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Beginning Level University Heritage Programs: Creating a Space for All Heritage Language Learners

Sara Beaudrie and Cynthia Ducar, University of Arizona

beaudrie and ducar

Abstract

This paper addresses beginning level Spanish heritage language (SHL) learners’ attitudes towards their language and culture. Heritage language (HL) programs and research have often overlooked beginning level learners, especially within university settings.

The current study involved 20 participants from a beginning level SHL class in the Southwestern United States. Participants completed a lengthy survey addressing the issues of language contact, language attitudes and linguistic behaviors. Follow-up interviews were also conducted.

The results observed confirm previous research. The majority of students seldom use Spanish with parents, grandparents or relatives (79%); however, their responses indicate they are frequently surrounded by Spanish, with ample opportunities to overhear the language. Student goals include overcoming a lack of confidence in Spanish as well as a desire to improve fluency. Students’ answers demonstrate a high degree of motivation to study Spanish.

Our results attest to the fact that the specific needs, attitudes, and rich cultural background of the Southwest’s beginning heritage students parallel those of more advanced students in this region in university HL programs, indicating a need to create a space for these students within such programs. We conclude our paper with pedagogical guidelines based on our results and specifically tailored to this population of students.

Introduction

The Hispanic population has been expanding at a staggering rate in the United States. According to US census information from 1990 – 2000 there was a 53% increase in the Latino population, bringing this minority sector to 13.6% of the nation’s total population. This same increasingly noticeable presence is noted in today’s classrooms. At the post-secondary level, the overall percentage of Hispanic students attending colleges was 11.4% in 1999, according to the 1999 U.S. Bureau of the Census. At the University of Arizona, where the present study took place, 4,950 students or 13.3% of the student population is comprised of Hispanics. Despite the large size of this population, only approximately 250 of these students, or 5% of the total Hispanic population of the University typically enroll in SHL classes each semester. Students who self-identify as SHL learners take a HL placement exam, and are then placed into one of the following heritage classes: SPA 103, 203, 253, 323. Though the SHL program at the University of Arizona is one of the oldest in the United States, Spanish 103 has only recently been incorporated in response to the newly emerging and increasingly growing population of beginning level SHL learners who possess a significant degree of receptive ability and limited speaking skills in the language. Beginning level learners are the most frequently overlooked by university SHL programs, which typically enroll such students in beginning level basic language classes. The current study investigates beginning level heritage students of Spanish at the University of Arizona in order to determine if their needs, experiences and attitudes will be better met in the HL program.

A Spanish heritage language learner is defined as a learner who has been exposed to the Spanish language in the home who speaks or merely understands the Spanish language and is, to various degrees, bilingual (Valdés 1995). Beginning level SHL learners, at a minimum, possess receptive abilities in the heritage language. The University of Arizona, like other universities with a large Hispanic student enrollment, is trying to address the distinct needs of this growing population of beginning level students by offering a new SHL class, Spanish 103. This class is geared specifically toward meeting the goals and needs of such students. Spanish 103 is a fast-paced course which aims at developing students’ conversational skills in the HL. The question remains, however, as to how such classes can be designed to best meet the needs of this particular population of students. As Wiley states, “we are working with a population of learners whose needs we are only beginning to understand” (Wiley 2000: 29); though Wiley is referring to all heritage language learners, we feel this is particularly pertinent to beginning level heritage learners, a population previously ignored by both HL programs and researchers alike. As Carreira points out, the number of students with low levels of fluency in spoken Spanish and even less familiarity with academic skills in the language is on the increase (2003). The cutting edge of current research in the HL field, therefore, must revolve around the necessity of addressing the specific needs of this population of students while simultaneously aiding in the creation of specific pedagogical goals that will move these learners beyond the classroom walls into the Hispanic community that surrounds them.

SHL History

SHL programs, specifically at the college level, are a recent development. Due to the boom in the Hispanic population, beginning in the 1970’s, colleges and universities began incorporating SHL classes into university level language programs. However, both the materials available for such classes, as well as a lack of teacher training in the field of SHL, gave rise to a certain imbalance of power at the university level. The asymmetrical relationship between SHL and foreign language (FL) programs continues today; FL students continue to be privileged over their SHL counterparts.

As Ortega states, “Foreign language education is structured in ways so as to reproduce the pervasive societal belief that second languages are a resource available for mainstream monolingual speakers only” (1999: 24). She asserts that typical FL programs “embrace” outside cultures and ignore or devalue internal cultures (Ortega 1999). Thus, Spanish FL programs focus upon the languages and cultures of Spain and Latin America, while ignoring those Spanish-speaking cultures and languages present here within the United States. According to Ruiz (1984, 1990), said structure reinforces two glaringly distinct orientations toward language, where “Ethnic languages are treated as problems, on the one hand, foreign languages as resources, on the other” (Ruiz 1990: 23). It is the task of university and college level SHL and FL programs to debunk this persistent societal myth and reconstruct students’ language ideologies so as to give both FL and SHL languages and their learners an equal status. However, that is not to say that the learners within the two programs are the same, nor should their texts and other learning materials be the same. As Valdés states, “L2/FL emphasis and minority language emphasis are quite different…the theoretical assumptions underlying each type of instruction are also fundamentally different” (1995: 320). These fundamental differences need to be both re-evaluated and addressed in order to fully rectify the imbalance of power which currently exists between the two programs.

