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NEH Focus Group: Curriculum Guidelines for Heritage Language Classrooms

NEH Focus Group: Curriculum Guidelines for Heritage Language Classrooms

NEH sponsors Focus Group meetings as a means to bring experts in an area of the humanities together to develop new courses or a new focus for a humanities area. The LRC proposal to NEH was prompted by discussions among UC language instructors revealing significant differences between students who are learning a "foreign" language and students who are interested in studying what is essentially a first language as heritage speakers.

Olga Kagan Email OlgaKagan

The UCLA International Institute's Language Resource Center has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to host an NEH Focus Group. NEH sponsors Focus Group meetings as a means to bring experts in an area of the humanities together to develop new courses or a new focus for a humanities area. The LRC received this year's funding to host a Focus Group on curriculum guidelines for heritage language classrooms.

Heritage language (HL) speakers are individuals raised in homes where a language other than English is spoken and who are bilingual in English and the heritage language. This definition applies to literally millions of students in our schools and universities who are frequently defined as Korean-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Iranian-Americans, Russian-Americans, or one of several dozen other hyphenated groups. At UCLA, for example, heritage speakers comprise 70% of the students enrolled in first-year Korean and Thai classes, 60% of first-year Chinese, 90% of first-year Vietnamese and Farsi, and more than 50% of first-year Russian. These numbers are expected to increase at UCLA and at universities across the United States.

The LRC proposal to NEH was prompted by discussions among UC language instructors revealing significant differences between students who are learning a "foreign" language and students who are interested in studying what is essentially a first language as heritage speakers. Because heritage speakers grow up in bilingual households, they are more advanced in terms of speaking and listening to a particular language and thus are unsuitable for enrollment at the beginning level. However, most heritage speakers have only oral and listening skills and cannot read and write in the heritage language. The unique profile of heritage speakers makes it difficult to place them in language classes and to keep them interested and involved. The LRC hopes to address these issues by developing new curriculum guidelines for heritage speakers.

The LRC Focus Group's first meeting will take place February 14 -15. LRC faculty and staff participants in this project include Focus Group Co-Chairs Dr. Olga Kagan and Dr. Russell Campbell; Kathryn Paul, Assistant Director of the Language Resource Center; and Susie Bauckus, a graduate student in the UCLA department of Slavic Languages and Literature. UCLA faculty participating in the February meeting include: Donna Brinton and Linda Jensen, Applied Linguistics; Gyanam Mahajan, South and Southeast Asian Languages; Hongyin Tao and Amy Seo, East Asian Languages; and Concepcion Valadez, Graduate School of Education and Library Science. Outside experts include Joy Peyton, Center for Applied Linguistics; Scott McGinnis, National Foreign Language Center; Cecilia Colombi, UC Davis; John Webb, Princeton University; and Kathleen Dillon, UC Consortium for Language Learning and Teaching at UC Davis.

After completing the curriculum design and teacher training, the LRC will be sharing its Heritage Language Instruction Guidelines with members of the UC Consortium for Language Learning and Teaching, the Center for Applied Linguistics, and the National Foreign Language Center for distribution to other universities and K-12 school districts.

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