Heritage Language Survey Report

Sec. 8/10: Self-Assessment

Download in PDF form

The following questions examine HLLs’ own assessment of their skill levels in their HL.

30. Please rate your heritage language abilities:

When the respondents were asked to rate their heritage language abilities, a clear trend emerged. Most respondents rated their writing as the least developed of their skills followed by reading, speaking, and listening. In addition, writing skills were judged advanced or native-like by the fewest number or respondents, followed by reading, speaking, and listening, in that order. Clearly, writing presents the biggest challenge for HLLs, and they consider themselves most proficient in listening.

31. Please rate your English language abilities:

HLLs largely agree on their English-language abilities as well. They do not differentiate much between the four skills in English, and the vast majority feels they have mastered them, although what little separation they make between the skills reflects the same order as for the HL.

32. When reading in your HL, how easy or difficult do you find the following genres (texts)? Use the scale 1 to 5, with 1 being “very easy to understand” and 5 being “next to impossible to understand.”

  One Two Three Four Five
Academic/Technical papers 129 173 298 332 448
Children’s books 758 283 194 91 117
Comic books 503 259 246 132 108
Dictionary 399 304 425 213 132
Flyers 477 268 337 152 123
Letters/email 446 294 365 186 129
Magazines 353 224 343 260 175
Newsletters 284 219 315 242 193
Newspapers 247 210 353 326 276
Non-fiction 216 188 292 295 265
Novels/short stories 224 231 336 281 236
Poetry 158 177 290 313 375
Textbooks 187 294 385 301 232
Theatrical plays 158 155 285 244 294
Religious literature 150 180 246 255 334
Web pages 268 259 370 298 178

Academic and technical papers, non-fiction, poetry, plays, and religious literature, and newspapers appear to be the most difficult texts for the respondents to read in their HL. Dictionaries, flyers, letters and e-mail, magazines, newsletters and newspapers, novels, textbooks, and web pages are generally rated as being of average difficulty, while children’s books and comic books were rated as being easy to understand by most respondents.

33. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being extremely easy and 5 being impossible, rate how difficult you find it to accomplish each of the following tasks in your HL.

  One Two Three Four Five
Tell a joke 380 359 391 284 204
Tell a fairy tale 311 321 403 336 247
Tell a story 392 412 419 244 144
Use polite language 592 460 344 142 78
Be rude 635 343 334 183 119
Talk about current events 280 353 455 319 209
Debate an idea 217 248 393 427 330
Give a formal presentation before an audience 145 198 372 412 486

Most tasks in the list received a fairly even spread of responses across the difficulty continuum, though a few trends do emerge. Respondents judged that the easiest tasks on average for them to accomplish when speaking in their HL was to use polite language and to be rude. The hardest tasks were to debate an idea or give a formal presentation. The other activities were on average judged to be of middling difficulty. The fact that ‘use polite language’ was judged ‘extremely easy’ (second only to ‘be rude’) contradicts the intuition of instructors and anecdotal evidence of HLLs, who are thought to have problems with polite speech, since they mostly use their HL in a familiar, informal, or family setting. One possibility is that there is more than one interpretation of using “polite language”: HLLs might think this means using a vocabulary of politeness, using words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ taught to them by their parents. Instructors, on the other hand, might be thinking of polite language as a more formal register, the use of honorifics, indirect forms of request, and other grammatical and lexical ways of being tactful and deferential in a given language.

34. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being extremely easy and 5 being impossible. Rate how difficult you find it to accomplish each of the following tasks in ENGLISH.

  One Two Three Four Five
Tell a joke 1205 195 98 46 69
Tell a fairy tale 1221 187 96 36 71
Tell a story 1268 167 83 24 71
Use polite language 1321 119 72 25 72
Be rude 1276 113 94 45 87
Talk about current events 1212 192 104 33 72
Debate an idea 1071 280 142 45 71
Give a formal presentation before an audience 923 328 206 71 78

Most respondents agreed that all tasks on the list were extremely easy for them to accomplish in English. Nonetheless, the tasks ‘be rude,’ “debate an idea,” and “give a formal presentation” were judged more difficult than the other tasks.

35. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being extremely easy and 5 being impossible, rate how difficult you find it to accomplish each of the following tasks in your HL.

  One Two Three Four Five
Understand humor 536 458 385 165 67
Understand a conversation if you eavesdrop 742 463 247 111 50
Understand news reports 473 366 398 272 102
Understand movies 606 439 350 158 59
Understand TV shows 633 425 338 154 59
Understand song lyrics 502 355 390 253 113
Understand a formal talk 464 346 395 274 127

HLLs were more confident of their listening skills, and judged none of the tasks listed here as being on average “impossible” to accomplish. Most tasks were rated fairly evenly between 1 and 3 on the scale, and understanding TV, movies, and eavesdropping were rated as slightly easier than the others.