This fundamental difference, and need for separate techniques and materials is particularly pertinent at the university level. As Aparicio points out, SHL programs will remain indispensable at colleges and universities “until federal policies toward bilingual education change, until maintenance oriented programs replace transitional bilingual programs…” (1993:194). The transitional nature of the majority of current bilingual programs within the United States has created and continues to create a large population of SHL learners who are, essentially, progressing through the various stages of first language loss. These learners arrive at colleges and universities with a strong receptive ability in the Spanish language, accompanied by little or no productive abilities.

Previous Research

As the field of HL education has exploded in the 21st century, more researchers have begun to address the growing need to evaluate the attitudes, behaviors and motivations of this population; however, there are no studies to date investigating beginning level university heritage learners. Additionally, few attitudinal surveys of HL learners have been conducted; though there are several studies worthy of mention which focus on learners at the high school level.

In addition to other measures, Carreira (2003) investigated learners’ attitudes toward Spanish in part because U.S. linguists have argued that one of the greatest barriers to the economic future of this same population is the “low social and economic value attached to Spanish is this country” (Carreira 2003: 64). Yet Carreira also acknowledges “…the attitudes of Hispanics toward their ancestral language vary according to geographical and national lines” (2003: 67). The questionnaire provided in Carreira’s article can be used to analyze both behaviors and attitudes, and Carreira suggests that surveys of this nature are an imperative assessment tool in any Spanish for Native Speakers class. It is proposed that student attitudes be used as a pedagogical beginning point for class structure and planning.

The current study, however, most parallels that performed by Beckstead and Toribio (2003), which looked at HL learners’ attitudes in a junior high setting in California. This four-part study involved extensive analysis of 43 students’ language background, as well as a measure of their language proficiency, language attitude surveys and open-ended questions regarding their values toward the Spanish language. The 14-question language use section of the survey looked at the use of Spanish in various contexts, much like the survey used in the current study (home, friends, school, neighborhood). It was found that the longer a student (or his/her family) had resided in the United States, the more likely the student was to use English. The researchers interpreted these results to be reflective of a process of language shift; in other words, the Spanish speaking abilities of the surveyed population would be lost in another generation. However, despite this apparent shift, adolescents at all ages were found to watch/listen to Spanish media. The attitudinal aspect of the survey found that students link English to future employment opportunities, while they link Spanish to their identities. Students’ desire to communicate with the English-dominant community and their perceived benefits regarding the retention of Spanish emerge as the two main findings of the study. Not only do surveys of this nature provide insights into students’ opinions and practices outside of the classroom, but they also provide a pertinent point of departure for discussion within the classroom. Carrasco and Riegelhaupt (2003) corroborate the findings of Beckstead and Toribio, stressing the need to conduct language use and language attitude surveys in all SHL classrooms. The dual intent of such surveys is to increase the meta-linguistic and meta-cultural awareness of students while simultaneously providing teachers with the necessary information to better suit the individual pedagogical and linguistic needs of their students. Clearly, “students are an important source of information on their own learning…” and this source must be tapped in order to better meet the pedagogical needs of each population of speakers (Mercado 2001: 221).

Research based along these lines leads to specific pedagogical implications. The basis for teaching in HL classrooms is not the traditional textbook, as few textbooks have been published to date for this specific population; rather, the students themselves should serve as the point of departure for pedagogical structuring (Romero 2000; 153). Unlike the studies mentioned, the current study attempts to assess the attitudes and behaviors of beginning level university heritage language students. The beginning level heritage language classes here at the University of Arizona are in their inception, and their success hinges upon students’ continued presence in these classrooms. The challenge is to create a classroom that utilizes the student as well as community resources. Students’ needs should be reflected in the pedagogical framework employed in the classroom. Instructors need to continuously assess students’ attitudes and beliefs to see if the class is having the intended impact; namely, increasing the potential for maintenance of the heritage language as well as reconnecting students to their cultural, heritage and linguistic background.

The Current Study

Participants

This study was conducted at the University of Arizona in the fall of 2003. Participants came from a sample of convenience of students enrolled in two sections of first-semester classes for SHL learners (Spanish 103). By definition, SPA 103 consists solely of SHL learners;1 therefore the group under investigation was homogeneous in that respect. Twenty students (fifteen female and five male) participated voluntarily in the first phase. Sixteen of the students ranged in age from 18-20, the remaining four were between the ages 23 and 51. The majority of students came from a mid-level socio-economic background. Eight students from the original group participated in the second phase of the study.

