Heritage language varieties in the classroom
Course Content: Vocabulary
- At the beginning of the course, the instructor can provide general information about the HL: the language group it belongs to, a brief historical survey, HL varieties, etc. Throughout the course, whenever applicable, the instructor may continue to provide (and encourage students to research) historical, cultural, and anecdotal information about the language items taught. This will increase HL retention and pride in the HL, and broaden the cultural perspective.
- If the learners speak different varieties of the HL (Northern/Southern, Eastern/Western, standard/dialect, prestigious/stigmatized), the instructor can express his/her appreciation of the richness and diversity of the language used in class.
- The instructor can also explain that, while the textbook may contain samples from just one HL variety (e.g., the standard HL or one regional variety), all the dialects that students speak or are familiar with are equally valuable and legitimate.
- To the extent to which this is possible, the instructor may bring samples from the various HL varieties represented in the class to acknowledge all students' language use and to acquaint them with alternative ways of expression.
- The instructor can create permanent rubrics on the board: spoken versus written, formal versus informal, standard versus regional/dialectal, etc. When introducing vocabulary belonging to one of the categories in the rubrics, the instructor can also give the form belonging to the opposite category. Even if this is not done for each lexical item taught, by doing it frequently enough the instructor will acknowledge the value of all HL varieties while familiarizing students with differences in HL use. Alternately, the instructor can fill out the rubrics by eliciting forms from the class.
- In the situations in which some language varieties enjoy more prestige than others, the understanding of language variation should go beyond the analysis of formal distinctions and toward "a more profound understanding" of the social functions of dialects (to include some people and exclude others), the distribution of dialects (across social groups), and the evaluation of dialects (as socially constructed hierarchies of language variation) (Martinez 2003: 5-8).
- Whenever the situation arises, the instructor may point out differences between standard HL and American HL (pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, discourse features, etc.), possibly in rubric format, too. The students' use of American HL features should not be criticized; they should be helped to understand the causes of the phenomenon.
- In conclusion, teachers should always "respect the language that heritage speakers bring to the class, putting emphasis on alternative ways of saying things rather than insisting on eliminating community and family language patterns" (Samaniego & Pino, 2000: 36).
Published: Wednesday, January 10, 2007