Vol. 7. No. 3 R-4 December 2003
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Expanding Definitions of Giftedness: The Case of Young Interpreters from Immigrant Communities

Guadalupe Valdés (2003)
Mahwah, N.J. Lawrence Erlbaum.
Pp. xxiii + 226
ISBN 0-8058-4051-6 (paper)
$24.50 (also available in cloth, $65.00).

Expanding Definitions of Giftedness: The Case of Young Interpreters from Immigrant Communities is an interesting and informative book about bilingual young people who serve as family interpreters and translators, mediating communication between their family and the outside world and between minority and majority communities. The book highlights the challenges and difficulties that these young people face and examines the experiences of these interpreters and the specific skills and survival strategies they have developed for this role.

The research the book reports is part of a 5-year research project into the study of giftedness through cultural and linguistic lenses (Principal Investigators Shirley Brice Heath and Guadalupe Valdés) which was funded by the OERI (Office of Educational Research and Improvement) through the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. The research was carried out on young Latino bilingual interpreters who had been selected by their parents to serve as interpreters for their families, and was designed to gain an understanding into the particular kind of linguistic giftedness of these youngsters.

Based on the findings of the research, the authors maintain that youngsters who are selected to serve as family interpreters perform at high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience and environment and should thus be clearly seen as included in the 1993 federal definition of giftedness (US Department of Education, 1993) (Valdés, G. 2003 xix).

The authors argue that the capabilities and talents of bilingual interpreters are currently overlooked by existing assessment procedures of giftedness and that there is a need for better designed forms of assessment and an expansion of the definition of the term giftedness. The authors also point out that many gifted young interpreters seem unable to transfer their special and complex skills used for translating over into their academic work and call for a better understanding of the ways in which the talents of young interpreters might be developed in academic settings.

The book is well laid out with a comprehensive introduction that includes an overview of the book with a short description of all seven chapters. The chapters are clearly divided into numbered and titled sub-sections, making it easy for the reader to locate specific information in the book as required. There is a useful author and subject index and extensive bibliography at the end of the book. [-1-]

The first chapter, "In Search of Giftedness: The Case of Latino Immigrant Children," provides an overview of the field of gifted and talented education. The chapter traces the interest in the education of gifted and talented children in the US, reviews various definitions of giftedness, describes how procedures followed in the identification of gifted and talented children is discriminatory towards poor minority children, and discusses various different conceptualizations of giftedness, focusing on three conceptualizations in particular, Sternberg's Triarchic Model of Intelligence, Gardener's Theory of Multiple Intelligences, and the The Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness.

The first part of the second chapter, "Bilinguals and Bilingualism," gives an overview of the field of translation and interpretation; including a discussion of the characteristics of interpreters and potential interpreters, translation/interpretation as a process and the demands that interpretation as a process makes on bilingual individuals. The second part of the chapter provides a comprehensive literature review on bilingualism and the cognitive consequences of bilingualism. The authors advocate the additive effects of bilingualism and criticize current methods of evaluation of linguistic proficiency, arguing that lower performance by bilingual children in tests may be attributable to the fact that most tests are designed for monolinguals and do not adequately test bilingual abilities.

Based on in-depth interviews with immigrant parents who have used, or who currently use their own children or the children of others as interpreters, chapter three offers a fascinating insight into role that young interpreters play in immigrant communities. The first half of the chapter relates the story from the side of the parents, describing the different social situations where they use their or other people's children as interpreters, how they decide which children to use as interpreters and their evaluation of what makes a good interpreter. The second half of the chapter considers the situation from the perspective of the young interpreters and reports the views that young interpreters have of themselves.

The next three chapters describe and report the results of research carried out on young bilingual Latino interpreters who serve as family interpreters and translators.

Chapter four, "The study of Young Interpreters: Methods, Materials and Analytical Challenges," describes the procedures for evaluating the abilities of young interpreters, including a discussion of how the script for the simulated task and methods for data collection and analysis were designed and tested.

Chapter five, "The performance of the Young Interpreters on the Scripted Task," examines the youngster's performance in the scripted task using discourse-analytic procedures. As recommended by the authors, anyone not familiar with or not interested in detailed analysis of language in use or the presentation of speech data can skip ahead to chapter six for the summary and conclusions.

Chapter six, "The gifts and Talents of Young Interpreters: Implications for Researchers and Practitioners," reports the research findings, offering an interpretation of the young interpreter's performance from the perspective of three conceptions of giftedness. The authors demonstrate how young interpreters show high performance capacity in areas considered to be characteristic of superior intellectual activity such as memory, abstract word knowledge and abstract reasoning, and suggest that the multiple abilities exhibited by minority bilinguals requires careful examination and attention by educators, researchers and practitioners in the gifted-education field. The authors also maintain that bilingual youngsters with appropriate instruction could develop and translate their skills over into academic tasks which could potentially benefit many underachieving Latino students. The authors also question the validity of assuming that theories developed to explain giftedness in monolinguals are suitable for explaining the complexity of bilingual cognition and strongly argue for a reconceptualization of the gifts and talents of bilingual minority students. [-2-]

The final Chapter, "Developing the Talents of Latino Immigrant Children; Challenges, Questions, and Opportunities," argues for the expansion of the definition of giftedness that could include the special talents of young interpreters and gives examples of the kind of programs that could be established to develop the talents of young bilingual Latino interpreters.

This book is extremely readable and given the unique insight it gives into the challenges that young bilingual interpreters face and the special skills and strategies that they develop to meet these challenges, it is highly recommendable for practitioners, researchers or anyone with a general interest in young (Latino) immigrants and their families. Since the books draws on knowledge from various different subject areas, it will also be of interest to education professionals in teacher training, educational policy and analysis, school psychology, and researchers in sociolinguistics, bilingualism and applied linguistics.

Fiona Lawtie
British Council, Caracas

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