Research Questions:

  • How can we define HL learners so as to include all beginning level learners?
  • What are the attitudes of beginning level university Spanish heritage language learners’ towards their language and culture? And how do these attitudes affect students’ motivation?
  • What type of contact do these students have with the Spanish language?

Methodology

The data collection was carried out in two phases. During the first phase, participants completed a survey eliciting information on their behaviors and attitudes towards Spanish. Students responded to questions regarding their contact with the Spanish language, as well as questions aimed at assessing their attitudes toward the language. During the second phase, eight students volunteered to participate in a 20-minute interview consisting of questions which followed-up on those listed on the survey. Each interview was conducted in a computer lab by the same researcher that administered the surveys.

Instruments

Language Survey (see Appendix):

Students completed a survey that measured: (a) amount of contact with Spanish, (b) attitudes toward Spanish, (c) attitudes toward language varieties, (d) self-assessment of Spanish proficiency and (e) background information. The survey consisted of statements employing a five-point Likert scale (strongly agree, agree, etc.), as well as both closed and open-ended questions covering both language behaviors and attitudes. In (a), students were asked about the frequency with which they speak or are spoken to in Spanish, the amount of other Spanish input received outside the classroom, the amount of reading in Spanish, and their attitudes and emotional responses when required to use or listen to Spanish. In (b), students had to indicate the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with various attitudinal statements about the Hispanic culture. In (c), students were presented with open-ended questions where they were asked about their awareness of language varieties and their attitude towards standard/non-standard varieties of Spanish. In (d), students self-evaluated their listening, reading, writing and speaking abilities in the language. Lastly, section (e), elicited background information about the participants, their parents and their grandparents.

Interviews

The interviews were designed to provide further insights into the students’ attitudes towards Spanish. Students were asked to elaborate on their answers to the survey and express their opinions on the benefit of using Spanish in the United States as well as their thoughts on the relationship between language and identity. Students were also asked to comment on their ideal learning environment.

Survey Results

As stated previously, twenty students participated in the survey, of those, fifteen stated that they grew up speaking English as their first language, two others stated that they learned Spanish and English simultaneously, and the remaining three cited Spanish as their first language. All but one student grew up in a household in which at least one parent spoke Spanish as either a first or second language, the one exception being a student who was exposed to Spanish through a live-in maid/nanny figure. Thirteen of the students, or 65% were raised in a household where both parents spoke both English and Spanish. Table 1 displays the range of students’ exposure to Spanish based on their interactions with three groups of individuals (parents, grandparents and siblings). The table is further divided into three distinct categories based on type of exposure (speaking, addressed by, and listening).

Table 1: Participant Exposure to the Spanish Language with Family Members


Never
Seldom/Sometimes
Often/Always
Speak to parents
5.30%
79%
10.60%
Addressed by parents
10.50%
47.40%
36.90%
Listen to conversation
between parents
5.30%
26.30%
63.20%
Speak to grandparents
5.60%
45.60%
22.30%
Addressed by
grandparents
0
10.50%
52.70%
Listen to conversations
between grandparents
5.30%
5.30%
73.60%
Speak to siblings
44.40%
33.40%
5.60%
Addressed by siblings
52.60%
26.30%
5.30%
Listen to conversations
between siblings
52.50%
15.80%
21.10%

As seen in Table 1, students are most frequently in the position of listeners to the Spanish language; that is, their role with the language is passive in nature, which may explain their somewhat limited productive proficiency. This idea is further upheld by the fact that students are often addressed in Spanish, in particular in interactions with their grandparents and parents. It should also be noted that participants were least likely to be exposed to Spanish when dealing with their siblings. Sibling interactions rarely occur in the Spanish language, and though we will not speculate as to why that might be the case here, the finding does concur with previous research which indicates that language loss is often a generational issue; clearly, use of Spanish decreases in later generations, as evidenced here by the low use of Spanish between siblings. Finally, despite the overall passive nature of student interactions with the language in familial settings, it is important to note that these students do in fact use Spanish to some degree in the majority of these cases. Less than 10% of those participating state they never use Spanish when speaking with parents and grandparents, which implies that at least some Spanish is being used in these interactions, thus reaffirming that student contact with the language though mainly passive is not entirely non-agentive in nature. Despite the fact that students’ overall use of Spanish is low, they do report a high degree of exposure to the language. As can be seen in Table 1, an overwhelming majority of students, 73%, stated that they are often addressed by their parents in Spanish, and this same amount of students stated that they often or always overhear conversations between their grandparents in Spanish. 63% of students further stated that they often or always overhear conversations between their parents and/or relatives in Spanish.

