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Feature Publication: The Bilingual Advantage

In this new book, leading scholars from education, economics, sociology, anthropology and linguistics assess the educational and occupational outcomes of bilingualism for the new generation entering a digital-age globalized workforce.

Civil Rights Project Announces New Book:

The Bilingual Advantage: Language, Literacy and the U.S. Labor Market


The irony of language policy and immigration history in the United States is that we are simultaneously a “nation of immigrants” but historically intolerant of linguistic diversity.  As it turns out, we aren’t the only ones. Even countries in Europe, which typically promote multilingualism, favor languages with European roots at the expense of immigrant languages.  This reality is the launching point for the new collection of research, The Bilingual Advantage: Language, Literacy and the US Labor Market, co-edited by Patricia C. Gándara, CRP co-director, and Rebecca M. Callahan, University of Texas assistant professor. This unique volume of studies from the UCLA Civil Rights Project, in collaboration with scholars in the U.S. and Europe, examines the economic and employment benefits associated with speaking two languages.


For some time there has been a perception that bilingualism carries an advantage in the labor market, yet study after study finds that in reality there is none.  In fact, the literature often found that bilingualism carried an earnings penalty.  Bilinguals earn somewhat less than monolinguals in similar jobs.  This book reviews those studies and attempts to replicate them with in more specific settings and analyses. It then introduces a new set of studies, based on different and more detailed data on language skills.  These new studies find quite different outcomes for bilinguals with respect to participation in higher education, hiring, and earnings.


In the new volume, leading scholars from education, economics, sociology, anthropology and linguistics employ different research methods and new and more detailed datasets. Collectively this work represents advances in how we study and assess the educational and occupational outcomes of bilingualism for the new generation entering a digital-age globalized workforce.


Book Features:

  • Initial chapters delve into the historical and legal underpinnings of U.S. restrictive language policies and practices at centers of work, schooling and voting.
  • One set of studies attempts to replicate the kinds of analyses conducted with census data that have found no earnings advantage for bilingualism in the U.S. labor market, adding important context variables in an effort to tease out its potentially positive effects, but finds none.
  • Another set of studies asks new questions, with different and more detailed data, including one study measuring the economic costs associated with the loss of primary language skills, and the relationship of bilingualism to higher education outcomes as well as employability and occupational status.
  • Final chapters explore the relationship of bilingualism to hiring decisions and schooling outcomes, including the results of leveraging bilingual programs, like the esteemed International Baccalaureate, to raise achievement for at-risk English-learner adolescents. 


Recent census data show that almost 60 million people, or more than one in five Americans, speaks a language other than English at home.  In light of the growth in U.S. immigrant communities, bilingual youth will continue to comprise a significant sector of the work force, the book stresses.  As immigrants migrate to areas beyond U.S. coastal cities and border regions and settle in suburban, rural, Midwestern and Southern neighborhoods, linguistic and cultural diversity is increasingly reaching areas previously “unfamiliar with ‘accented’ English,” according to Gándara and Callahan.


The authors discuss why the prior and present studies differ so greatly and what this can mean for education policy.  Gándara and Callahan call on policymakers and officials to look beyond previous research to create a language policy in the U.S. that is both “futurist and practical,” given that the U.S. hosts a citizenry that speak most of the world’s languages. 


“The U.S. is poised to take the lead in the global marketplace, but to do so, it must first acknowledge the tremendous, unique resource that exists in its cultural and linguistic diversity,” says Gándara.


The Bilingual Advantage shows that the economic value of bilingualism continues to evolve, sees it as an increasingly significant player in the global marketplace and as a significant advantage in promoting higher education.


Contributors include:  Orhan Agirdag, Amado Alarcón, Ursula Aldana, M. Beatriz Arias, Rebecca M. Callahan, Antonia Di Paulo, Jongyeon Ee, Molly Fee, Patricia Gándara, Josiah Heyman, Reynaldo F. Macías, Anysia Mayer, Sarah Catherine K. Moore, María Cristina Morales, Diana A. Porras, Joseph P. Robinson-Cimpian, Rubén G. Rumbaut, Lucrecia Santibañez, Terrace G. Wiley and Maria Estela Zárate.


The Bilingual Advantage: Language, Literacy, and the US Labor Market may be purchased at Multilingual Matters

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