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Voices from the Margin: Developing a Profile of Chinese Heritage Language Learners in the FL Classroom

by Heather Weger-Guntharp, Georgetown University

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While defining a heritage language (HL) learner is problematic, it is critical for how HL issues are framed. Underrepresented in the discussion are those learners who identify the HL as key to their development of self identity while having limited exposure to the HL in the home environment. This study investigates such students in the context of first semester Chinese classes at a U.S. university and draws on theories of motivation, HL learning, and social identity. Results suggest that a learner’s heritage is an important factor in that it affects the construction of a language learner’s identity and the co-construction of motivation, and influences attitudes towards classroom activities. The study found that the complexity of individual backgrounds problematizes the identification of HL learners based on their home-language use or place of birth. Finally, the data reveal a HL learner classroom profile consisting of at least three interwoven components (self, teacher, and peer).


Research on the relationship between individual differences and second language attainment has examined such diverse issues as learning styles and strategies, learner anxiety, and learner motivation. Each domain has developed its own rich tradition. With respect to motivation, in the last decade two distinct approaches have emerged: Dörnyei’s (2000, 2002) process oriented model, which emphasizes that motivation is dynamic and strongly dependent on a temporal dimension, and Norton Peirce’s (1995) theory, which argues that motivation needs to be problematized and framed in terms of individual learner identity, social context, and investment. This study draws from both theoretical paradigms and examines how these theories can be applied to the context of heritage language (HL) learning to better understand language classroom dynamics.

Applications of Motivation Theories to the HL Context

While researchers have studied motivation to help explain variations in second language attainment (see Dörnyei 2003 for a review), few studies outside the Spanish language context have looked at the intersection of motivational issues and heritage learners in heterogeneous language classes (notable exceptions are Kondo 1999; Kondo-Brown 2001; and Wen 1997). This study extends earlier motivation research by applying two contrasting motivation approaches, by Dörnyei (2000, 2002) and Norton Peirce (1995), to examine the complexity of what it means to be a learner of one’s familial language and the impact of that identity on language classroom dynamics. Dörnyei’s process-oriented model has three phases and distinguishes itself from earlier motivational theories by incorporating a temporal dimension that emphasizes the dynamic nature of motivation. Of particular relevance to classroom dynamics is the second phase of the model, the actional phase, which is concerned with sustaining motivation so that goals/tasks are carried out. Factors influencing the success or failure of this phase include the teacher-student relationship, student-student group dynamics, the classroom environment as cooperative or competitive, and self-regulation (Dörnyei, 2002, p. 141).

Similar to Dörnyei (2000, 2002), Norton Peirce (1995) seeks a means of conceptualizing motivation that challenges the static conceptualizations commonly associated with earlier motivation models such as Deci & Ryan (1995) and Gardner & Lambert (1959, 1972). She maintains that investment is a more useful term than motivation as it “conceives of the language learner as having a complex social identity and multiple desires” (Norton Peirce 1995, pp. 17-18) rather than being fixed and static. Additionally, she argues that investment is more appropriate for explaining patterns of target language (TL) use, as it better captures the relevance of economic metaphors, as learners of a second language “do so with the understanding that they will acquire a wider range of symbolic and material resources” (Norton Peirce 1995, p. 17). Both perspectives, though differing in their points of emphasis, recognize that learners’ imagined future uses of the second language (L2) affect their choices of engagement in the SLA process. Dörnyei (2000, 2002) refers to anticipated outcomes, while Norton Peirce (1995) notes that “learners will expect or hope to have a good return on their investment -- a return that will give them access to hitherto unattainable resources” (p. 17). Both theories also recognize that the relationship between the learner and other speakers plays a significant role in the language learning process. Norton Peirce (1995) develops this theme by exploring the inequity of power relations that may exist between the L2 learner and native speaker of the TL, which may result in the learner’s choice to remain silent rather than speak. Dörnyei (2000, 2002) examines how motivation is co-constructed among the members of a dyad or group in a classroom setting. It is, however, their differing foci, most likely attributable to the divergent language contexts in which the theories arose, that make them complementary in the context of HL learners. Basing her work in an immigrant second language context, Norton Peirce (1995) analyzes the social context of learning and her findings emphasize the relationship between language learning and the learner’s social identity, making her approach particularly relevant for understanding HL learners. In contrast, Dörnyei’s (2000, 2002) model was developed in a largely foreign language (FL) context; consequently, his model focuses on how motivational orientations play out in the classroom, an emphasis that can be usefully employed in this study where traditional FL students and HL learners share the same classroom.