The next section of the survey addressed participant language attitudes, and asked students to rate specific statements about the language using a six-point Likert scale with the following options: strongly agree, agree, neither, disagree, strongly disagree, unsure; where strongly agree was ranked as 5 and not sure was ranked as 0. A tabulation of the data from this part of the survey follows in Table 2 (for a clearer view of the statements, please see Appendix).

Table 2: Participants’ Attitudes Toward the Spanish Language


Strongly Agree
Agree
Neither Agree
nor Disagree
Disagree
Strongly
Disagree
Not sure
1. I enjoy listening
to the Spanish language.
42.90%
52.40%
4.80%
0
0
0
2. I see no connection
between knowledge of
the Spanish language and being Hispanic.
4.80%
14.30%
14.30%
42.90%
23.80%
0
3. I associate Spanish
with low economic status.
0
0
0
30%
70%
0
4. I like being identified
as a member of the
Hispanic community.
47.60%
42.90%
4.80%
4.80%
0
0
5. I would like to learn
about different countries and cultures within the Hispanic world.
47.60%
42.90%
4.80%
4.80%
0
0
6. I'm proud of my Hispanic culture.
61.90%
19%
14.30%
0
0
4.80%
7. I associate Spanish
with prestige.
28.60%
42.90%
19%
4.80%
4.80%
0
8. I think it is important
to learn about my historical and cultural background.
47.60%
42.90%
4.80%
4.80%
0
0
9. Learning Spanish will
bring me closer to my
relatives and friends.
47.60%
33.30%
19%
0
0
0

Though responses clearly spanned a broad range of possibilities, students did concur to a high degree on many issues. For example, students’ answers to question one resulted in a mean of 4.38 (out of a possible 5) with a low standard deviation of .59, implying that the majority of the population being studied has a strong positive attitude toward hearing the Spanish language, again reflective of the passive, yet interested nature of the group. Students also expressed a strong and homogenous opinion toward question three: “I associate Spanish with low economic status.” In this case, the mean was a low .3 and the standard deviation was a mere .47. Students thus demonstrated an extremely high amount of disagreement with this statement, again reflecting their overall positive attitude toward the language. A more negative viewpoint is also expressed in question two, which states that there is no connection between the Spanish language and being Hispanic. Thus, students’ high regard for the language and culture is maintained regardless of the wording of each question. The overwhelming degree of positive attitudes found in this section of the survey reflects a high regard for the Spanish language.

The following section of the survey asked students about their emotional responses when having to speak in Spanish. Students were provided with nine different options that they could select plus an “other” category. Table 3 presents the number of responses students selected for each category.

Table 3: Students' Emotional Responses When Speaking Spanish



As can be seen, students appear to have a positive but apprehensive attitude towards speaking Spanish. A high number of responses given to negative attitudes such as “anxious”, “intimidated”, “challenged” and “shy”, which make evident their nervous response at the moment of using Spanish. The students’ positive attitude can be seen in the high number of students who chose “welcoming” as opposed to the low number that selected “uninterested”.

The next figure also shows the students’ emotional responses and attitudes, this time towards listening to Spanish. In this case, there seems to be a shift in their responses. Fewer students selected negative adjectives while the number of responses that indicate their positive attitudes increased. Overall, a comparison between the two sets of results reveals that students’ level of comfort and interest is much higher when listening to Spanish than when speaking Spanish.

Table 4: Students Emotional Responses When Listening to Spanish


Qualitative Analysis: Survey and Interview Results

Language Contact

The analysis of the qualitative data involved an examination of the open-ended questions along with the data contained within the interview sessions in search of emerging themes. Such themes were selected based on their prevalence in the students’ responses throughout both data sets. The following italicized statements reflect the trends that emerged from the analysis.

Students Possess a Rich Cultural and Linguistic Environment

Students provided various examples, demonstrating that not only do they encounter Spanish in the company of parents and grandparents, but also in a myriad of other situations; some examples of which included interactions with boyfriends, friends, family, the workplace, and the community in general. Students thus indicated the variety of ways in which they come into contact with Spanish in their everyday lives. Students desire situations which require the use of Spanish. A majority of students expressed a significant degree of discontent with respect to their contact with Spanish. Most regretted the fact that their family members did not usually speak to them in Spanish and if they did, did not request an answer back in Spanish. As a result, students expressed their need to be in an environment that required them to use Spanish: “I want to be in an environment where I am absolutely forced to speak in Spanish”, “I always tell my mom and grandma to speak to me in Spanish but they never do”, “I’d like to be around people and places where Spanish is spoken and I need to speak it in turn”, and “I wish I had more contact, practice and experience but outside of the classroom”. Unlike the number of opportunities students have to listen to spoken Spanish, the bilingual nature of their environment makes the instances when they are expected to produce Spanish themselves very limited.

