The Bilingual Advantage: Language, Literacy and the US Labor Market

The Bilingual Advantage: Language, Literacy and the US Labor Market


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783092413
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 09/15/2014
Series: Bilingual Education & Bilingualism Series , #99
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 817,984
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Rebecca M. Callahan is Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas, Austin, where she is a faculty affiliate of the Population Research Center. Her primary research interests center on the academic preparation of bilingual immigrant adolescents as they transition from high school into young adulthood.Patricia C. Gándara is Research Professor of Education in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. She is co-director of the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA, and a commissioner on President Obama's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Her research focuses on language policy and racial equity.

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The Bilingual Advantage

Language, Literacy and the US Labor Market

By Rebecca M. Callahan, Patricia C. Gándara

Multilingual Matters

Copyright © 2014 Rebecca M. Callahan, Patricia C. Gándara and the authors of individual chapters
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78309-244-4


Contextualizing Bilingualism in the Labor Market: New Destinations, Established Enclaves and the Information Age

Rebecca M. Callahan and Patricia C. Gándara

One of the ironies of the United States is that although it is a self-proclaimed 'nation of immigrants', it has been less welcoming of the linguistic diversity with which it is so richly endowed than many countries that have not historically been immigrant-receiving nations. Lieberson and colleagues (1975) first called attention to the rapid rate of language loss in the US, referring to the nation, albeit tongue-in-cheek, as a linguistic cemetery, and Rumbaut (2009) later identifies the loss of home languages within one generation, labeling the US 'a graveyard for languages'. Some have argued that because the US is an immigrant-receiving nation, it must eschew other-than-English languages and impose a single national language – in practice if not in law – in order to bind together many disparate national identities (Schlesinger, 1991). While actual evidence does not support this notion, it nonetheless carries great cultural cachet in the US. At times, English-only sentiments prevail and shape public ideas and ideologies (see Macias, Chapter 2, this volume), driving state and national policy with respect to the education of children from immigrant families (Kloss, 1977; MacSwan & Rolstad, 2003). The societal dominance of English cannot help but shape economic trends; scholars have consistently found that in the past, being bilingual in the US held little, if any, economic advantage. In fact, being bilingual may even carry a penalty in the US labor market; at least some bilinguals have been shown to earn less than their monolingual counterparts (Chiswick & Miller, 2007; see Alarcón et al., Chapter 5, this volume). Nevertheless, today it is impossible to live and work in many parts of the US without encountering languages other than English on a daily basis.

Considerable research has investigated the cognitive (Bialystok, 2009; Bialystok & Majumder, 1998; Peal & Lambert, 1962), social (Cho, 2000; Church & King, 1993), psychosocial (Colzato et al., 2008; Portes & Hao, 2002), sociocultural (Zhou & Bankston, 1998) and academic (Mouw & Xie, 1999; Umansky & Reardon, forthcoming) effects of bilingualism, finding quite remarkable benefits in every area. However, research investigating its economic returns remains inconclusive at best. Despite the empirical evidence suggesting social, cognitive and psychological benefits to bilingualism, a broad swath of American society has remained unconvinced as to the value of bilingualism, as evidenced in the powerful political force embodied in the English-only movement (Marschall et al., 2011; Wiley & Wright, 2004). The studies in this volume provide new methodological and theoretical approaches to investigating the economic value of bilingualism in US society. To do so requires understanding the complicated history of language(s) in a historically English-dominant context, while also taking into account the current linguistic landscape. While these studies focus on the US context, the themes and theories discussed and the arguments made apply well beyond the nation's borders. Multilingual societies by definition must decide whether to address language as a problem to be rectified, or as human capital, a resource rich among its citizenry (Ruiz, 1984).

A New Age of Linguistic Diversity

Languages other than English are growing in use across the US, moving the nation away from the myth that only English is spoken here. The US Census Bureau's recent mapping of languages in the US underlines this perception. Nearly 60 million people, more than one in five Americans, speak a language other than English at home. Of those, almost two-thirds (62%) speak Spanish, while another 15% speak one of several Asian languages, the most commonly spoken being Chinese (approximately 5%). Growth in other-than-English language speakers has been dramatic over the last three decades: from about 23 million persons in 1980 to nearly 60 million today. The Census Bureau estimates that the US will continue to add more other-than-English speakers to the population in the future, though it anticipates that the growth will be slower than in the last few decades (Ryan, 2013).