Setting and Participants

This study was conducted at a private American university in a major east coast city. The Chinese Department from which the participants in the study were recruited has a two-tier system for first year Chinese-language students: a predominately heritage track and a non-heritage track. Proficiency placement exams are not mandatory in the program. That is, anyone, including self-selected HL learners, can enroll in the non-heritage beginner’s course. The instructor decides whether a prospective student can enroll in the heritage course based on an informal interview and the student’s previous training in Chinese characters. Because this study was designed to investigate differences between heritage learners and non-heritage learners in a single classroom setting, the participants were drawn from across the four classes from the non-heritage track, which has both traditional FL learners and Chinese HL learners (CHLLs). All classes met four days a week and were accompanied by a drill session, for a total of 6-7 hours of class time per week (variation depended on the length of the drill session, which was determined by the professor).

Twenty five unpaid volunteers participated in the study. Of these, 8 students were identified as CHLLs, which for the purposes of this study is defined as an individual who has one or more parents who speak Chinese as their first language and who self-identified themselves as taking Chinese classes in part because of their ethnic heritage. The study included male and female participants from age 18 to 22. While all students were undergraduates, their academic fields varied; the group included undeclared students as well as those with majors in Chinese, foreign service, biology, and one exchange student from Japan (participant 15). While the L1 for the majority of students was English, a variety of other L1s were represented. Detailed demographic data of the 25 participants is listed in Appendix A

Writing System

The oral and written forms of Chinese used at the study site reflect a combination unique to the Taiwanese setting. The official language of both Mainland China and Taiwan is Mandarin, while Cantonese is traditionally spoken in Hong Kong and many other areas in Southern China. The favored writing system also varies, although along different geographical lines. Mainland China uses simplified characters, while Taiwan and Hong Kong use traditional characters. Pinyin, a writing system using the Roman alphabet, exists alongside both character systems. While the department teaches Mandarin, each instructor decides which writing system to teach. Of the four instructors whose students participated in this study, three hail from Taiwan and teach traditional characters, while the instructor from the Mainland teaches both traditional and simplified characters. Thus for the majority of students, the valued communication modes in the classroom are Mandarin and traditional characters, a combination found only in Taiwan.

Data collection

Data for this study was collected in three phases during October and November 2003. In the first phase student volunteers completed a short biographical data profile, which included a question about participants’ motivation for studying Chinese. In the second phase students completed an on-line questionnaire and short-answer survey. The on-line questionnaire, adapted from Dörnyei (2002) and Dörnyei and Kormos (2000), was a 6-point instrument that included 38 items about the learners’ attitudes towards learning Chinese. In the third phase, students participated in open-ended and informal interview sessions. The composition of the nine interview groups varied greatly as they were determined by student availability. (An overview of the group demographics for the interview sessions is provided in Appendix B.) A general set of questions guided the interviews, but the interviewer added or deleted questions depending on the points emphasized by the interview group. Sessions ranged in length from 9 to 24 minutes. They were recorded either on video or audio and were then transcribed by the author, the primary interviewer. Analytic induction was used to analyze the transcripts of the taped interviews, the biographical data of session one, and the short-answer survey of session two (Strauss and Corbin 1990). References to learners’ self-perceptions in the classroom and their attitudes toward learning Chinese were extracted from the interviews and grouped together to allow for synthesized analysis. The results of the on-line questionnaire were analyzed descriptively. In the discussion that follows, all quotations are identified by participant number. Quotations from biographical data are identified as BD; quotations from the short-answer survey are identified as SA and include the date; quotations from the interviews are identified as I and include their session number (I#).

