Advocating for Critical Pedagogical Approaches to Teaching Spanish as a Heritage Language: Some Considerations

By Correa, Maite | Foreign Language Annals, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Advocating for Critical Pedagogical Approaches to Teaching Spanish as a Heritage Language: Some Considerations


Correa, Maite, Foreign Language Annals


Abstract: This article makes the case for using critical pedagogical approaches to the teaching of Spanish as a heritage language (HL). Having different language tracks is not enough: As long as HL learners hold negative linguistic attitudes about their own language variety, they will be unable and unprepared to learn successfully. First, I define who HL learners are and why they need to be in a separate track from traditional language learners. Later, I discuss the basic premises of critical pedagogy in order to recommend that HL instructors take this pedagogical approach to maximize Spanish HL learner potential. Last, I recommend the importance of providing sociolinguistic tools in order to corroborate that standard Spanish is not a replacement for local varieties but simply a register students can use once they appreciate their own language.

Key words: Spanish, constructivism, critical pedagogy, heritage language, linguistic discrimination

Introduction

Heritage language (HL) learners are a population of students with very specific cultural and linguistic needs, and the need to place them in different language tracks has long been addressed and justified (Faltis, 1990; Krashen, 2000; Lynch, 2008; Samaniego & Pino, 2000). However, having different language tracks is just the first of many steps toward successful differentiated instruction. As I discuss in this article, critical pedagogy contrasts with traditional HL pedagogies in that it recommends, among other things, an additive policy of multiple dialect acquisition that allows students to examine the sociopolitical and linguistic environment in which they live.

In this article I advocate for a critical pedagogical approach by which HL instructors can empower students to learn successfully without rejecting their own regional varieties, while at the same time they become critically and sociolinguistically aware of the reasons that they might find linguistic discrimination outside of the classroom. First, I define who the HL learners are and why they need to be in a separate track. Later, I review the linguistic discrimination that many of these learners have historically undergone in the United States and discuss the basic premises of critical pedagogy and constructivism in order to recommend that HL instructors take these pedagogical approaches to maximize Spanish HL learner potential. Last, I emphasize the importance of providing students with the necessary sociolinguistic tools to discover that standard Spanish is not a replacement for their own varieties but simply a register they can add to their linguistic repertoire once they appreciate their own variety.

Who Are Heritage Language Learners, and Why Do We Need HL Courses? Differences and Similarities Between Foreign Language Learners, HL Learners, and Native Speakers

HL learners have been defined as students of language who are "raised in a home where a non-English language is spoken, who speak or merely understand the heritage language, and who are to some degree bilingual in English and the heritage language" (Valdés, 2000, p. 1; emphasis added). Although Spanish HL learners have been exposed to the Spanish language to some extent, they usually receive their education in English, and as a consequence many of them become literate only in English.

Spanish HL learners exhibit some characteristics in common with Spanish as a foreign language (FL) learners (Lynch, 2008; Montrul, 2005; Montrul, Foote, & Perpiñán, 2008). First, neither of them are fully competent native speakers of Spanish, because they usually fail to develop full linguistic ability in the target language and end up with similar grammatical issues. For instance, they make the same type of transfer errors from English and display some of the same morphosyntactical problems, such as adjectival inflection, clitic usage, prepositions, and subject-verb agreement, among others.

However, manner and context of acquisition also set these two groups apart: First, HL learners may require substantially less instructional time than FL learners to develop the same skills, especially pronunciation, vocabulary, and fluency (Brecht & Ingold, 2002). …

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