While most of these 60 million speakers of other languages also speak English, many prefer to carry on their day-to-day interactions in their native language. When queried, it is common to hear that communicating with others in one's native language creates a sense of personal 'understanding' among the speakers; a common language can fortify the identity of the individual as part of a larger, socially connected community (Gumperz, 1982; Norton, 1997). These other-than-English speakers often feel a greater sense of confidence in others who speak their language (see Porras et al., Chapter 10, this volume). And, as Madison Avenue knows, linguistic diversity not only represents potential bridges to diverse groups and cultures, both foreign and domestic, but also new markets.

In 2014, more than 25,000 graduating seniors in California received the State Seal of Biliteracy on their diplomas – meaning that they had met very high standards of proficiency in both English and a second language – in spite of the fact that in 1998, the state had all but banned bilingual education in its public schools (González, 2008). This astounding number raises obvious questions: How might this matter for the students with these language skills? Would their bilingualism provide them with any advantage either in the labor market or in postsecondary studies? Is it still the case that being bilingual (and biliterate) in the US carries more of a penalty than a reward in the labor market? Is it time to reframe the learning and maintenance of languages other than English as an asset rather than a deficit? Could it be that immigration and globalization have changed the basic calculus that we had come to take for granted? This book attempts to answer this series of questions.

Three sites in American life have been at the center of the English-only movement: the schools, the voting booth and the workplace. Macias (Chapter 2, this volume) recounts legal initiatives over time that have sought to bar the teaching of other languages in public schools, as well as the use of the students' primary language to provide access to the general curriculum. The most recent of these laws were passed in California, Arizona and Massachusetts in 1998, 2000 and 2002, respectively. The Voting Rights Act (VRA), part of the massive civil rights legislation passed in the mid-1960s, was designed to ensure access to the vote by minorities, including language minorities. Nationally, however, threats to remove bilingual ballots from the provisions of the VRA constantly surface, led by congressional members aligned with the English-only movement. Despite evidence to the contrary, these legislators argue that bilingual ballots are costly and unnecessary inasmuch as citizens are supposed to be able to speak English (Loo, 1985). The fact that the level of English used in ballot arguments is far above the reading comprehension level of the average citizen who is still developing a strong command of English (Tucker, 2009) proves of little interest to these policymakers. The cost to society of the disenfranchisement of the growing language minority population has yet to be measured. In the workplace, English-only rulings have shaped how language may be used and how bilingual workers are viewed. A societal orientation to other-than-English languages and speakers of those languages frames multilingualism and its accordant languages as either a right, a problem or a resource (Ruiz, 1984). Drawing from this perspective allows for a richer understanding of the economic value attributable to bilingualism, not only in the context of the labor market, but also of the educational system that prepares the workforce.

Bilingualism and the workplace: Language as a right?

As the Latino population has grown and dispersed throughout most states in the nation, both law and practice have had to confront the use and desirability of employees who speak a language other than English in the workplace. While employers have increasingly sought workers who can interact with clients and customers who speak Spanish, at the same time a number of cases have been brought by employees who allege discrimination in the workplace when punished for using their primary language. Despite the fact that the bilinguals in these cases were hired for their language skills, most of these cases have been decided in favor of the employers (Gibson, 2004). For example, in the case of Garcia v Gloor (1980), a precedent in many subsequent language rights cases, the court found that while seven of eight employees of the company were Hispanic and had been hired for the purpose of communicating with customers in Spanish, the use of Spanish between employees could be prohibited by the employer without violating Title VII national origin law. In this decision, the court reasoned that the English-only rule applies 'to a person who is fully capable of speaking English and chooses not to do so in deliberate disregard of his employer's rule'. Thus, if a person is capable of speaking English, they must speak English if the employer requires it. The Garcia v Gloor decision presents the odd situation in which an employee may be hired expressly because of his or her Spanish (or other) language skills to be used with customers or clients, but if the employee then speaks to a coworker in the same language, he or she may be fired for 'deliberately disregarding the employer's rule'.