Results and Discussion

On-Line Questionnaire

When the median score of the 17 Non-CHLLs and 8 CHLLs is compared with each item from the on-line questionnaire, the difference is no more than one point, which suggests some homogeneity between the groups on issues such as using Chinese for future work purposes (item 29), attaining advanced levels of Chinese proficiency (item 22), and the importance learners believe their parents place on the Chinese course (item 13). However, a look at only the median score masks underlying differences that surface when the mode scores of the CHLL responses to specific items are examined. For example, items 5 and 16 relate to learners’ attitudes towards some aspects of speaking Chinese. The median response of Non-CHLLs to item 5 (“When I have to speak in Chinese class, I often lose confidence.”) was to somewhat agree, and with 7 out of 17 students selecting this answer, it was also the mode. In contrast, for the CHLLs there was a bimodal response with an equal number of students disagreeing as those who somewhat agreed with the statement. Similarly there was no clear mode for the CHLLs’ responses to item 16 (“I generally feel uneasy when I have to speak Chinese.”). This variation of mode was also the case for item 17, which asked whether the learner felt uneasy when he had to read in Chinese. (See Appendices C(a) and C(b) for the data responses of all participants to the quantitative items of the on-line questionnaire, including the modes and median for each item.)

The bimodality of item 5 and lack of a mode for items 16 and 17 suggests that there is some difference among the eight CHLLs of this study regarding, at least, their confidence in using the TL. This inconsistency could be partially explained by the variation of CHLLs’ exposure to Chinese, based on their self-reports of language use at home prior to attending college. For example, learners 11 and 26 identified Chinese and Cantonese, respectively, as their native languages, reported hearing their native language almost exclusively in their homes and labeled themselves as bilinguals. Learners 18, 24, and 27 identified English as their native language, but reported hearing mostly Chinese in their homes. All five of these learners reported that they responded to their parents and siblings in varying levels of “Chinglish” or English. By contrast, learners 5, 6, and 28 noted that they had no or almost no active or passive knowledge of Chinese and that they were exposed to little Chinese outside of large gatherings with extended family (see Weger-Guntharp, in press, for more details on the backgrounds of the HL learners). However, given that the responses do not always clearly divide between the high-exposure group and low-exposure group (e.g., it is not the case that both of the high exposure learners consistently report strong feelings of confidence in using the language and low exposure learners do not), it is more likely that the extent of exposure to Chinese, in written or oral domains, interacts with other personal characteristics to influence classroom behavior.

For example, one might imagine that a student who considers the classroom an environment in which “saying things wrong is better than saying nothing” would have confidence in classroom speaking, even if the background exposure to the TL is low (this might hypothetically be so for student 28, for example). In this scenario, an individual characteristic of “classroom risk-taker” outweighs the low proficiency level. One might also explain students’ self-reported confidence through the lens of Dörnyei’s (2000, 2002) paradigm, in which an emphasis on group dynamics as an influencing factor might help account for how students weigh their perceptions of their abilities against their perceptions of what others (teachers/peers) expect of them. For example, a self-proclaimed bilingual and self-identified native speaker of Cantonese might lack academic reading/writing skills in the TL, although he has good oral proficiency. This type of student may feel that the teacher expects him to have advanced reading skills (to match his advanced oral proficiency), regardless of what the teacher really expects, which could lead to increased apprehension for the reading task. The point of these hypothetical scenarios is not to “falsely” create explanations for the response patterns of individual students; the point is simply to emphasize that HL learners as a group are widely divergent in their attitudes toward the TL and that these differences might not be explained solely on the basis of proficiencies. All eight CHLLs discussed their heritage as a factor in their language enrollment decisions, but the relationship between their reported language exposure backgrounds and their language use attitudes is not consistent among all group members.

The data also suggests that low-exposure students, those who seem the most obvious candidates for traditional FL classrooms, in fact exhibit the strongest sense of investment in the language learning experience as a means of connecting with their ethnic identity. In response to item 34 (“Learning Chinese is important to me in order to be able to get to know the life of Chinese speaking people better.”), the three low exposure learners (participants 5, 6 and 28) all responded that they strongly agree with this statement, while the mid-exposure and high-exposure learners’ responses varied from somewhat disagree to agree (see Table 1). This consistency suggests that the affective needs of this particular subset of HL learners may be different than more proficient HL learners.