Spanish Language Attitudes

High Motivation

Students’ answers showed a high degree of motivation to study Spanish. Their responses can be categorized into three distinct types of motivation: 1) extrinsic reasons, 2) intrinsic reasons, and 3) both. 40 % showed intrinsic motivation: “I enjoy it and I want to learn the language”, “I want to become a better Spanish speaker”, and “I want to strengthen my Spanish speaking skills”. Another 40 % of the students indicated extrinsic motivations with answers such as “I need it for my major”, “bilingualism is a great skill to have”, and “more job opportunities”. Within this 40%, 10 % stated they were in the class because they wanted to communicate well with family members and Spanish natives, expressing a distinct type of extrinsic motivation. About 20 % of the students evidenced both types of motivations. They admitted that they were in the class because it was a requirement, but they said that they also wanted to learn the language and be able to communicate with Spanish-speaking people.

Spanish Provides Opportunities for Better Communication and Jobs

The majority of the students found more advantages rather than disadvantages when discussing the value of knowing Spanish. Communication with family and increased job opportunities were the two most frequently mentioned advantages. About 25 % of the students talked about disadvantages associated with the low status and the discrimination of Spanish speakers. They mentioned various negative stereotypes, as well as instances of discrimination and criticism as examples of the disadvantages of speaking Spanish.

Positive Attitude Towards Language Maintenance

Students further expressed positive attitudes regarding their future use of Spanish with their children. The majority said that they would speak both English and Spanish to them; however, it was evident that some of the students were afraid of teaching Spanish to their children and feared that using Spanish would impede their children’s acquisition of English.

Self-assessment: Lack of Confidence

Most of the students mentioned that one of their main obstacles in communicating in Spanish was their lack of confidence. Thus, their academic goals included gaining confidence when speaking Spanish in addition to becoming more fluent. Students are dealing with two over-lapping confidence issues: (1) a lack of confidence in their Spanish speaking abilities and (2) a lack of confidence in the validity or prestige level of their own variety of Spanish. As one participant stated: “I don’t feel my Spanish is that good. I talk ‘pocha’ Spanish”.

Language Varieties: Preference for Mexican Spanish

Students’ responses showed a preference for Mexican Spanish: “because we live in the region” or “it is the one that surrounds the most”. However, the majority of students, 65%, were aware of other varieties of Spanish, in large part due to interactions with other students occurring in the HL class itself. The diversity of students in such classes provided a context for exposure to different language varieties.

Defining the Heritage Learner

The particular characteristics of the population under investigation in this study call for a more inclusive definition of the HL learner than that which was mentioned at the beginning of the paper. As Duisberg suggests, any definition of an HL learner should do “nothing to limit the diversity of students (thus) classified” (sic 2001: 24). The most widely used definition of heritage learner, however, continues to be that which was proposed by Valdés (1995). As mentioned previously, she suggests that a heritage language learner is an individual that has been brought up in a home where a language other than English is spoken; according to Valdés, a SHL learner is someone who speaks or merely understands the Spanish language and is, to various degrees, bilingual. This definition includes two different components: the linguistic ability that learners possess and the cultural background that students bring with them from home. However, these two components do not always come together. As illustrated by Wiley (2000), there are students who have no linguistic abilities in the heritage language but would like to learn it in an effort to reconnect with their heritage. These students represent a unique group whose motivation level will probably be high, and who clearly possess a heritage connection to the language; however, their acquisition process will most parallel that of a regular second language learner due to a lack of previous contact with the language. Such learners should form part of the definition of HL learners though they are often not represented in HL programs due to their lack of exposure to the Spanish language. On the other hand, there are students who do not possess the heritage background but have had an extensive exposure to the language because they have lived in a country where the heritage language was spoken during their childhood, or they have been in other situations of contact with speakers of the language. The definition of heritage language learner should therefore be modified to include all of the aforementioned students.

We prefer to use a more ample definition of HL learners, one that includes all individuals that have experienced a relatively extended period of exposure to the language, typically during childhood, through contact with family members or other individuals, resulting in the development of either receptive and/or productive abilities in the language, and varying degrees of bilingualism. This definition allows for the inclusion of two groups of individuals: (1) those who were exposed to Spanish through their families or relatives and (2) those who were exposed to Spanish through contact with someone outside of the family (for example a housekeeper or with friends in the surrounding community). Though the current study only has one example of such a student, as instructors of SHL classes, both researchers can attest to the fact that other students of this nature enroll in our classes every semester, some of whom have acquired Spanish on the streets, playing with friends, others of whom acquired Spanish through long-term interactions with Spanish-speaking family friends. It is safe to say that a minimum of one student and up to as many as four students per semester with similar characteristics enroll in our classes alone!

