Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Redefining Spanish Teaching and Learning in the United States

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Redefining Spanish Teaching and Learning in the United States

Article excerpt

1| INTRODUCTION

This article shares a pedagogical initiative that identifies opportunities for increased efficiency and functionality in the teaching and learning of Spanish in the context of the United States.1 At the core of this initiative is the reformulation of current curricular and programmatic approaches in terms of the linguistic practices of U.S. Spanish and its associated cultural affiliations as a legitimate object of study. This initiative, which we refer to as Redefining Spanish Teaching and Learning (RSTL), combines and builds on insights from current theoretical and practical developments so as to do the following: (1) reconcile the presently conflicting educational goals of Spanish heritage language (SHL) and foreign language (SFL) teaching in the United States; (2) create a more sophisticated and efficient educational substructure than what is currently available to Spanish learners of all profiles; and (3) guide the allocation of resources to not only address and support SHL maintenance and revitalization, but to also encourage a fortified stance on bilingualism and foster cultural richness/diversity among emergent bilinguals in foreign/second language programs.

This proposal grows out of concerns regarding the current state of second language teaching and learning in general (e.g., Douglas Fir Group, 2016), and of Spanish language teaching in the United States in particular (e.g., Alvarez, 2013; Brown & Thompson, 2018; Carreira, 2000, 2003; Jaschik, 2018; Snow, 2017). According to a recent report by the Modern Language Association (Looney & Lusin, 2018), not only have SFL enrollments recently decreased by 9.8% (after decreasing by 8.3% in 2013), but the learners who do enroll in SFL courses are for the most part not achieving a minimal communicative fluency in Spanish (Snow, 2017). At the same time, children who grow up exposed to Spanish within their homes/communities (i.e., heritage speakers [HSs]) actually have difficulties maintaining their home language (Snow, 2017).

In recent years, several scholars have marshaled considerable efforts to improve on traditional SFL teaching practices and, therefore, on students' outcomes. The common factor across these efforts resides in the incorporation of sociolinguistic and critical awareness topics as well as the centralization of the Spanish HSs and their communities (e.g., Alvarez, 2013; Carreira, 2000; Carreira & Kagan, 2018; Holguín Mendoza, 2018; Leeman & Serafini, 2016; Villa, 2002). For example, Carreira (2000) argued that in the face of generalized negative attitudes toward U.S. Spanish, the SHL curriculum represented "the single most important forum where such attitudes can be exposed as groundless, and where the dual task of validating the regional variants represented in the classroom while teaching the standard language can be accomplished" (p. 423). Similarly, Villa (2002) suggested that engaging in well-reasoned academic exchange could help diminish commonly held popular myths about U.S. Spanish, particularly because the U.S. Spanish-speaking community has continued to grow throughout the 21st century. Furthermore, Alvarez (2013) advanced a socially and politically charged testimony through which she argued for the need of modern language departments to stop regarding Spanish as a foreign language and instead to recognize and act on the educational needs of Hispanic/Latinx2 students. Mostrecently, in their visionary discussions for the language teaching profession in 50 years' time, Torres, Pascual y Cabo, and Beusterien (2018) sought to reconsider and challenge long held assumptions about language teaching and learning. Particularly for Spanish, Torres et al. (2018) anticipated that it will be the integration of SHL pedagogies and their communities throughout all curricular areas, including lower-level courses on SFL programs, that will reap the most benefits.

Building on the above-mentioned insights, this article proposes a meaningful and unified model of Spanish language teaching that is sociolinguistically relevant and responsive to the needs of both SHL and SFL students alike. …

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