Main characteristics of heritage language learners
Course Content: Culture
- The knowledge that students have of their cultural heritage varies greatly and is a function of many factors—length of time, if any, spent in the heritage country, amount of information acquired from family and community members, (non-) attendance of community heritage schools, personal interests, etc.
- All heritage students have some “cultural competence” (Yokoyama 2000: 473), being familiar with traditions and customs related to the year/life cycle (spring/winter celebrations; baptisms, weddings, etc.) and their family’s religious beliefs. Fluent or semi-fluent heritage speakers like to talk about their families’ cultural practices and share their own experiences as members of the culture.
- Heritage students enjoy traditional food and holidays, may know some popular songs (small "c" culture), and may have heard or read children’s literature and folk tales. However, their knowledge of history, geography, literature, music, visual arts, etc. (big “C” culture), is typically fragmentary.
- Many learners are unaware of the cultural and linguistic diversity present in various regions of their heritage country or in various countries where the HL is spoken; some may even have a negative view of their own heritage.
- Students have diverse interests. Some want to read classical authors; others want to study history. Many are interested only in contemporary social and political issues; a few limit their contemporary interest to young people in the heritage country and their concerns.
- Large numbers of HLLs have adapted or ignored heritage cultural traditions while growing up in the dominant country. In college, some of these students become acutely aware of their limited knowledge and feel a need to learn more about their roots. Others regret knowing very little about their cultural heritage but don’t have the time or inclination to study it intensively or extensively.
- Some students lack intrinsic motivation to study heritage culture but do enroll in such classes to please their families; others enroll in heritage classes because their families, friends, or professors have aroused their interest in their cultural heritage.
Published: Friday, March 03, 2006