Our definition of HL learner is thus capable of encompassing the previously mentioned groups, all of which are expected to follow a similar acquisition process that will differ, to a greater or lesser degree, from that of the regular foreign language learner. As Lynch states, “Heritage Learners are generally characterized by linguistic processes and social factors attributed to both second language acquisition and to situations of language contact” (2003: 31); this new definition provides teachers and researchers with a clearer picture of the diverse population at hand.

Pedagogical Implications

The results of the current study exemplify the need to create a niche for students with limited Spanish productive proficiency within university level HL programs. As can be seen from student responses, the needs of this population are indeed quite distinct. Students at this level both expect and need to learn within an atmosphere that fosters confidence in their use of the Spanish language and pride in their cultural heritage. Additionally, a beginning level class for HL learners should also address the ACTFL standard of communication, culture, connections, comparisons and community.

Most students interviewed expressed the importance of using Spanish as the sole means of communication within the classroom; however, this can also cause increased anxiety in the initial phases of the class. Spanish 103 is structured in such a way that from day one, the instructor addresses the students in Spanish, while the students are given a month long adjustment period; most students found this structure highly beneficial: “I like that the teacher spoke only in Spanish. I think if she spoke in English I wouldn’t have learned as much” (Tammy , student participant). During the first month of class, answers in English, Spanish and a mix of the two languages are accepted; however, after approximately one month, students are eased into a Spanish production mode. Multiple communicative activities, performed in pairs or groups of three encourage student communication, while lowering anxiety levels; “The activities were good because I’ve never spoken Spanish where I had to speak to my peers, in Spanish, so that was good too, because it kind of takes you out of your comfort level because you’re kind of embarrassed at first, but then you get over it and it’s really helpful” (Ali). Students naturally learn to negotiate meaning in these small groups while strengthening their interpersonal communicative abilities. Essentially, students are not under pressure to communicate in a prescriptively perfect Spanish, but rather are aware of the need to simply try to communicate; “That’s why the class is good because she doesn’t care if you’re speaking wrong or you’re speaking incorrectly, she just wants you to talk” (Mary). In fact, it is suggested that grading of oral participation be based on one’s willingness to participate and one’s attempts to use the target language, rather than a stricter grading of the grammatical correctness of student statements; “It is imperative that Spanish language teachers in the U.S. put aside any prejudicial notions that the may have about what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘pure’ Spanish…” (Lynch 2003: 43). Students enjoy a relaxed classroom atmosphere in which communication and communicative appropriateness is encouraged; as one student stated,

I think it’s better for me to be in a class like this. I’m just really practicing and like going over and over and over…I really like my class this year. We covered everything, but it was more like relearning in a different way. We talk more and use more group activities, more inter-active. (Sandra, student participant)

The goal of Spanish 103 is to increase students’ confidence and productive abilities in Spanish. This goal can only be achieved if class sizes are kept small and students feel a sense of comfort and community in the classroom. As one student confirmed, “It’s a small class. I know everyone’s in the same boat I’m in. You get to practice by speaking with people. I’m not anxious in the classroom.” Small class size is imperative to creating an environment that fosters ample speaking opportunities. As Lynch states, “the needs of the heritage learners are best and most appropriately served by discourse-level activities” (Lynch 2003: 42). Before students are willing to risk speaking aloud in a language in which they lack confidence, a trust between fellow students and the instructor must be created; this goal is achieved much more readily in a class of 15 than in a larger class.

Additionally, teachers need to create a need for students to use Spanish outside of the classroom, and this is in fact the teacher’s greatest challenge. The goal of Spanish 103 is to get students into the habit of using Spanish to communicate with friends and family, not just in a passive fashion, but in an active fashion as well. In some cases, students come to class with that need in mind. Oftentimes they want to re-establish a connection with a grandparent or other relative, in one particular case, a student was getting married and her fiancée’s family only spoke Spanish:

I think the class was excellent in terms of getting people to speak Spanish. The girl who sat next to me came to class not speaking any Spanish and now she’s talking to her future mother-in-law only in Spanish. It’s so cool, because her boyfriend’s family doesn’t speak any English, so it’s really great. They gained a lot more confidence. (Selena)

Most students see the acquisition of Spanish as useful for their future careers as well, yet in other instances, that need is not so self-evident and activities need to be created within the class itself that encourage students to break outside of the safety of the classroom environment and use Spanish in other contexts. Individual projects that require students to interview family and community members in Spanish are met with both enthusiasm and trepidation. Though students are excited to try out their Spanish on others, they are often insecure in their use at this initial stage. The beauty of outreach projects like this is that the relatives and community members are usually so thrilled to hear the students using Spanish that regardless of whether or not the students are speaking perfectly, they are commended for their use of the language. Such projects serve to re-establish cultural bonds and bring culture into the classroom firsthand. If students can videotape their interviews, a short excerpt can be shown in class and a formal presentation can follow. This allows students to expand their communicative framework to include a less conversational, more formal style of Spanish as well, again in accordance with the ACTFL standards. Projects of this nature also lend themselves well to the goal of confidence and community building; as Ali stated, “When I went home I spoke more Spanish and my Mom said it had gotten better” (Alex). The hope is of course that when students finish the course, not only will they continue on in the Heritage Language Program, but they’ll also continue to develop their communicative skills within the Spanish-speaking community outside of the university or classroom environment.

