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About Teaching Crossroads in the Classroom (previously called: Heritage Learners)
Critical Languages
Crossroads in the Classroom
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To see past articles, you can scroll down (for the more recent) or go to the Diverse Learners section for the oldest ones.
Learn more about heritage language learners at the website of the Alliance for the Advancement of Heritage Languages. Document your heritage language program, and learn about other programs here.

May - June 2014

¡GOOOOOOOOOOOL! Building the team for Heritage Speaker success
Jeremy Aldrich and Phil Yutzy, - Harrisonburg VA Public Schools

Winning soccer teams can have a variety of successful configurations. Some have more forwards; some have more midfielders or defenders; but each configuration is designed to maximize the team's strengths and score goals. Thoughtfully matching teachers' skills and students' needs, along with an appropriate curriculum, make it more likely that students in heritage speaker courses will achieve their goals, too. In previous articles, we have discussed the typical profiles and needs of heritage speakers and we explored some appropriate routines and activities that give shape to a meaningful curriculum. In this third and final article of this series, we'll explore the characteristics of successful teachers for heritage speaker courses.

March - April 2014

Attitudes and activities for the heritage speaker classroom
Jeremy Aldrich and Phil Yutzy, - Harrisonburg VA Public Schools

What does a good class for heritage speakers look like? How is it different from other World Language classrooms? What are the particular challenges these students face, and how can teachers and students use class time well? In short, what are some of the best practices for courses focusing on heritage speakers? In Harrisonburg City Schools, we recognize that we still have much to learn and our experience with heritage classes so far is limited to Spanish speakers. But we offer the following ideas based on several years of work in this field.

November - December 2013

A Case Study: Native Speaker or Heritage? Managing, Meddling, or Muddling to Find the Answer: Part One: The Community
Jeremy Aldrich and Phil Yutzy, - Harrisonburg VA Public Schools

In recent years, heritage Spanish speakers have taken center stage in Harrisonburg's (Virginia) language program. They're neither native speakers nor non-speakers. Heritage speakers come with a different set of experiences, a different perception of their home language and culture, and a different set of expectations for their own language skills. In a word, they're different! This series of articles will present Harrisonburg City Public School's struggles to expand and enhance quality language development for heritage Spanish speakers while dealing with the current realities of public education in the twenty first century. Hopefully this "case study" will provide inspiration and ideas for others across the region and nation. While Harrisonburg's experience is unique, it is a microcosm of the direction of American society and language instruction.

September - October 2013

Speak Chinese in a Blended Learning Classroom
Yuan Wang-Ollikainen,, - Arlington VA PS

A few weeks ago, I once again had the chance to talk with some parents of my students in an open house meeting. Being a teacher of Chinese using blended learning methods, I knew to expect the questions: "Is it possible for middle school and high school students to learn a difficult language like Chinese, if they only meet their teacher once or twice a week, and are supposed to rely largely on distance learning?" and "How do your students learn Chinese without interacting with a real person?". This time, before I could answer, a mother of my former student who after two years of blended learning is now continuing in Chinese-3 class in a completely distance learning based program, took the floor. She said, "Of course! My son enjoys learning with his classmates and by himself, posting blogs, and doing projects in Chinese".

January - February 2013

Evaluating a Project-Based Activity: Suggestions for Content Language Integrated Learning Courses
Anthony Becker, Ph.D. - Colorado State University
Tatiana Nekrasova-Becker, PhD. - Second language Testing, Inc. 


According to the Council on Foreign Relations (2012), much of the recent educational reform in K-12 settings throughout the U.S. has focused on advancing the quality of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, as well as foreign language instruction, since these areas are seen as being “weakest” in U.S. schools. To address these weaknesses, many educators have looked to project-based learning (PBL) as a means of simultaneously integrating STEM content and foreign language learning, as PBL engages students in real-world projects and challenges them to use the target language to complete the work (Stoller, 2010).

