Main characteristics of heritage language learners
Language Skills: Listening
- Heritage speakers are typically exposed to oral communication. Most frequently they listen to their parents’ or grandparents’ conversations or are addressed by them in the heritage language rather than participate in the interaction themselves; as a result, listening comprehension is their most highly developed language skill. Even the students with limited or no speaking abilities can usually get the gist of a conversation on everyday topics.
- Heritage learners have a limited—usually concrete—vocabulary; therefore, they can comprehend everyday informal messages with relative ease but find it harder to understand formal communication, literary texts, or academic discourse.
- Heritage students tend to have a better comprehension of the content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) in an oral text than of function words (conjunctions, transition words, etc.).
- Many heritage speakers know the basic meanings of lexical items (denotation), but are not familiar with their cultural, historical, and/or metaphoric connotations.
- Heritage learners’ background knowledge—history, geography, literature, culture, etc.—is generally limited and piecemeal.
All the factors above contribute to an incomplete and (partially) inaccurate comprehension of complex and formal oral texts.
Published: Friday, January 12, 2007