While the presence of such learners is acknowledged in the heritage language literature (e.g., Cho, Cho, and Tse 1997; Kondo 1997; Kondo-Brown 2001), research has often focused on a more restrictive definition of HL learners, such as those whose home language is the HL. Such restricted categorizations of HL learners fail to take into account those learners who want to reclaim the language known by their parents or grandparents, but not used exclusively in the home; and the diverse language backgrounds of the students of this study, including in variables such as place of birth and the frequency of HL use in the home, challenges such static divisions of HL learner from non-HL learner. More research about these learners is needed (see Weger-Guntharp in press; Wu 2002).

Given the small sample size of the CHLLs, these findings concerning possible underlying differences among the CHLLs of this study are inconclusive and cannot be generalized to other HL learner populations, even those populations where HL learners are learning together with traditional FL learners. Nonetheless, these observations are intriguing and may suggest that the classification of learners as either heritage or non-heritage masks the diversity that is characteristic of HL learners.

Table 1: CHLLs’ Responses* to Selected Questionnaire Items By their Self-reported Use of the Target Language (TL) at Home

High Exposure: Hear TL at home; Speak TL or “Chinglish” at home Mid Exposure: Sometimes hear TL at home; sometimes speak TL at home Low Exposure: Only hear TL at large family gatherings; do not speak TL at home
Participant Number 11 26 18 24 27 5 6 28
Response to item 5: “When I have to speak in Chinese class, I often lose confidence.” 1 2 3 5 4 6 6 2
Response to item 16: “I generally feel uneasy when I have to speak Chinese.” 1 2 4 5 2 4 5 3
Response to item 17: "I generally feel uneasy when I have to read Chinese." 1 3 6 2 4 4 2 3
Response to item 34: "Learning Chinese is important to me in order to be able to get to know the life of Chinese speaking people better." 2 4 4 3 4 6 6 6

*Key to Responses: 1= Strongly Disagree, 2=Disagree, 3=Somewhat Disagree, 4=Somewhat Agree, 5=Agree, 6=Strongly Agree

The Qualitative Data

Analysis of the interview data, short-answer survey, and biographical data suggests that the learner’s heritage status plays a key role in the construction of classroom identity. The following discussion explores the classroom profile of CHLLs, which consists of three main aspects that repeatedly surfaced in the data: perception of self, perception of peers, and perception of teachers.

Perception of self. Exploring one’s heritage status was a major reason cited by all of the CHLLs to study Chinese. For example:

I was born in Taiwan and lived there until I was about 3. I could speak Chinese, but when I came to the US, I forgot all of it. When I went back to Taiwan many years later, it was upsetting not being able to communicate with my family over there. I wanted to learn Chinese as a reassertion of my cultural identity and so I can communicate with my Mom’s side of the family in the future. (#6, BD)

This orientation is consistent with the preactional phase of Dörnyei’s (2000, 2002) process-oriented motivation model, which identifies learner attitudes towards the TL and its speakers as a primary component of the learner’s initial decision process. Moreover, these learners parallel the sentiment of other heritage learner groups who actively pursue their HL as a means of connecting with their social identity. For example, in studying the language behaviors of the Saraguros, a minority community in Ecuador, King (2000) found that HL learning provided for many community members “an emotional link to the past” (p. 172). Although the two learner groups differ in that the Saraguros speak a language indigenous to their country, while the heritage learners of this study are learning what is a foreign language in the U.S., it is telling that both identify their ethnic language as a link to their cultural identity. Such an identification was also found in Feuerverger (1991), a study of heritage learners from a variety of language backgrounds and their perceptions of their HL and their ethnic identity.

In addition, all eight CHLLs perceived their heritage as a resource to be tapped for economic and/or academic reasons.

Aside from the obvious motivation to learn for personal reasons, I’d like to be proficient in 3 languages by the time I graduate. Chinese, Arabic, and/or undecided 3rd. This way I can apply for a job in federal law enforcement, and hopefully proficiency in languages such as Chinese and Arabic will help. (#27, BD)

For these learners, enhancing their Chinese proficiency is seen as a key to future business success. These goals not only relate to Dörnyei’s (2000, 2002) preactional phase, but also support Norton Peirce’s (1995) contention that learners engage in language learning as a means of acquiring greater access to symbolic or material resources.