For this integration to be successful, it is helpful to consider PBL as a series of implementable steps. For example, Nekrasova and Becker (2012) outlined seven steps of a project for a high school Russian language classroom that centered around creating a report on renewable energy (Download PDF), targeting both students’ Russian language skills and STEM knowledge. As shown in Figure 1, the steps of that project included:


Figure 1. Steps outlined in Nekrasova and Becker (2012) for conducting a project-based research report.

In this article, we expand on the “evaluating the project” step, as this is seen as a fundamental element that occurs during, and at the conclusion of, a project-based activity. 

Evaluating the project

The evaluation of PBL can occur using a variety of assessments (Miller, Linn, & Grolund, 2009). The following types are the most pertinent for assessing students’ language learning and STEM knowledge in relation to PBL:

  • Formative assessment – is used to collect information about learning progress. The intent of formative assessments is to improve students’ learning.
  • Summative assessment – is used for the purpose of determining achievement at the end of instruction. In this sense, summative assessment promotes accountability and provides quantifiable evidence of student learning.  
  • Direct assessment – refers to the direct observation of students’ knowledge, skills, and abilities against learning objectives. Direct assessment relies on actual observations of student learning and is therefore considered a valuable part of the assessment process.
  • Indirect assessment – refers to the process of self-reflection by students. Indirect assessment provides insights into students’ attitudes and values that cannot otherwise be obtained from direct assessments (Cromack & Savenye, 2008). 

In what follows, we present specific examples of assessments for PBL that can be implemented by teachers in high school classrooms.  

During the project. In terms of formative assessment, two types of instruments can be used in order to provide support to students and/or evaluate their progress while they are still engaged in the project.
  •  Mid-project survey (formative, indirect) – students record information about their experiences with the project activity, including reports on their attitudes, self-confidence levels, and abilities to perform tasks. The survey involves students in the assessment process by assigning them the role of assessor, not the one who is being assessed (see Appendix A).

  •  Progress checklist (formative, direct) – students assess their progress with the project activity by going through a list of requirements in order to identify areas which need further/additional work. The checklist can be used for each step of the project by both the instructor and the students (for self-check/peer-check). This enables students to monitor their own progress, which is typically a task performed by instructors (McMillan & Hearn, 2008). See Appendix B for a checklist developed for Information Gathering Cycle.
End of the project. There are a number of assessment options to gather evidence for how well students have mastered the content and language learning objectives targeted for a given STEM project.  Below are three examples of possible assessments to implement.
  • Research report (summative, direct) – students develop a research report that integrates the target language and students’ STEM knowledge. Their achievement is then measured using a scoring rubric which includes scoring criteria that reflect the most important aspects of the project that students have learned about. As indicated in Nekrasova and Becker (2012), these aspects would likely reflect those features that are common when writing a research report (see Appendix C).

  • Presentation (summative, direct) – students create a presentation in the target language that relates to the STEM content of the research project. Their achievement is then measured using a scoring rubric. As shown in Appendix D, the rubric includes scoring criteria that reflect important aspects of an effective presentation (e.g., subject knowledge, organization, and language use).

  • Project completion survey (summative, indirect) – students anonymously complete a survey at the completion of the project. The survey targets students’ opinions about the different tasks involved in the project and asks students to identify areas of difficulty that were encountered (see Appendix E).


Project evaluation may seem like a final activity for an instructor to undertake once a project is being completed. In this article, however, the authors demonstrate how the implementation of different types of assessments (i.e., formative/summative and direct/indirect) throughout the project can help an instructor to better determine students’ needs and progress in the activity, and allow students to become more autonomous learners by giving them tools to self-monitor their work.  

References are available here.

Download entire article with Appendx A-E and References. This will allow you to print the whole document for reference.