Conclusion

This study directs HL and FL researchers and program directors’ attention to a group of Spanish Heritage learners that have been thus far neglected. It provides insight into the attitudes, beliefs and language use of this group of students. Unlike the findings of Beckstead and Toribio (2003), the students in this study expressed both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to learn Spanish. They linked Spanish to their cultural and family ties as well as to future job opportunities. Though the results do not present any striking revelations, they do attest to the fact that a beginning level heritage class for this particular type of student can be extremely beneficial and should be offered by university level HL programs. The specific needs, attitudes, and rich cultural background of the students parallel those of more advanced students in university heritage language programs and indicate a need to create a space for them within such programs. To ignore the needs of this particular population of heritage learners is to miss out on an amazing resource for both universities and communities at large. These students have come to class with a high degree of motivation accompanied by a low degree of self-confidence, yet, in many cases these very same students have left Spanish 103 with the intention of majoring or minoring in the language! If these students had been allowed to pass unknowingly through the basic language program, their pride in their culture and self-confidence in their abilities may have remained untapped. These students both need and deserve a niche of their own within HL Programs across the country, and it is hoped that the pedagogical implications discussed here can be used to guide the further development of such programs.

Works Cited

Aparicio, Frances. “Diversification and Pan-Latinity: Projections for the Teaching of Spanish to bilinguals” Spanish in the United States. Ed. Ana Roca and John M. Lipski. New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1993. 183-97.

Beckstead, Karen, and Almeida Toribio. “Minority Perspectives on Language: Mexican and Mexican-American Adolescents’ Attitudes Toward Spanish and English” Mi lengua: Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States. Ed. Ana Roca and Cecelia Colombi. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2003. 154-70.

Carreira, María. “Profiles of SNS students in the Twenty-first Century: Pedagogical Implications of the Changing Demographics and Social Status of U.S. Hispanics”. Roca and Colombi 51-78.

Carrasco, Roberto Luis, and Riegelhaupt, Florencia. “META: A Model for the Continued Acquisition of Spanish by Spanish/English Bilinguals in the United States” Roca and Colombi 170-98.

Colombi, M. Cecilia, and Ana Roca. “Insights from Research and Practice in Spanish as a Heritage Language.” Roca and Colombi 1-25.

Duisberg, Stephanie. High School Heritage Learners of Spanish: An Investigation of Language Attitudes. Diss. U of Arizona, 2001.

Lynch, Andrew. “Toward a Theory of Heritage Language Acquisition: Spanish in the United States”. Roca and Colombi 25-51.

Mercado, Carmen. “Monitoring the Progress of Heritage Language Learners: Assessment Trends and Emerging Practices.” Webb and Miller 209-30.

Ortega, Lourdes. “Rethinking Foreign Language Education: Political Dimensions of the Profession” Foreign Language Teaching and Language Minority Education. (Technical report 19: 21-39). Ed. Kathryn A. Davis. Honolulu: University of Hawaii, Second Language Teaching and Curriculum Center, 1999. 21-39.

Roca, Ana and M. Cecilia Colombi, eds. Mi Lengua: Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2003.

Romero, Migdalia. “Heritage Language Classrooms in Action –Three Case Studies: An Introduction to the Research” Webb and Miller 128-56.

Ruiz, Richard. “Orientations in Language Planning.” Language Diversity: Problem or Resource? Ed. Sandra Lee McKay and Sau-ling Cynthia Wong. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle, 1984. 15-34.

Ruiz, Richard. “Official Languages and Language Planning.” Perspectives on Official English: The Campaign for English as the Official Language of the USA.Ed. Karen L. Adams and Daniel T. Brink. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1990. 11-26.

Valdés, Guadalupe. "Pedagogical Implications of Teaching Spanish to the Spanish-Speaking in the United States". Teaching Spanish to the Hispanic Bilingual: Issues, Aims, and Methods. Ed. Guadalupe Valdés, Anthony Lozano, and Rodolfo García-Moya New York: Teachers College Press, 1981. 3-20.

---. “The Teaching of Minority Languages as 'Foreign' Languages: Pedagogical and Theoretical Challenges.” Modern Language Journal 79.3 (1995): 299-328.

Webb, John, and Barbara Miller, eds. Teaching Heritage Learners: Voices from the Classroom. Ed. John Webb and Barbara Miller. New York: ACTFL, 2000.

Wiley, Terrence. “On Defining Heritage Learners and their Speakers.” Heritage Languages in America: Preserving a National Resource. Ed. Joyce Kreeft Peyton, Donald A. Ranard and Scott McGinnis. McHenry: Delta Systems, 2001. 109-42.