As a result of Garcia v Gloor, in 1980 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) created guidelines that spelled out how Title VII legislation should be applied. According to the guidelines, English-only rules are discriminatory if applied at all times, including breaks and lunch. However, if the employer can show a business justification for it, the employer can prohibit the use of a language other than English during working hours (29 C.F.R. §1606.7). Gibson (2004) points out that many courts have disregarded the EEOC guidelines entirely and even those that recognize them have commonly cited two justifications for disallowing languages other than English in the workplace: to promote harmony among employees and the need for supervisors to monitor employees. Nonetheless, the EEOC has insisted that employees should be able to use their primary language during nonwork times such as breaks and lunch, and that employers must demonstrate that there is a need for any restrictive language policies that they impose. This was reaffirmed in the more recent 2000 case of EEOC v Premier Operator Services, Inc.

Gibson (2004) notes that there was a 600% increase in EEOC investigations into cases involving English-only rules in the workplace between 1996 and 2002, suggesting increasing tensions over the use of languages other than English in the workplace. To address these tensions, a briefing held by the US Commission on Civil Rights in 2010 resulted in the recommendation that EEOC guidelines be withdrawn, allowing employers to designate English-only workplace policies except in the case where 'it can be shown by a preponderance of evidence that the policy was adopted for the purpose of harassing, embarrassing or excluding employees' (US Commission on Civil Rights, 2010: 5). None of the many civil rights organizations invited to provide testimony chose to appear before the Commission, evidently believing that their testimony would be fruitless. Clearly, this is a contentious issue reflecting a deep irony. With the growth in the other-than-English, especially Spanish, language markets, increasing numbers of people are hired because of their ability to communicate in Spanish (and other languages) with customers, clients, and business associates, attitudes toward those employees – and how and when they are allowed to speak Spanish – will almost inevitably shift with time.

Educational policy and costs: Language as a problem

The schizophrenic nature of America's relationship with bilingualism is codified in California's education code. California is arguably the most linguistically, ethnically and economically diverse state in the US, yet in 1998 it adopted one of the most draconian approaches to the education of its 2.7 million language minority students. California's current education code not only prohibits bilingual instruction in most cases, consequently limiting societal bilingualism (González, 2008), but also attempts to link bilingualism and economic loss. Specifically, the code states that

the public schools of California currently do a poor job of educating immigrant children, wasting financial resources on costly experimental language programs whose failure over the past two decades is demonstrated by the current high drop-out rates and low English literacy levels of many immigrant children. (California Education Code: Chapter 3, Article 1, 300(d), emphasis added)

With the passage of Proposition 227 in 1998, a popular, though largely untested preconception about the cost of bilingual instruction registered as part of the state education code, linguistic diversity was framed not as a resource, but as an expensive waste of taxpayer funds, reflective of a language as a problem orientation (Ruiz, 1984).

It is unclear whether developing bilingualism in public schools might actually pose an excessive economic cost, as Proposition 227 would suggest, or if instead California has spent the last 15 years limiting its economic potential. In fact, as Agirdag notes (Chapter 7, this volume), little research has studied bilingualism from the perspective of language loss, i.e. the cost to the individual and society of the shift to English monolingualism within one or two generations (Rumbaut, 2009). Understanding the value of all aspects of bilingualism in a capitalist economy demands consideration of both supply (bilinguals) and demand (need and value of linguistic services) simultaneously, as well as individual and community characteristics. The authors of this volume not only problematize the conflicting American perceptions of bilingualism, but they do so while attempting to expand the empirical discourse in this area beyond economic returns, income and wages (Chiswick, 2009; Fry & Lowell, 2003). This volume aims to introduce new theoretical and empirical approaches to investigate the market value of bilingualism.