Nov/Dec 2012

Common Core State Standards and Heritage Language Education: How do they match?
Dr. Sara Beaudrie
University of Arizona

The Common Core State Standards provide a set of common learning goals that learners are expected to achieve in order to have the knowledge and skills necessary for success in their college and future careers. Heritage Language Education (HLE) offers a unique opportunity to strengthen the common core since these standards go hand in hand with HLE goals and priorities.

Common Core literacy in writing and reading goes in concert with the goal of developing HL learners’ literacy skills. Teachers of HL learners seek to help learners develop advanced literacy for academic learning. For many, reading and writing skills are acquired only once. Bilingual education specialists argue that when learners learn to read in their first language, they can transfer this ability to the second language (Goodman, Goodman & Flores, 1979). Moreover, research strongly suggests that bilingual learners should develop literacy in their primary language in addition to English language literacy (e.g.: Cummins, 1994; Collier, 1992; among others). Thus, equipping learners with literacy skills in the HL greatly benefits learners, who can then transfer skills to English reading and writing.

In addition, bilingual literacy can greatly enhance HL learners’ bilingual professional opportunities, giving learners an opportunity to compete not only at national levels but also in international contexts. Thus, HL literacy instruction not only reinforces the development of English literacy but also allows learners to engage in literary practices beyond English.

Common Core literacy in listening and speaking also goes hand in hand with the main goal in HLE of developing HL learners’ second varieties of the language. Students typically come to the classroom with some degree of fluency that allows them to participate in informal conversations in the heritage language. Teachers of HL learners strive to help learners develop additional registers of the language to be able to perform appropriately in professional, academic, or formal contexts of language use.

An important goal of HLE, which also supports the common core standards, is the goal of helping HL learners develop stronger academic skills (see Valdés, 2007). Typically, language minority students do not do as well academically as language majority students (del Pinal, 1995). HL instructors seek to provide different types of guidance so that students develop their academic skills to be successful in their college and professional careers.

Yet another goal of HL instruction is to foster learners’ self-esteem and pride in the heritage language and cultures. This goal too supports the Common State Standards since a sense of self-identity and pride can ensure academic success. When students’ varieties are devalued, students tend to host a feeling of inferiority, self-rejection, and failure (Bernal-Enríquez & Hernández-Chávez, 2003).

Teachers attempt to strike a delicate balance between helping learners improve on their existing weaknesses while at the same time constantly valuing the strengths they possess. The newly gained confidence can go a long way in promoting language use and subsequent maintenance of the language, which can in turn lead to improved feelings of self-worth and accomplishment.

The final goal for HLE that closely aligns to the Common State Standards is the development of cultural literacy. Increasingly, learners need to learn to interact in English and the heritage language in culturally appropriate ways. They need to increase their intercultural understanding to be able to compete in a global society. HLE provides learners with three important types of cultural knowledge (Aparicio, 1997):

1) Self-cultural knowledge (about learners’ own cultural group);
2) Intra-cultural knowledge (about different groups within their own ethnic culture);
3) Intercultural knowledge (about other ethnic groups in the United States)

The heritage language classroom can achieve increased awareness and understanding of cultural diversity through diverse curriculum content, culturally themed community and classroom projects, and culturally sensitive instruction.

Heritage language education is in a unique position to support the development of skills described in the Common Core State Standards, while at the same time, helping learners develop advanced levels of proficiency in the heritage language. These high proficiency levels are invaluable resources for students, their families, their community, and the entire nation. Programs that have not yet begun a HL program should consider this option as HLE will greatly help learners achieve these standards.

For resources on heritage language education, visit
To learn about heritage language programs in the United States, visit

Click here for full article and a list of references. 

October 2012

Domains and Recommendations for incorporating Common Core Standards and STEM
Maria M. Carreira, Ph.D.
California State University, Long Beach

With 22% of this country’s total school age population (12 million youth) speaking a language other than English at home, the future of this country depends on the educational progress of language minority children. This is particularly true as it applies to the Common Standards and STEM disciplines, which comprise competencies essential to competing in a global society.

