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Approaches to Heritage Language Instruction

Most of the approaches to foreign language instruction can be adapted to the needs of heritage language learners.

Language Teaching Approach
Heritage Language Instruction
Communicative Language Teaching

Language expresses meaning and is used for communication. Language learning tasks simulate real-life communication through information sharing and processing, and integrated use of language skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing).

The following HL instructional principles are derived from the tenets of communicative language teaching:

  • The skill areas of listening and speaking serve as a springboard for developing reading and writing in HL.
  • Communicative HL materials contain intellectually and culturally stimulating texts, as well as student-centered activities. Real-life situations are simulated in real-life tasks: dialogues based on a genuine need for information (information gap), debates requiring negotiation of meaning and problem solving.
  • Oral interaction focuses on expressing the functional uses of HL (invitations, apologies, thanks, instructions, etc.) in a variety of social settings (at the office, at the party, in the street, at the store, etc.). Error correction by the instructor follows, rather than interrupts the flow of speech.
  • Error correction is welcome and effective in activities aimed at the accurate use of HL: focused grammar and vocabulary practice, reading aloud, writing.
  • The teacher facilitates the use of HL in class.
Proficiency-based Instruction

-- derived from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) proficiency guidelines (1986)

Foreign language (FL) performances in the areas of listening, speaking, reading, and writing vary according to the FL proficiency level of the student: novice, intermediate, advanced, or superior. FL performances and assessment tasks cover language functions and topics, linguistic and sociolinguistic accuracy, complexity of discourse, and cultural awareness.

The following HL teaching principles are derived from the tenets of proficiency-based instruction:

  • Performance tasks in the four HL skill areas evolve from simple to complex, in keeping with the HL proficiency level of the students.
  • HL performance tasks require the use of HL for purposes similar to those encountered in authentic HL: narratives, descriptions, requests, reports, letters, journal entries, memos, ads, interviews, surveys, etc.
  • HLLs are exposed to authentic HL materials and cultural information.
  • HL instruction focuses both on linguistic accuracy and sociolinguistic appropriateness in expressing the functions of the language in a variety of settings.
  • HLLs interact creatively to express their own thoughts and feelings in a supportive class environment.
  • The teacher encourages and facilitates the use of HL in class.
Content-based Instruction

Language instruction is integrated with acquisition of knowledge about an area of study of interest to the learner (history, business, nursing, etc.) or about a number of large themes or topics.

The following HL principles are derived from the tenets of content-based instruction:

  • In content-based instruction, HL learners study both the content and the language of a subject they are interested in.
  • In theme-based instruction, a subdivision of content-based instruction, HL learning tasks center around a number of themes or topics. While increasing their mastery of topic-related, usually formal vocabulary, students broaden their knowledge of heritage life and culture.
Experiential Learning

The learner's immediate personal experience lies at the basis of the learning process. Through reflective observation, the learner transforms this concrete experience into abstract concepts. The abstract concepts are then used for active experimentation.

The following HL classroom principles are derived from the tenets of experiential learning:

  • HLLs assume responsibility for their learning, initiating complex HL projects (large-scale surveys, oral histories, etc.) and working in groups toward their resolution.
  • Students are engaged in significant endeavors, using HL for real communication, interacting with actual members of the HL community, developing critical thinking skills and negotiation/problem solving strategies.
  • Group members negotiate and cooperate at each stage of the HL project: reaching consensus on a common goal; organizing the tasks necessary to reach the goal; gathering and compiling the information; analyzing, presenting, and evaluating the final product.
  • The teacher acts as a co-participant in the HL project, providing language appropriate for each step in the process, logistical advice, and assistance with conflict/problem resolution, as needed.

Submitted by Georgiana Galateanu, Dept. of Slavic Languages and Literatures, UCLA

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