Dual language education: Language as a resource

Increasing interest in dual language programs among monolingual English-speaking families raises the question: Why do increasing numbers of English-speaking parents spend uncomfortable nights in sleeping bags to secure enrollment for their children in dual language programs and schools? A primary motivation among some knowledgeable parents may be their familiarity with the research showing that students in dual immersion programs tend to outperform their peers on a host of academic measures (Genesee et al., 2006). In general, better academic outcomes lead to better postsecondary options, which in turn lead to better earnings. Additionally, seemingly every other day a new study is published that shows significant cognitive advantages to being bilingual. A secondary, but no less significant motivation may be parents' perception that speaking another language, especially one as prevalent as Spanish, will benefit their children in the labor market as adults. Bilingualism, especially Spanish–English bilingualism, emerges as a 'marketable' skill in the eyes of these parents, begging the questions: To what extent are they right? Does this only hold for native English speakers? What benefits exist for language minority children already on the path to bilingualism?

Latinos, language and the labor market

Language, however, is not a simple, neutral economic commodity; in a racially stratified society like the US, language use is delicately interwoven with questions of class, status, culture and identity. The studies reported in this book deal primarily, though not exclusively, with the Spanish-speaking population. Latinos comprise the overwhelming majority of other-than-English speakers in the US. Considerable research has studied the social, educational and cultural integration of the growing Latino population. In fact, the growth in the foreign-born population today is due largely to increases in the Latino population over the past three decades. Latinos are expected to account for nearly one in four residents by the year 2050 (US Census Bureau, 2006). In addition, the Latino population is younger than the national average, with a higher birth rate (Durand et al., 2006). Ultimately, Latinos will comprise a growing segment of not only the school-age population, but also the labor force. Moore et al. (Chapter 3, this volume) deconstruct this population to show the very different levels of language proficiency – both English and Spanish – and literacy among the various subgroups and argue that these differences should be taken into account in considering labor market outcomes. Their analyses spotlight the importance of literacy in considering labor market advantages and foreshadow a discussion that will run through the rest of the chapters about the importance – and difficulty – of measuring literacy in both (or all) languages to truly gauge the value of multilingualism in the workforce.


Excerpted from The Bilingual Advantage by Rebecca M. Callahan, Patricia C. Gándara. Copyright © 2014 Rebecca M. Callahan, Patricia C. Gándara and the authors of individual chapters. Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contributors ix

Section 1 Bilingualism in the US Labor Market

1 Contextualizing Bilingualism in the Labor Market: New Destinations, Established Enclaves and the Information Age Rebecca M. Callahan Patricia C. Gándara 3

2 Benefits of Bilingualism: In the Eye of the Beholder? Reynaldo F. Macías 16

3 Exploring Bilingualism, Literacy, Employability and Income Levels among Latinos in the United States Sarah Catherine K. Moore Molly Fee Jongyeon Ee Terrence G. Wiley M. Beatrix Arias 45

Section 2 Are There Really Economic Benefits to Bilingualism in the US Labor Market?

4 Labor Market Differences Between Bilingual and Monolingual Hispanics Joseph P. Robinson-Cimpian 79

5 The Occupational Location of Spanish-English Bilinguals in the New Information Economy: The Health and Criminal Justice Sectors in the US Borderlands with Mexico Amado Alarcón Antonio Di Paolo Josiah Heyman María Cristina Morales 110

6 Returns to Spanish-English Bilingualism in the New Information Economy: The Health and Criminal Justice Sectors in the Texas Border and Dallas-Tarrant Counties Amado Alarcón Antonio Di Paolo Josiah Heyman Maria Cristina Morales 138

7 The Literal Cost of Language Assimilation for the Children of Immigration: The Effects of Bilingualism on Labor Market Outcomes Orhan Agirdag 160

8 English Plus: Exploring the Socioeconomic Benefits of Bilingualism in Southern California Ruben G. Rumbaut 182

Section 3 Employment, Educational Attainment and Bilingualism

9 Bilinguals in the US and College Enrollment Lucrecia Santibañez Maria Estela Zárate 211

10 Employer Preferences: Do Bilingual Applicants and Employees Experience an Advantage? Diana A. Porras Jongyeon Ee Patricia Gándara 234

Section 4 Policy Options: Fostering Bilingualism in the Market Place

11 The International Baccalaureate: A College Preparatory Pathway for Heritage Language Speakers and Immigrant Youth Ursula Aldana Anysia Mayer 261

12 Looking Toward the Future: Opportunities in a Shifting Linguistic Landscape Patricia C. Gándara Rebecca M. Callahan 236

Index 298

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