Viewing their work primarily through the lens of language teaching, heritage language (HL) teachers rarely consider the larger impact of their discipline to the educational attainment of their students, let alone its relationship to the Common Core Standards and STEM disciplines.  Yet, HL teaching has significant contributions to make along these lines, by virtue of its relationship to two domains of culture known to play a critical role in the development of children: the instrumental and expressive domains.

The instrumental domain comprises many of the skills and competencies associated with the Common Core Standards and STEM, including content knowledge, technical and scientific literacy, and collaborative and problem solving skills, as well as the knowhow to navigate the American school system. Disproportionally large numbers of language minority children fail to attain these proficiencies due to a number of reasons. Three of them are particularly relevant to this discussion.

  1. They lack adequate instructional support to acquire the linguistic proficiencies required for subject matter learning. This is particularly true as it concerns ESL, lower-track, and special education classes, where so many students receive the bulk of their education.
  2. They lack access to role models and enriching experiences that provide incentives and pathways for bettering themselves, particularly in the STEM disciplines.
  3. They also lack access to adults that can shepherd them through school and advocate for them. This is particularly detrimental because language minority parents are often unable to fulfill these important functions because they are unfamiliar with American schooling or lack English-language skills.

The expressive domain encompasses the elements of culture that sustain the sense of self, including values and ways of relating to others. Language minority children are well served by maintaining their home culture because it helps them retain a sense of identity and social connectedness and because immigrant cultures are repositories of values that are conducive to success, such as belief in hard work and respect for adults.

As outlined below, HL instruction targets significant areas of need in both domains of cultures and contributes to the acquisition of Common Core Standards.

  • It offers language minority children much needed academic and linguistic support by developing biliteracy, raising critical awareness of the forms and functions of language, and reinforcing general academic skills such as collaborative learning and problem solving.
  • It enhances subject matter knowledge and provides enriching opportunities by exposing students to the historical, artistic, and literary highlights of the HL culture; and
  • It contributes to the development of a positive self identity and builds on the resources of the home culture by the very nature of its subject matter.

This list represents the current contributions of HL teaching to the larger educational enterprise, but it does not capture its full potential. As outlined below, HL teaching also has the capacity to impact other areas of the curriculum and equip students with additional competencies to successfully navigate the American school system. The recommendations offered are supported by a common rationale. Historically, HL teaching has followed foreign language teaching practices, prioritizing cultural knowledge over other areas. Yet, by broadening its scope along the lines below, HL teaching can greatly increase its capacity to help minority students while remaining true to the goal of building language and cultural competency.

Recommendation: Forge connections with other disciplines, particularly STEM, where language minority children are both underrepresented and needed to fill critical workforce shortages.
Sample supporting practices:  Select readings in the HL that enhance science and technical literacy and promote conceptual learning. Assign projects that connect the HL and STEM classes, such as creating a grade-level bilingual glossary of science terms or preparing an oral report on an interesting finding. Connect students to language minority professionals to learn about career opportunities in STEM.

Recommendation: Configure instruction and curricula to help minority language students navigate the difficult path to academic success;
Sample supporting practices:
At the secondary level, have students write a college application essay in the HL. At all levels, assign projects that help students gain mastery of the ways of the American school system, particularly resources, timelines, and pathways to success.

Recommendation: Looking beyond the HL classroom to the larger school setting, HL teachers should apply themselves to fostering a greater understanding on the part of all stakeholders (teachers, school staff, parents, etc.) of the needs of language minority students.
Sample practices: Take a proactive role in all school matters involving language minority students, from school communications, to back-to-school nights, discussions at faculty meetings, etc.

