Polinsky (under press in 2005) defines a heritage language as "a language which was first for an individual with respect to the order of acquisition but has not been completely acquired because of the switch to another dominant language." This acquisition usually takes place in the home rather than in a classroom (UCLA Research Priority Conference, 2000), and as a consequence has "a particular family relevance to the learner" (Fishman, 2001, p. 81).
Fishman (2001) lists three sources of heritage languages in the United States: (1) Indigenous heritage languages, i.e., Amerindian languages that have their roots in pre-colonial history and which are now experiencing a revitalization after years of governmental intrusion; (2) Colonial heritage languages, i.e., non-indigenous languages that have their roots in the colonial period of the United States (e.g., Dutch, Swedish, French, Spanish); (3) Immigrant heritage languages, i.e., the languages of newcomers to the United States. The source of the language determines how recent arrivals are, how strong the community is, and how well the language is maintained. These three factors may, in turn, have a bearing on a heritage language speaker's proficiency.
Files provided by Barry Griner
1) HL proficiency
The language proficiency of heritage speakers varies greatly. Therefore, HL instructors should administer a diagnostic test to get a sense of where their students are at the beginning of the course. In this way they will be able to build on what the learners know rather than frustrate them by highlighting what they don't know.
There are many ways in which instructors can foster HL development. Here are a few suggestions (Webb & Miller 2000:83):
- Make students aware of the benefits of gaining fluency in their HL. Point out the local and global importance of their language and culture.
- Set up high goals in the HL course and help students attain the goals. Use a variety of learning tasks to reach all the levels of proficiency in your class. Use visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile prompts in your teaching to appeal to each students' preferred learning style.
- Involve students in learning more about their language through independent study and in using it through interaction with members of the HL community.
- Express your appreciation for your learners' ability to understand (and speak) HL, and their desire to increase their HL proficiency (e.g., learn to read and write) by enrolling in your class.
- Express your own interest and passion for speaking, studying, and teaching HL.
- Don't feel threatened by the higher language proficiency and cultural knowledge that some students might possess. Let them know that you will be glad to learn from them things about their language and culture that you are not familiar with while teaching them the skills they need to enhance their own proficiency in HL.
2) HL use in class
The main condition for increasing HL proficiency is using the language as often as possible, in both oral and written form. Here are a few recommendations for the HL instructor:
- Use the heritage language all of the time or most of the time both in an HL class and in a mixed HL-FL class. You will thus foster the use of the heritage language in class by example. You will also expose your students to as much HL as possible in the class setting.
- Encourage your students to use the heritage language in class all the time, but don't force them.
- Some learners hesitate to speak in class because they feel uncertain or embarrassed by their limited HL proficiency. Organize speaking activities in pairs or small groups to draw them out; assign individual presentations for students to prepare at home and then present or read in class.
- Allow students to speak in English or mix codes, especially when they urgently try to communicate something. Gradually they will gain confidence and use more and more HL for oral communication. When time allows, work with them to rephrase their thoughts in HL.
- Point out that mistakes should not deter anyone from using their heritage language. All people make mistakes when they speak any language. Mistakes are also an integral part of any learning process.
- Many students are not confident about their HL abilities, so praise their efforts to speak in class, read, and write in order to improve their language proficiency. Don't criticize them for their linguistic shortcomings or look down on them for the HL variety they speak.
- Don't try to dominate the class by being an authoritative figure and/or over-correcting students' language performance; it has a negative effect on their motivation for and interest in HL study. Work with the class to help them grow.
- At the beginning of the course, you might want to inform your students that you will grade each of them on their own progress from the beginning to the end of class. This will give each learner a sense of achievement, pride in his/her individual progress, motivation to continue HL study, and willingness to participate in class. It is important to make students aware of the metapsychological, metacultural, metalinguistic, and metacognitive factors that affect language learning and development. According to Carrasco and Riegelhaupt (2003:176), "the use of any one of these meta knowledges or a combination of more than one can either hinder or promote [heritage language] acquisition."
As suggested above, the HL instructor can promote the "meta-analysis" of self (Carrasco and Riegelhaupt, 2003:178-9) in various ways:
- Students can discuss their reactions when exposed to their heritage language, and realize that feelings of insecurity and frustration are normal in any learning process. This metapsychological knowledge will help them overcome their reticence toward HL study and use.
- Metacultural knowledge refers to the attitude of the community toward HL acquisition and use. If this is positive, it acts as an incentive for HL learning; if it is negative, the instructor might explain the reasons for it so the learners do not get discouraged.
- By learning about the history of the heritage language, its structure, registers, and dialectal variations, students develop metalinguistic knowledge, which enhances language acquisition.
- As to metacognitive knowledge, HL students can maximize language development by identifying their individual learning styles and using effective cognitive strategies.
Contributed by Georgiana Galateanu
Published: Tuesday, January 09, 2007