NEH Focus Group Report prepared at UCLA, February 14-15, 2003
The focus group discussion and preparation of this report were supported by a Humanities Focus Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
On February 14-15, 2003 the Heritage Language Focus Group convened at UCLA to design a set of curriculum guidelines for heritage language instruction at the University of California pursuant to an NEH Humanities Focus Grant. This project supplements the UC Guidelines on Heritage Language Instruction (Guidelines: 2002) which, in anticipation of the Focus grant, did not address curriculum issues.
The following is a report of the Focus Group's consensus on the principles to be applied in developing curricula for heritage language education. The Introduction offers a general description of heritage speakers. Following the introduction, the report focuses on three areas crucial to curriculum design: assessment (I), instructional materials (II), and teacher training (III). Attached as an appendix to this report is a table that presents issues to be taken into account when creating curricula for heritage language students.
The principal features of heritage language acquisition are that it:
A large numbers of students in American schools and universities have measurable levels of proficiency in a heritage language. While those levels differ widely within the HL population, the single most reliable indicator of proficiency is the amount of schooling received in the target language. In general, HL students can be grouped as follows:
Understanding the challenges of teaching a heritage population is becoming increasingly important. According to the results of the 2000 U.S. Census, more than two-thirds of U.S. population growth in the 1990s resulted from immigration, and more than 25 million U.S. residents are foreign-born. In California, for example, twenty-six percent of the population is foreign-born. A large number of these students seek out instruction in their heritage language, as the enrollment figures in many less commonly taught languages attest.
Successful teaching of heritage (HL) students requires a curriculum for them that can be used whether they are in heritage classes or share classes with foreign language students. Such a curriculum will both build on the knowledge HL students bring to the classroom and address their deficiencies. At most educational institutions, however, HL curricula do not exist. It is our hope that the development of suitable curricula will result in more HL students developing their language proficiencies to their fullest potential, enriching their education and adding to the number of highly proficient language speakers in the U.S. Moreover, with proper instruction, HL students should be able to develop high-level proficiency during undergraduate study, unlike FL students, who typically begin language study with no prior knowledge and who, according to several researchers, attain Intermediate/Intermediate High proficiency typically and Advanced proficiency only exceptionally during undergraduate education (Rifkin 2003).
Heritage students begin language instruction with some degree of proficiency. Assessment of students is essential for understanding the nature of HL proficiency, as well as of other HL characteristics.
Assessment instruments are needed for:
The role of assessment in heritage language curriculum development can be summarized as follows:
The customary approach to placement, which is based on written testing of foreign language students, will yield only a partial and therefore misleading understanding of proficiency if applied to HL students.
Aspects of proficiency particular to HL students include the following:
Lo Bianco (2003) argues that HL students' linguistic biographies are one of the most informative tools available for understanding HL linguistic profiles. A brief questionnaire soliciting biographical data should be part of the assessment process. Useful data for a linguistic biography include the length of time HL students have lived with the language and the nature of their interactions with it, e.g., their place of birth, schooling in the target language, age at emigration if foreign-born, – and languages spoken at home. Requesting a self-assessment of HL students' skills can also be a useful diagnostic tool: in addition to suggesting areas of strength and weakness, it indicates students' perceptions of their skills and the confidence with which they are approaching language study.
Proficiency testing in all four modalities is essential, because parallel or even similar proficiency levels cannot be assumed across modalities. Equally essential is the use to which those results can be put, to determine the areas that need the most work, knowledge that can be built upon and, more generally, understanding the characteristics and possible ranges of heritage students' proficiency.
Understanding students' motivations for studying their heritage language can inform curriculum design and play a role in determining the content of materials used. Motivations are likely to be influenced by factors specific to each language and community, as well as by students' interests. Eliciting information on motivations and interests will result in a more complete assessment.
While assessment of HL students is to some extent language-specific, a template placement procedure can be recommended with the following common elements:
To create a template and assessment instruments, we recommend:
Numerous materials aimed at heritage speakers already exist for Spanish instruction; however, for the other heritage languages, most of them less commonly taught languages, they are in short supply.Effective HL materials should be designed with the following in mind:
Because of their prior exposure to the language, many heritage speakers are capable of covering material more quickly than foreign language learners. Early in the program, they can also be exposed to higher-level discourse and register, as well as to more advanced vocabulary and sentence structure.