Recommended readings:

Carreira, M. (2007). Spanish for Native Speakers Matters: Narrowing the Latino Academic Gap through Spanish Language Instruction. Heritage Language Journal. Vol. 5, Number 1.
Suárez-Orozco, C., Suárez-Orozco, M.; and Todorova, I. (2010). Learning a New Land: Immigrant Students in American Society. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press

July 2012

Reaching Out to the Spanish-Speaking Community through Service-Learning
Gresilda A. Tilley-Lubbs, Ph.D.
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA

One of the National Standards areas includes engaging students in communities where the target language is spoken. Immersion experiences greatly enhance Spanish students’ understanding of the people who speak the language they are studying, in addition to providing experiences for communicating in the target language. Service-learning in the Spanish-speaking community provides an authentic way for students to communicate in Spanish while learning about the culture and the community where the language is spoken. In this article, I focus on the components of “Crossing the Border through Service-Learning,” a Spanish course I developed and taught at Virginia Tech.

Service-Learning in the Spanish-Speaking Community
Service-learning differs from volunteering or community service, which are one-way relationships where the student provides a service for an agency, a group, or even an individual. Neither volunteering nor community service tend to include academic components nor reflection. However, service-learning combines the community and the academic, examined through reflection on how the two come together:


Students engage with people in the community, while at the same time, they read scholarly and/or literary works regarding the community and the issues that have an impact on the community. Finally, through written reflections, students process their community experiences using the readings as an interpretive lens.

The Academic Component
The academic component consists of the work that is done for and in the classroom:

  • Readings related to the Latino population in the United States, focusing on:
    • The various cultures represented by Spanish-speaking people who immigrate to the United States;
    • Immigration and its geographic, physical, emotional, and political implications;
    • Education and schooling and how students who do not speak English navigate through United States schools; and
    • Healthcare for people who do not speak English.
  • Class discussions and activities focusing on how the readings intersect with the experiences students have with community members.

Community Experiences

  • Partnerships with families in the communities;
  • Tutoring children and adults in their homes;
  • Making doctors’ appointments for families;
  • Orienting families to living in the United States by teaching them how to use the bus system or how to shop in grocery stores;
  • Making appointments and interpreting for parent-teacher meetings;
  • Spending time in families’ homes learning firsthand about the culture;
  • Tutoring in afterschool programs;
  • Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to adults in community-based programs such as the YMCA or Literacy Volunteers; and


  • Guided journal entries that focus on the students’ experiences through the lens of the readings.

Benefits of Engaging Students in Service-Learning Experiences
As students form relationships with Spanish-speaking community members:

  • They develop an appreciation for and understanding of diversity through
    • The exchange of linguistic and cultural knowledge; and  
    • The development of cross-cultural friendships.
  • They have authentic cultural experiences;
  • They are forced to communicate in Spanish since most likely the family members or students with whom they interact have limited English proficiency;
  • Their affective filters are lowered because their Spanish-speaking partners often struggle more with English than they do with Spanish;
  • They learn to see the world from the perspective of recent immigrants;
  • They often learn to see the world from the perspective of people whose socioeconomic, cultural, religious, linguistic, and educational backgrounds differ significantly from their own; and
  • Students who often come from privileged situations work in solidarity with a targeted population, with the result that:
    • As members of the dominant culture, they cross the border to understand, empathize with, and advocate for an oppressed population;
    • They often experience changes in perspective resulting in blurring of Otherness toward people different from themselves;
    • They cross-cut socially constructed boundaries and learn to see people from other cultures as people who share similar joys and concerns as their own.

Challenges That May Occur

  • Students may have experiences that reinforce their negative stereotypes regarding people from different socioeconomic, cultural, religious, linguistic, and educational backgrounds that differ significantly from their own;
  • For students to have perspective-changing experiences, they need to spend about 50 hours  per semester with their host families or community partners;
  • Students often have difficulty complying with the community requirements due to other obligations such as heavy course loads and/or work schedules;
  • Some partnerships are incompatible and require changes in placements; and
  • Often, the Spanish-speaking women with whom the students partner expect lifetime friendships, whereas the students regard the experience as a semester of having a good friend.