While both the CHLLs and non-CHLLs have economic and academic goals for language learning, they differ in their views of why Chinese will help them meet those goals. The CHLLs draw on their backgrounds in Chinese language use, their symbolic familial support system, or their desires to regain a neglected piece of their identity. In contrast, Non-CHLLs often allude to the novelty of learning Chinese in comparison to other languages: “I think it’s more fun to be able to say, ‘I can speak Chinese,’ than, ‘I can speak Spanish,’ because it’s so different” (#21, I1).

Another component of Norton Peirce’s (1995) theory relevant to this context is that a learner’s social identity is “diverse, contradictory, and dynamic; multiple rather than unitary, decentered rather than centered” (p. 15). In interview session three, three heritage learners with high use of Chinese in their immediate families discussed why they had taken the non-heritage track of Chinese rather than the heritage Chinese class, the more advanced course targeted primarily towards heritage learners.

#27: [I knew the regular Chinese course] would be a lot easier, ‘cause like a lot of this stuff, I don’t want to say like I just kind of like slack off, but it’s just like, more manageable than just jumping into the more advanced. ... I think I might be able to survive in the other class,
#26: //yeah//
#27: //but this// one, it’s like coming in, like this is college blah, blah. You want to do well, and so you might as well help yourself out.
#26: Yeah, same thing. I didn’t want to overload myself the first time I got to college and the thing was, I really didn’t want to XXX. I think ... if I’d gone straight to like [the heritage track course] I’d be dead.
#24: First of all [the heritage track course] didn’t really fit into my schedule and I didn’t know about it. But had I had the choice I probably would have taken this course anyway. It's definitely, like you start off in the very, very beginning and get the base, and that’s what I need. That’s what it’s good for.
#27: It’s good for us.
HWG: So you get a good base, and that’s important to you?
#27: That, and like the placement tests were at like 8 in the morning.

While all had echoed the sentiments of participant 26 (BD), who noted that motivations for studying Chinese included understanding his Chinese heritage, their classroom choices also reflected a desire to balance their HL goals with their larger educational identity as university students of multiple classroom communities. In fact, 7 of the 8 CHLL students were happy with this level of Chinese; only participant 11 (I7) wished at times that she had taken the more advanced heritage course because it offered more conversational practice. This profile is similar to the one reported by Potowski (2002), who found that the cited reasons for not taking the available language class for heritage learners included scheduling conflicts and the students’ belief that it would be easier to earn a better grade in the FL class.

Additionally, students are often still in parent-child relationships, such that even though they are adults, many are responding to either explicit or perceived implicit familial wishes to learn or broaden their learning of the HL. In many cases there is an interplay of parental wishes with the student’s own wishes, and there may even be an overt contradiction as the learner asserts his own independence in decision making, while in the next moment falling back on the wishes of the parents.

#27: I went to Chinese school when I was like in middle school. When your parents make you go it’s not as cool, like, as doing it here on your own, I guess. So like here I’m like really hard core about it....
HWG: You mentioned that when you were in high school or junior high that your parents really encouraged you to take Chinese. Did they encourage you to take it once you came to [this university?]
#27: Yeah, that wasn’t my decision, I tell ya.

Such internal contradictions further support social identity as a site of struggle (Norton Peirce 1995). These learners are on the cusp of adulthood and assertions of independence co-exist with the reality of continuing emotional or economic dependence on one’s family. But fulfilling one purpose does not necessarily preclude fulfillment of the other.

Perception of peers. Once a student has decided to enroll in a class, the multiplicity of the learner’s classroom identity develops as the perception of self interacts with the perception of those sharing the classroom social space—namely, peers and teachers. During the interview sessions, students were asked for their opinion on doing pair-work or group work. Most students, whether HL or FL, said they liked to work with other students, primarily because it afforded them a greater chance to practice speaking, even though reported instances of group work in their actual Chinese classes were almost non-existent. On the other hand, several non-CHLLs students (participants 13 and 21 in I1; participant 8 in I5; participants 9 and 20 in I6) noted that the greatest advantage to minimizing group work was to allow for more interactions with a native speaker teacher who could correct pronunciation and tone.

