher grades. Lyster and Mori’s chapter regarding what they call “Instructional Counterbalance” will also prove useful to practitioners who struggle with developing an instructional stance that is both focused on form and function.

Finally, in the third section of the volume, a variety of contexts for immersion programs are discussed, including those in the U.S., Canada, and Hong Kong. Richards’ and Burnaby’s chapter, “Restoring Aboriginal Languages,” for example, describes a recurring theme in this section of the volume regarding fears of how instruction in one’s aboriginal language might negatively impact academic performance in English. The authors note the paucity of research-based models for aboriginal language instruction at the K-12 levels and focus on adult programs. Readers will find that the chapters in this section of the book highlight the important factors of age of instruction and teacher expertise impacting the effectiveness of immersion programs.

Fortune and Tedick have compiled a rich synthesis of research with implications for theory building and development of the research-base on immersion education. The final “synthesis” chapter provides researchers and practitioners with a coherent set of themes to inform their ongoing inquiry, program and instructional reforms. Overall, this volume is a valuable resource for educators concerned with providing “pathways” to bi and multilingualism and ultimately to opportunities for children to participate in a linguistically and ethnically complex and diverse world.


August, D., & Shanahan, T. (Eds.). (2006). Developing literacy in second-language learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Genesee, F., Lindholm-Leary, K., Saunders, W., & Christian, D. (2006). Educating English language learners: A synthesis of research evidence. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 28, 2008
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15321, Date Accessed: 1/26/2022 12:45:13 PM

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About the Author
  • Kristen Wilcox
    University at Albany
    E-mail Author
    KRISTEN CAMPBEL WILCOX is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Educational Theory and Practice Department of the University at Albany. Her areas of research interest are in the use of qualitative methods at the intersections of language, culture, and cognition in multicultural and multilingual educational contexts. In this vein, she has investigated the impacts of high stakes tests in ethnically and linguistically diverse educational settings, and currently is conducting best practice research at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in “beating the odds” school districts, and in writing instruction in and across subject areas in the National Study of Writing Instruction. She has taught English as a second and foreign language at the Kindergarten through doctoral levels in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Brazil; developed curricula at the K-12 and post-secondary levels; and currently teaches graduate courses in socio-cultural theory, methods for ESL, EFL, and foreign language teachers, and qualitative research.
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