Adequate Preparation
Instructors must be intentional in preparing both students and community members for the experience:

  • Prepare a contract that outlines specifically what is expected of both groups;
  • Be specific in articulating what the experience does not include as well as what it does include;
  • Maintain close ties with community members in order to always be aware of any problems with the partnerships. 

Service-learning takes language learning outside the walls of the classroom to provide shape and meaning to communication in Spanish, contextualized in real-life and real-world experiences. Not only are the standards addressed, but authentic learning takes place.


May/June 2012

What’s On Your Plate?
Mary Chang, MEd (ESL) Candidate
The George Washington University


I am an ABC: American Born Chinese. The first time I realized that I was “different” was when I was playing on the playground in kindergarten. 

Before that day, when I was 5 years old, my family and I had moved from one state to another and one town to another, several times because my father was in the United States Air Force.  Before I was born, my mother had immigrated to the United States with my two sisters and my father stayed behind in Taiwan to finish his Taiwan Air Force medical appointment.  Thus, prior to my 5th birthday I was in the comforts of spending time with my parents, grandparents, and sisters.  When I started school, things changed.

I was playing on the playground, and I happened to choose a friend that I rode to school with to play on the seesaw with me.  I was soon tormented by an African-American girl yelling at me, saying that I chose my friend because she was white.   This other child, whom I did not know said, “You are discriminating against me because I am black.”  Clearly, at the age of five and not too familiar with large words, I was dumfounded and confused.   My friend told me to ignore her and said that the other girl was being jealous.  To this day, I am not exactly sure what happened to the other classmate.  But on that day, I remember experiencing the concept of color: white, black, and yellow.

After living in that town for five years, my parents decided to move to a larger city in the same state.  They missed having interactions with family, the Chinese food, and others who spoke Mandarin.  They felt that it was important that I interacted with people who were more similar to me/us.  Living in the city gave me the opportunity to formally learn Mandarin and have friends who celebrated similar holidays and had similar values on education, religion, and to have better access to authentic ingredients for making Chinese food. 

I do recall that I did not bring my lunch to school since it often needed to be warmed up or it was way too different than what the school was serving for lunch.  But knowing what constitutes a healthy meal, I would gladly bring my lunch any day to avoid the fried and greasy foods of a typical lunchroom.
So what better way to reach out to others than through the understanding of a balanced meal in one’s own diet?  The lesson below plan can be broken down into multiple lesson plans based upon the age of your students and their level of language proficiency.  Below is a generic recipe that can be modified to suit your students. 

Performance Task 1:  Learning USDA standards of MyPlate (

Performance Task 2:  Compare and contrast other countries nutritional standards with the USDA MyPlate.  List out, or make a Venn diagram, the  similarities and differences compared to the USDA standards.

Performance Task 3: MyPlate Application
Students have a paper plate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and they can either draw or cut out images of foods they would typically eat during those meals.  Students then will verbally share their plates and as a group decide if each is a balanced meal.  If it is not, the group will make suggestions to improve the meal. 

March 2012

Storytelling: A window on values and world view
Jack Dalton, Raven Feathers and the Wind  

I am Alaska Native. I am considered a tradition bearer. I am a storyteller. And yet, my only way to understand the power of language and portray its vital role is to speak of a different language: Swedish (Svensk).

There are two reasons for this: One, being adopted and growing up in the Western world, I was not exposed to my indigenous tongue, and the rigors of my worldly nomadic life make learning Yup’ik (Yugstun) difficult. Two, I was an exchange student to Sweden. And yet, these languages have more in common than one might see at first glance. Yet, I only realized this recently, 20 years later.

I loved learning Swedish, realizing there is not just a different way of seeing the world, but a different way to know the world, a different way to express the world, and how unbelievably lucky we are to, kind of, understand each other. Until you live some place else and learn to, kind of, see the world from a local’s viewpoint, you have no idea how precious language is, and how fragile.

