Main characteristics of heritage language learners
Course Content: Grammar
- Most heritage speakers have acquired HL grammar through exposure to the language spoken at home and in the community; few of them have studied it formally. This is why most HLLs lack an understanding of the rules governing the use of HL and have difficulty comprehending, remembering, and applying such rules. They are also unfamiliar with HL related grammatical terminology (cf. Samaniego & Pino 2000: 55).
- Many heritage students have learned and use grammatical forms that are considered incorrect by mainstream native language users. They also find it hard to identify and correct their faulty language usage. They seem to have reached a plateau in their language use beyond which it is difficult to progress, a feature called fossilization (Thornbury 1999: 16).
- The main sources of erroneous grammar are the oral acquisition and use of the heritage language, with many words linked or contracted, and word endings blurred or omitted; the use of non-standard forms by family and community members; and the influence of the dominant language.
- Regardless of their HL, most heritage learners seem to have difficulty with verb tenses and moods. In inflected languages, there may be reduction of verbal paradigms, lack of agreement, absence of the subjunctive, reduction or attrition (loss) of cases (Polinsky 2000: 449, 454, 457), and replacement of inflected nominal constructions with prepositional and adjective-noun syntagms.
- Heritage language learners predominantly use features of spoken grammar.
Published: Friday, March 03, 2006