The same theme was evident in the analysis of the short answer surveys. When asked if they preferred a particular type of partner during pair or group work, the CHLLs were identified by many Non-CHLLs as being desirable partners, while other non-CHLL students noted their discomfort at having partners whose level of competence differed from their own, and in some cases explicitly mentioned CHLLs. Dörnyei’s (2000, 2002) emphasis on the co-constructed nature of classroom activities helps explain how such perceptions can affect learner motivation for activities involving group or pair interaction (see also Ehrman and Dörnyei 1998). The value awarded any given task by the learner will thus be affected by these social dynamics and can impact levels of attention given to the task. Additionally, an attitude of unease on the part of Non-CHLLs might be explained by Norton Peirce’s (1995) assertion that the willingness of learners to speak in the TL is in relation to the distribution of power between the learner and the native speaker. Thus those with Chinese HL backgrounds may be viewed as having an advantage over the traditional FL student, regardless of the actual language skills of the CHLL.

Perception of teachers. Three themes emerged from the data regarding the CHLLs’ perceptions of how their teachers interact with them. They felt that: 1) instructors tended to restrict their use of their full language knowledge in the classroom, 2) instructors often held different expectations towards the CHLLs during class, and/or 3) their status as a CHLL created opportunities for them to interact informally with teachers outside of class. For example, CHLL participant 11 (I7) said that she limits her use of outside vocabulary because of teacher disapproval1: “I definitely do [limit the vocabulary I use during class]. ... My professor actually gets really mad when we use vocab that’s not in the lesson” (#11, I7). This perception infiltrates the classroom and affects the learners’ behavior, as they must censor their knowledge gained through their heritage exposure, and as a result the classroom can become as a site of struggle (Norton Peirce 1995).

Similarly, there may be tension between home and classroom privileged dialect. While Mandarin is the valued mode of oral communication in the classrooms in this study, for half of the CHLL participants, Cantonese is the language of at least one parent and is the source of their background knowledge in Chinese. Similarly, for at least one participant, there is a classroom conflict in the writing systems taught. With family ties to mainland China and aspirations to be a published writer in both English and Chinese, participant 11 complained, “In China it’s all simplified characters now. My professor solely teaches us traditional characters, so I won’t really be able to read anything [there]” (I7). These students perceive their language abilities as devalued and wasteful. As the power figure, the teachers’ (perceived) preferences weaken students’ ability to draw on all their language resources.

CHLLs also perceived teachers as having differing expectations of the CHLLs. While talking about her weekly drill practice, participant 11 (I7) commented, “I think [my recitation teacher] expects a lot from me. ... When I get a test back and she’s like, ... ‘You could do better than that,’ while, you know, I’m still doing better than the rest of the class. Yeah, you know, that’s kind of expected.” And CHLLs believe that teachers provide opportunities for additional interaction outside of class: “If I’m walking after class, [my professor] is always asking me these questions. I know what he’s saying and I can answer them, but I know he wouldn’t be asking anybody else” (#27, I3). Thus, from the CHLLs’ perspective, teachers may try to limit their input in the classroom, while simultaneously raising their performance expectations. Given that instructors hold a position of power in relation to their students, especially via the traditional vehicle of grades, how they are perceived by their students is an important consideration for the enactment of one’s classroom identity, especially when the learner views a language class as an opportunity for connecting with a heretofore underdeveloped aspect of his ethnic identity. Again, Norton Peirce’s (1995) paradigm of investment and its corresponding insights into power relations and language behavior is useful. When applied to this instance of HL learner and native speaking instructor, the classroom behaviors sanctioned and rejected by the teacher, whether “real” or “imagined,” impact the choices the HL learner makes in the classroom. Thus the instructor is perceived as a resource or an inhibitor in the development and expression of the HL learners’ ethnic identities. Similarly, this speaks to Dörnyei’s (2000, 2002) model and its concern for the co-constructed nature of motivation, as the teacher, peers, and HL learners all interact to affect the classroom environment.


