Course Content: Grammar
- If heritage speakers are to use HL accurately (correctly) and appropriately (in the right contexts), it is necessary to make them perceive the language as a system governed by rules, and help them understand how these rules operate. This process is called consciousness raising (Thornbury 1999: 24). Selected HL texts can be used for identification and analysis (parsing) of grammatical structures. Error identification and correction are also conducive to consciousness raising.
- Identification of grammatical structures or wrong usage should be accompanied by appropriate explanations or rules. Since heritage learners have little knowledge of grammatical terms, especially of the ones specific to their HL, basic metalanguage has to be explained along with rules of form and use.
- By developing the ability to identify and understand HL grammatical structures, heritage students can also learn to rely on grammar rules in using correct language forms rather than relying solely on acquired usage.
- Heritage speakers learned their HL holistically. Therefore, when they have difficulty identifying or remembering a certain grammatical structure and the rule provided by the instructor does not help, an example of the structure in a sentence or paragraph can be very effective.
- If the grammar point to be taught and/or practiced is incorporated in thematically linked sentences, an anecdote, verse, dialog, or proverb, retention and correct use of the form are more likely to occur than if the grammatical structure is introduced and practiced in isolated sentences. The emotions and/or mental associations generated by the situational context are instrumental in long-term memorization and use.
- Having students recite or write declensions of nouns/adjectives and conjugations of verbs is beneficial because it makes them aware of the existence of regularities/systemic laws in their HL. However, practicing forms in isolation is not conducive to language retention and retrieval for use. Going through the consciousness raising–rule explanation–contextualized practice cycle yields better short- and long-term results.
- As in a foreign language class, contextualized practice includes the following activities: identifying a grammatical structure in a text, analyzing the form and function of the target structure(s), choosing the right form from several choices, filling in the right form, matching parts of speech that go together (adjectives and nouns, verbs and prepositions, etc.), changing the form of target words (e.g., number, gender, tense, person), providing the right ending to target words, finishing sentences, putting words in the right order, describing/commenting on a text or visual prompt using the target structure(s), making true sentences about oneself (personalization), translation.
- Comparing and contrasting grammatical structures in the HL and English makes heritage learners aware of the differences between the two linguistic systems and helps them identify the constructions they unconsciously borrow from the dominant language. This awareness, coupled with frequent grammar practice and error analysis, gradually increases the students' ability to use their home-based language accurately and appropriately.
- Heritage language texts using samples of spoken grammar can be presented in parallel with texts containing samples of written grammar. By identifying, discussing, and categorizing the differences, learners can become better informed and more accurate users of both the oral and written modes of the language.
- Heritage learners should not be criticized for their use of HL. After all, language features that may be considered wrong by mainstream HL are part of their and their families’ heritage. The instructor can present ways in which the same thing can be communicated depending on a number of factors: the setting where communication occurs (e.g., class or home), the mode in which communication is conveyed (written or oral), the speaker/writer (e.g., a stranger or a friend), the subject (e.g., a lecture or a joke), the audience (e.g., the public at a conference or one’s family members), and the goal of communication (e.g., to inform or entertain). The learners become aware of the way in which grammatical features affect discourse, and they start to use these features appropriately in their own language production.
- Students should be encouraged to notice and correct instances of wrong language use that are the result of incomplete or overextended application of generally accepted rules.
(1) Fluency is the ability to process/use language speedily and easily; accuracy refers to precision in applying the rules of the linguistic system (Thornbury 1999: 91).
Contributed by Georgiana Galateanu
Published: Wednesday, January 10, 2007