Course Content: Vocabulary
- The general focus in HL vocabulary study should be on consciousness raising as regards language variation (registers and dialects), expanding the range of vocabulary beyond typical home use, and using the HL appropriately depending on the setting, purpose and mode of communication (oral or written), the audience, and the topic.
- Heritage learners should be made aware of the distinctive features of interpersonal communication (one-to-one conversation), interpretive discourse (communication by a presenter/author to many listeners/readers), and presentational language (communication to an audience in either the spoken or written modes) (Valdés 2000a: 13).
- Heritage speakers should learn to "determine the social situations in which standard and non-standard HL," or formal and informal registers should be used and "adjust their language accordingly" (Garcia & Blanco 2000: 87).
- Starting from curricular goals, course content, and student needs/interests, the instructor can center instruction on large themes or topics that will help learners expand their grasp of HL vocabulary in a systematic fashion.
- Heritage learners tend to memorize and use words in the form in which they appear in reading passages; therefore, it is important for the instructor to provide the dictionary form of each new word. In this way, HLLs will modify that basic form according to the needs of the context instead of relying on a form that has already been modified.
- Heritage students may know the basic meanings (denotations) of words in the reading but be unaware of additional, derived meanings, or connotations (historical/cultural, positive/negative, literal/metaphoric, etc.). Since word denotations and connotations are usually made clear by the situational/linguistic contexts in which they appear, heritage speakers will understand and remember more easily words introduced in context than words presented in isolation.
- As in foreign language classes, the contextualized presentation of new vocabulary includes checking/activating students' prior knowledge; providing background information (historical, social, religious, literary, etc.); and clarifying denotations/connotations with the help of situational scenarios, illustrative sentences, definitions, synonyms and antonyms, often with visual support (cf. Thornbury 2002: 81). Translation can also be used for clarifying the meaning of unfamiliar words or phrases.
- Whenever necessary, mention should be made of the style or register a word belongs to (spoken/written, formal/informal, general/literary) or the HL variety it is typically encountered in (standard/dialectal HL, neologism/obsolete form) so that students learn to use new language appropriately. With most words, grammatical behavior has to be specified as well - type of conjugation, irregular plural forms, mandatory prepositions, etc.
- Since many heritage students are already literate when they enroll in an HL class or can learn to read and write very quickly, they benefit from using monolingual dictionaries in class (if they are available). If not, bilingual dictionaries are useful, too. Dictionaries increase learners' awareness of language variation (social and geographical), connotations, meanings of affixes (prefixes, infixes, suffixes), etc.
- As in foreign language classes, ways of expanding HL vocabulary include teaching derivatives (word families), compound words, thematically related words (lexical fields), synonyms and antonyms, lexical sets (general and specific terms), collocations, idioms, social formulae, and discourse markers (Thornbury 2002: 4-12). However, all of these techniques can be used much earlier in the instructional sequence than in an FL class.
- According to Yokoyama (2000: 471), heritage speakers could benefit from a "practically oriented course on word-formation, lexicon, and elementary etymology." Such a course would both help students expand their formal vocabulary and develop their word-formation abilities.
- By engaging students in a variety of communication modes (interpersonal, interpretive, presentational) about a wide range of topics in different settings, by exposing them to a wide range of readings in class, and by assigning reading, listening, and writing homework assignments, the instructor can effectively help HLLs enrich their linguistic repertoire, differentiate their language use, and gain confidence in their overall language abilities.
Published: Wednesday, January 10, 2007