My favorite Svensk words and ideas are those that have no real translation to English. The reason being, these words and phrases tend to say the most about the Swedish culture, but also say much about US culture, since we don’t have these ideas in our world view. I mean, lets face it, the US is anything but lågom, “not too much, not too little, but just the right amount, given the situation, and maybe a little less, just to make sure you’re being polite”.

But ellangellemni, (Yup’ik) “the moment I became aware”, was returning to Sweden 20 years later and realizing how many Svensk words were not being used anymore, and replaced by English words. I have witnessed the death of a language in Alaska, when the last fluent speaker of Eyak passed a few years ago, but to realize a “Western, blond haired, blue eyed, upper middle class, white” language was starting down that path so markedly, stirred me deeply. I became so glad to not have gone to a bigger country, but to be one of 8 million people on Earth who speak Svensk.

This realization also deepened my appreciation for the anecdotes you hear about various languages, like “Did you know the Eskimos have a hundred words for snow?” It is easy to dismiss such an idea. “Guess the Eskimos didn’t have anything better to do in the winter than makes up names for snow.” And yet, awareness arrives with study, the Inuit languages not only have many words for snow, but there is a myriad of scientific, geographic, cartographic and meteorological information packed in to just one word for snow. So, just imagine the knowledge gleaned from learning all the words for snow. “The dry snow, small crystals, falling in a light wind from the south, based on how the storm moved yesterday, leaving small east-west, hard-packed drifts, but easy for the dogs and sled to get over.” The word would probably also contain information about squeakiness when you walk on it, humidity levels and even temperature. You know, “snow”.

Now, this is all well and good. It’s great to academically, at a mature age, appreciate the preciousness of language and the wealth of sociological, historical and scientific knowledge a language contains, when truly understood from those who learned from childhood. But for most, this is too late to learn a new language, and the mouth has shaped itself for certain sounds. How can we inspire the young, capture their attention?

Through story, and to a greater extent, storytelling, not only can we  capture the imaginations of children, but effective storytelling tells the story through movement, with no language skills required. Quintessential stories from each language also teach the values and world view of that culture. Thus, once the vocabulary is learned, some cultural knowledge has also been imparted. And once a child has a 150- or 200-word vocabulary, growth is easy. For each story is usually deeper than it seems. Through the Yup’ik story, The Boy Who Ate Too Much, one can learn biology, deeper meaning of ceremony and protocol, ecology, geography, anthropological gastronomy, food preparation, science of tools and any myriad of things. Thus vocabulary and understanding grow even greater, which leads to more stories and . . . not just fluency in using sound to communicate, but some of the deeper knowledge and world view of a culture.

Oh. And a word about Eyak. A young French linguist discovered Eyak, began learning it, came to Alaska to study it further, and now, with the help of the people who may have the deeper understanding, teaching the words back to them, while he learns what lies beneath.

My linguistic experience wanted to touch on some of the deeper ideas of language learning, and hopefully strengthen the idea that story is the perfect medium for capturing the imaginations of children to the possibility of language.  So, through the learning of other languages and the telling of stories we learn about the heritage, roots, and environment in which the speakers of that language live, work, and play.

Editor’s note: Jack Dalton is an acclaimed story teller who has appeared at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian; is an author and playwright; is the recipient of many awards including Alaska’s top 40 Under 40, and is a Distinguished Dignitary of the World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education.  Learn more about Jack at   It is the Editor’s hope to include a column each year relating to the indigenous languages of the US.