Acknowledgements

We would like to thank all of our student participants for their honest answers and participation in this study. We also extend thanks to the anonymous reviewers of Heritage Language Journal for their close reading and valuable criticisms of an earlier version of this article.

Notes

1 It should be noted that not all students were of Hispanic origin. This will be explained later in the paper under the heading “Defining the HL learner.” (back)

Appendix (back)

We would like you to help us by answering some questions concerning your experiences with the Spanish language. There are no right or wrong answers. Right answers are the ones that are true for you. Please respond to answers sincerely as only this will guarantee the success of the investigation. Thank you.

Language Contact with Spanish

A - In this section, please write a checkmark "X" in the box that is appropriate for you.

1-Do you speak in Spanish in any of the following contexts? If yes, indicate the frequency by checking the appropriate box.



Always Often Sometimes Seldom Never N/A
with your mother,
father or both






with your grandparents





with your siblings





with at least one of
your relatives






with at least one of
your friends






at work





at church





at school





at social events





others, please specify:






2-Do the following people address you in Spanish? If yes, indicate the frequency by checking the appropriate box:



Always Often Sometimes Seldom Never N/A
your mother,
father or both






your grandparents





your siblings





at least one
of your relatives






at least one of
your friends






others, please specify:








3-Do you listen to conversations in Spanish between the following people? If yes, indicate the frequency by checking the appropriate box:


Always Often Sometimes Seldom Never N/A
your parents
or guardians






your grandparents





your siblings





some of your relatives





some of your friends





at work





at school





at social events





others, please specify:







4 - What is your attitude when confronted with a conversation that requires your
use of Spanish? (Mark as many as apply):

welcoming
__
anxious
__
interested
__
uninterested
__
frustrated
__
intimidated
__
shy
__
confident
__
challenged
__
other, explain






________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________

5 - What is your emotional response when listening to a Spanish conversation?
(Mark all that apply):

anxiety
__
fear
__
interest
__
disinterest
__
overwhelmed
__
intimidation
__
pride
__
challenged
__
frustration
__
other, explain:
__




________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________

B - In this section, please circle the appropriate answer.
1-Do you attend functions in which the dominant language is Spanish?
NO/YES.
If yes, which?

________________________________________________________________

2-Do you view any TV in Spanish?

Never ___
1-2 hours a week ___
3-4 hours a week ___
5-6 hours a week ___

3-Do you listen to any Spanish radio?

Never ___
1-2 hours a week ___
3-4 hours a week ___
5-6 hours a week ___

C-Please provide complete answers for the following questions.

1-Mention any kind of contact that you have with Spanish and has not been present in any of the questions mentioned so far.

________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________

2-Are you satisfied with the contact you have with Spanish? What would you like to change or keep the same? Explain.

________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________

B-Write a circle in the appropriate answer:


1-Do your parents encourage you to speak Spanish?


Always
Often
Sometimes
Rarely
Never
N/A

C-Please provide answers for the following questions.


1-What are your reasons for being in a Spanish class?

________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________

2-What advantages or disadvantages do you find in speaking Spanish?

________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________

3-In the future, if given the choice, what language would you use to speak to your children?

________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________

Language Variety Attitudes

A-Please provide complete answers for the following questions:

1-Are you aware of different dialects of Spanish? Which?

________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________

2-If you could choose one variety to be taught in your class, which one would it be?

________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________

3-Do you think there is a Spanish accent that sounds more educated than others?

________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________

4-Do you think there is a Spanish accent that sounds less educated than others?

________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________

Self-assessment of Spanish Proficiency


A-Please circle the answer that is true for you:

1-I can understand when somebody speaks to me in Spanish.

not a word
a little
the main idea
almost everything
100%

2-I can make small talk in Spanish

always
often
sometimes
rarely
never

3-My reading skills in Spanish are:

Fluent
average
rudimentary
none

4-My writing skills in Spanish are:


Fluent
average
rudimentary
none

5-How would you rate your overall ability in Spanish?

Fluent
average
basic
poor

B-Please provide a complete answer for the following question:

6-How would you like your Spanish skills to be upon completion of the Spanish program
at the U of A? What are your personal goals?

________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________

Background

A-In this section, please complete the table with your background infomration. It's OK to write answer such as "not applicable" or "I don't remember".


Yourself
Age
Sex
First language
Nationality
Major
Year of studies

Mother Father
First language

Second language

Nationality

Occupation

Education

Age of arrival in US

Length of residence in US

Grandmother Mom's side Dad's side
First language

Second language

Nationality

Occupation

Education

Age of arrival in US

Length of residence in US


Grandfather Mom's side Dad's side
First language

Second language

Nationality

Occupation

Education

Age of arrival in US

Length of residence in US



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