This study has described the sense of social identity experienced by a diverse group of CHLLs in a language classroom setting by contrasting comments of CHLLs with those of Non-CHLLs. The study has also investigated how these contrasting identities affect motivation for language learning and classroom orientations. One way in which the data of this study supports Norton Peirce’s (1995) theory of social identity as a site of struggle is in the decisions that these learners make when their primary and secondary reasons for learning Chinese interact, and potentially conflict, with other student needs. For example, this type of conflict was evident in participants 24, 26, and 27, who felt qualified to take the more intensive Chinese course designed specifically for HL learners, but who chose not to given their larger educational commitments. With respect to Dörnyei’s (2000, 2002) process-oriented model, learner attitudes towards the TL and their perceptions of each other were shown to be relevant to an increased understanding of learners’ initial enrollment decisions in general and co-construction of classroom dynamics in particular. Thus a richer understanding of both the learner and the construct of motivation can be found when learners’ perceptions and actions are examined from both perspectives.

This paper also argued that terms such as HL learner should be conceived of more flexibly, for the complexity of the individual backgrounds problematizes the use of markers such as home-language use or place of birth for distinguishing HL learners from traditional FL students. Instead, distinctions of individual learners should be recognized to inform researchers and teachers of the diversity and multi-faceted identities brought into the classroom setting by language learners. Privileging learner choice in efforts to define HL learners validates the notion that what most defines the individual is his agency, and it is one means of broadening HL research to include investigations of low-proficiency HL learners.

Studying this segment of the HL population is important for the development of a more informed pedagogy that takes into account the needs of low-proficiency HLs, particularly those who may find themselves in a class with FLs. Research examining the relationship between student and faculty perceptions of the low-proficiency HL learner is one direction currently under investigation (Weger-Guntharp in press). Also needed is research that examines how classroom failure affects HL learners of varying proficiencies, including those learners who have no or little productive or receptive skills, but who perceive language learning as an important way of connecting with a heretofore underdeveloped aspect of their identity.

In conclusion, while the findings of this research may not be generalizable to all HL learners due to the small numbers involved in the study, they are valuable in expanding our understanding of the multiplicity of subjectivity of a diverse group of learners and how those varying identities might interact in a classroom setting.


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Wu, S. (2002). Integrating learner-centered and technology strategies for heritage students. In Li, W., & Lee, C. (Eds), Proceedings of the southeast conference on Chinese language teaching (pp. 90-95). Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Appendix A: Participant Demographics (back)

Sex Age Academic
1 No Female 19 International
2 No Male 18 School of
Foreign Service
4 No Male 19 School of
Foreign Service
5 Yes Female 20 Biology English
6 Yes Female 18 Undeclared English
7 No Female 18 School of
8 No Male 19 Undeclared English
9 No Male 18 School of
Foreign Service;
10 No Female 19 Foreign Service Japanese
11 Yes Female 18 Foreign Service Chinese
12 No Male 19 Foreign Service English
13 No Female 18 School of
Foreign Service
Political Economy
15 No Female 20 Exchange Student Japanese
16 No Male 18 Chinese English
17 No Female 19 School of
18 Yes Female 18 School of
Foreign Service
19 No Female 18 Chinese Finnish
20 No Female 18 School of
Foreign Service
21 No Female 18 School of
Foreign Service
23 No Male 19 School of
Foreign Service
24 Yes Female 18 School of
Foreign Service
25 No Female 18 School of
Foreign Service
26 Yes Male 18 School of
27 Yes Male 18 Undeclared English
28 Yes Female 22 School of
Foreign Service

Appendix B: Interview Session Demographics (back)

Date Participant
taped or
Length Interviewer
I1 8 Nov. 03 13
19 min. HWG+
I2 9 Nov. 03 16 Non-CHLL Video-
18 min. HWG
I3 10 Nov. 03 7
21 min. HWG
I4 11 Nov. 03 6 CHLL Video-
16 min. HWG
I5 12 Nov. 03 8
24 min. HWG
I6 12 Nov. 03 2
15 min. PW++
I7 16 Nov 03 1
23 min. HWG
I8 17 Nov 03 4
9 min. PW
I9 19 Nov 03 05 CHLL Audio-
13 min. PW

+The author. ++Secondary researcher.