Adaptability of materials will benefit both educators and students because a) HL students placed in an HL class will still present a range of proficiencies; b) for a variety of reasons, HL students may be placed in classes with foreign language students. Materials should allow for the creation of tasks that offer challenges on different levels of proficiency.
HL students' language development often lags behind their cognitive development. For college-age students, elementary school materials from the target culture are cognitively inappropriate. Introductory foreign language textbooks are equally unsuitable because HL students are not typical foreign language learners. Using middle school texts from the target country in a variety of subjects, including mathematics, the natural sciences, social sciences, and literature, may provide a partial solution, although these materials will also need annotation and a teaching apparatus to be used effectively.
HL students often study their heritage language because they want to strengthen their connection with their home culture. Heritage language instruction should help students realize their goals by helping them to acquire greater cultural literacy, and materials should be designed with this principle in mind.
Political content may play a role in the selection and adaptation of authentic materials. In a class of Chinese for Chinese speakers, for example, it is possible that materials could come from Taiwan or from Mainland China, and excluding publications from either area may not be appropriate.
HL students often lack knowledge of sociolinguistic rules and discourse. Depending on the language in question, issues that may be covered include register, politeness markers, honorifics, and the vocabulary and expressions used by educated native speakers.
Unlike foreign language students, who start in the classroom and may or may not take the language they have acquired to the community, heritage students bring the language they acquired from their family and community into the classroom. Reinforcing family and community ties can be both a goal and vehicle of HL instruction. Ethnographic projects, such as interviews with family and community members (Valdés, 2000: 390), and volunteer work in a language community, can integrate home-based cultural and linguistic knowledge into a broader and more academic context. Implicit in the value placed on such projects is respect for the variants of the language spoken in the students' homes, which is necessary to the instructor's successful interaction with the class.
Brinton and Snow (1997: vii) define content-based instruction as "the integration of content learning with language teaching aims" and list the following advantages of a content-based curriculum:
Content-based instruction is particularly appropriate for heritage students, who have a background in the target language and culture and a need to develop knowledge of register, stylistics, and high-level vocabulary. Content-based instruction should also address the need for a cognitively and culturally appropriate curriculum already discussed.
Computerized materials will help educators to accommodate the diversity within a classroom and the conditions under which HL study may be pursued, including the possibility of independent study and distance learning. They will also allow for the creation of interactive tutorials in areas where HL students are deficient. Finally, while creating computer-accessible materials is more time-consuming, they can be improved and updated more easily than printed materials.
Historically, language instructors on each UC campus have created at least some of their own materials, often reduplicating each other's efforts rather than collaborating and sharing. Because heritage language teaching is a new field, collaboration among colleagues from different campuses, as well as collaboration across languages, will expedite curriculum and materials development.
We recommend a collaborative effort to:
HL-specific pedagogy is still under development. Teachers of HL students should be trained in pedagogy that will enable them to impart linguistic, sociolinguistic, and pragmatic competence as well as cultural enrichment.
The principal areas in which teachers need training are:
Teacher preparation involves the following considerations:
HL students bring to their studies a substantial background in their language. At the same time, HL students who begin language study with Intermediate or higher proficiency in speaking and listening may have elementary or even nonexistent literacy skills. The distribution of HL proficiency across modalities differs substantially from foreign language students' proficiency, and is the basis of the many differences between HL and FL students.
HL teachers need to be trained to interpret the results of oral and written testing, noting patterns of strengths first while also assessing weaknesses.
Teachers of HL students will need to draw upon knowledge of sociolinguistics, both for assessment purposes and for informing classroom discourse and building community.
HL students, particularly if they speak a variant of the language that is stigmatized, may believe that they are not legitimate speakers of the language, and they as well as their classmates need to know that they are. Teachers should know how to avoid and counter this type of stigmatization, by teaching about language variation and use, prestige and stigmatized dialects, the difference between spoken and written language, and the phenomena of borrowing and code-switching.