Appendix C: Responses of All Participants to the Qualitative Items of the On-line Questionnaire (in Frequencies)

</a>Appendix C(a)

Appendix C(a): Responses of CHLL Participants (back)

Item Number Number of Participants Per Response* Mode Median
1* 2* 3* 4* 5* 6*
1 0 2 1 4 0 1 4 4
2 0 0 0 5 3 0 4 4
3 0 0 0 3 4 1 5 5
4 0 1 1 3 1 2 4 4
5 1 2 1 2 1 1 2&4 3.5
6 0 0 0 3 3 2 4&5 5
7 0 2 3 2 1 0 3 3
8 0 4 3 1 0 0 2 2.5
9 0 0 2 4 1 1 4 4
10 0 0 0 4 4 0 4&5 4.5
11 3 4 1 0 0 0 2 2
12 0 0 1 2 2 3 6 5
13 8 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
14 0 1 1 1 3 2 5 5
15 0 0 0 1 3 4 6 5.5
16 1 2 1 2 2 0 2,4,5 3.5
17 1 2 2 2 0 1 2,3,4 3
18 0 4 3 0 0 1 2 2.5
19 0 0 0 0 5 3 5 5
20 0 0 0 4 2 2 4 4.5
21 0 2 2 1 2 1 2,3,5 3.5
22 0 0 0 0 3 5 6 6
23 0 0 2 1 4 1 5 5
24 0 0 1 6 0 1 4 4
25 3 4 0 1 0 0 2 2
26 0 0 0 0 5 3 5 5
27 0 0 0 1 5 2 5 5
28 0 1 1 3 1 2 4 4
29 0 0 0 0 4 4 5&6 5.5
30 0 0 3 2 2 1 3 4
31 0 0 1 0 3 4 6 5.5
32 0 0 0 3 2 3 4&6 5
33 0 5 1 2 0 0 2 2
34 0 0 1 3 1 3 4&6 4.5
35 0 0 0 3 4 1 5 5
36 0 0 0 4 4 0 4&5 4.5
37 0 0 0 0 3 5 6 6
38 0 2 0 4 2 0 4 4

*Key to Responses: 1=Strongly Disagree, 2=Disagree, 3=Somewhat Disagree, 4=Somewhat Agree, 5=Agree, 6=Strongly Disagree

</a>Appendix C(a)

Appendix C(b): Responses of Non-CHLL Participants (back)

Item Number Number of Participants Per Response* Mode Median
1* 2* 3* 4* 5* 6*
1 1 4 3 6 2 1 4 4
2 0 0 0 4 7 6 5 5
3 0 0 0 3 9 5 5 5
4 0 0 2 5 7 3 5 5
5 1 1 4 7 3 1 4 4
6 0 1 1 6 4 5 4 5
7 2 7 6 2 0 0 2 2
8 5 7 2 3 0 0 2 2
9 0 1 3 5 7 1 5 4
10 0 0 1 5 10 1 5 5
11 6 11 0 0 0 0 2 2
12 0 0 0 4 8 5 5 5
13 6 8 3 0 0 0 2 2
14 0 0 1 1 7 8 6 5
15 0 1 0 2 6 8 6 5
16 1 1 7 4 3 1 3 3
17 2 6 5 3 1 0 2 3
18 2 9 1 4 1 0 2 2
19 0 0 0 2 10 5 5 5
20 0 0 0 7 6 4 4 5
21 0 5 6 3 2 1 3 3
22 0 0 0 0 5 12 6 6
23 0 2 2 4 5 4 5 5
24 0 1 1 5 9 1 5 5
25 7 5 4 0 1 0 1 2
26 0 0 0 2 7 8 6 5
27 0 0 0 1 9 7 5 5
28 0 0 1 4 8 4 5 5
29 0 0 0 3 7 7 5&6 5
30 0 0 0 5 7 5 5 5
31 0 0 0 1 3 13 6 6
32 0 1 3 5 4 4 4 4
33 3 5 4 5 0 0 2&4 3
34 0 1 1 5 7 3 5 5
35 0 0 3 6 7 1 5 4
36 0 4 3 3 4 3 2&5 4
37 0 0 0 3 6 8 6 5
38 3 3 2 6 2 1 4 4

*Key to Responses: 1=Strongly Disagree, 2=Disagree, 3=Somewhat Disagree, 4=Somewhat Agree, 5=Agree, 6=Strongly Disagree

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