Teacher training should impart knowledge of HL-specific learning styles and strategies, of intergroup and personal dynamics, motivation issues, and affective variables, including the role of self-esteem and classroom anxiety in learning. It needs to be noted, however, that such knowledge is incomplete, and continuing research will contribute to its development.
Instructors need training in the creation of tasks for a single set of materials in a class that may have varying levels of proficiency, or that combines heritage and foreign language students. They also need to know how to apply pedagogical strategies that will result in fruitful collaboration among students: recommended are group projects, study groups where HLs and non-HLs work together, content-based instruction, and experiential learning, all of which allow flexibility in teaching a mixed class. Workshops that emphasize the development of reading and writing skills over work on oral skills, and stress individual progress rather than comparing students' abilities, may be particularly suited to classes with a wide range of proficiencies, and may also be appropriate for classes combining heritage and foreign language learners.
Not all departments or programs will be able to provide all the teacher training needed. Both collaboration and the development of computer-based training materials can make training and resources available to all UC language programs as well as to instructors across the country.
Interest in heritage language instruction has grown considerably in the past several years, and has resulted in activity including two national conferences, the UCLA Research Priority Conference, workshops across the country, and several volumes dedicated to heritage instruction. Nevertheless, the development of the field depends on an informed and ongoing discussion of an HL curriculum enriched by continual research into all aspects of heritage HL knowledge, loss, motivation, and maintenance, both language specific and across languages; publications of case studies describing successful programs; the development of templates for HL placement testing, and teacher preparation that will impart to teachers a knowledge of appropriate materials development, classroom organization and pedagogical strategies. In all of the above, both differences and similarities between HL and FL instruction should be kept in mind.
Bermel, Neil, and Olga Kagan. "The Maintenance of Written Russian in Heritage Speakers." The Learning and Teaching of Slavic Languages and Cultures. Ed. Olga Kagan and Benjamin Rifkin. Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers, 2000: 405-36.
Brinton, Donna M., and Marguerite Ann Snow. The Content-Based Classroom: Perspectives on Integrating Language and Content. White Plains, NY: Addison Wesley Longman, 1997.
Lo Bianco, Joseph. "Clusters of Research Areas." Directions in Research: Intergenerational Transmission of Heritage Languages. Ed. Russ Campbell and Donna Christian. Heritage Language Journal .
UC Consortium on Language Learning and Teaching. UC Guidelines on Heritage Language Instruction.
Rifkin, Benjamin. "Oral Proficiency Learning Outcomes and Curricular Design." Foreign Language Annals (in press).
Valdés, Guadalupe. "The Teaching of Heritage Languages: An Introduction for Slavic-Teaching Professionals." The Learning and Teaching of Slavic Languages and Cultures. Ed. Olga Kagan and Benjamin Rifkin. Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers, 2000: 375-404.
Fishman, Joshua A. "300-Plus Years of Heritage Language Education in the United States." Heritage Languages in America: Preserving a National Resource. Joy Kreeft Peyton, Donald A. Ranard, and Scott McGinnis, Eds. Yonkers, NY: ACTFL, 2000: 81-97.
Heritage Language Development. Ed. Stephen D. Krashen, Lucy Tse and Jeff McQuillan. Culver City, CA: Language Education Associates, 1998.
Heritage Languages in America: Preserving a National Resource. Ed. Joy Kreeft Peyton, Donald A. Ranard, Scott McGinnis. Delta Systems Co. Inc: Center for Applied Linguistics, 2001.
Teaching Heritage Language Learners: Voices from the Classroom. Ed. John Webb and Barbara Miller. Yonkers, NY: American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 2000.
Polinsky, Maria. Paths to learning: Text structure in monolingual and bilingual child learner. Heritage Language Acquisition: A New Field Emerging. Ed. D. Brinton and O.Kagan. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, in preparation.
Valdés, Guadalupe. Spanish for Native Speakers: AATSP Professional Development Series handbook for teachers K-16 (Vol. 1). New York: Harcourt College Publishers, 2000: 1.
Published: Tuesday, May 24, 2005
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