January 2012

Plays in the Classroom: Raising interest and involvement through reading
Phil Yutzy Harrisonburg VA Public Schools

I clearly remember struggling with Bodas de sangre in my college Spanish Literature class. I wondered why we were reading such a depressing play.   I did not “get it.” Naturally, I was a bit reluctant as a teacher to attempt Bodas de sangre with my Spanish for Native Speakers class.  However several years ago, I had a group of Latino students that simply could not be challenged enough. They loved reading and analyzing dramas, and I wanted to try something from Federico García Lorca. La Casa de Bernarda Alba has no male roles and our class was almost equally divided between males and females, and I decided to attempt Bodas de Sangre. Remembering my own experience I took extra time to “sell” the drama as a 1930s “telenovela.”  I was shocked when it worked!  The students totally “got” the play, and they loved it!  I have used Bodas de Sangre every year since and always with the same result. This is what I do.

After the AP Spanish language exam, we take a “break” and watch La luz prodigiosa* directed by Miguel Hermoso. This is a Spanish film that presents a fictional “what if” situation. What if Lorca actually survived the Spanish Civil War, lived in Granada but could not remember who he was? The film is a fantastic springboard for discussing the life and work of García Lorca. Interspersed with the film, we read numerous poems and discuss common Lorca symbols and themes.

After the film we delve into Bodas de Sangre. All the work is done in class, and we read the play out loud together. At times the entire class stays together and at times I divide the students into smaller groups to assure that the maximum number of students are engaged in the process. Students read, make predictions, analyze symbols, identify figures of speech and poetic techniques, and write their own reactions to issues and themes. I encourage “dramatic” reading with emotional emphasis, enthusiasm, and even melodramatic exaggeration. We usually laugh quite a lot. Because the “telenovela” is so prevalent on Univision, Telemundo and other Spanish language television channels, students generally do not need much coaching for acting. I take care to assign the important roles to expressive, passionate students. At times we have physically acted out parts of the play also. I do not want students to take the time to memorize lines, so we act with the script in our hands. The front of the class is the “stage,” and I borrow a few key props from our drama teacher. Students work in groups and need to use the basics of theater productions -- projecting their voice, facing the audience, following the playwright's instructions, etc. At times I choose the segments that they need to act out and at times I allow the groups to choose what they want to present. I do not allow for too much practice so that students do not get obsessed with perfection -- it’s more about enjoying and interpreting the drama. Grades are assessed based on enthusiasm and active participation. I do not give a formal test on the play, but as the years go by I find it is one of the activities that students most remember from my class.

All together this activity takes four to seven 90 minute class periods. It also has the added benefit of encouraging Latino students to take AP Spanish Literature. Often we follow Bodas de Sangre with a reading of La Casa de Bernarda Alba, and I am always careful to include in our discussions the poems by Lorca that are on the AP reading list. The students’ interest is piqued, and they understand that literature is accessible, relates to their own lives, and most importantly is fun.

*On a technical note, the film La luz prodigiosa is only available in the European region 2 format. I had a fellow teacher purchase a copy while traveling in Spain . I use a MacIntosh computer and VLS software -- a free download -- as a DVD player. I  project the computer screen with a multimedi

September 2011

Crossroads in the Classroom: Heritage Learners
Branching Out: Helping Heritage Language Learners

Resources Available for Teaching Heritage Languages
~ Belinda Sauret

Royce Hall at UCLA boasts two towers that rise well above its third floor.  The towers and their arches are adorned with sage quotations and elaborate brick work that make this the most beautifully collegiate building that I’ve ever entered.  But if the word “tower” brings to mind “ivory tower,” please put that idea aside:  scholars work here, but these are scholars who get their hands dirty with teacher tasks: classes and curriculum and online resources that give solid, usable tips about what any teacher can do in his class today to reach heritage language students better.  And if, when you combine the words “tower” with “language,” the notion of the Tower of Babel comes to mind, I would invite you to reconsider.  At UCLA, the National Heritage Resource Center scholars are sympathetic to the notion that the message of the Biblical story is that monolingualism is not only a sin, it is a curse; society in Babel was disrupted, after all, because each individual could only speak one tongue.

All the participants in the National Heritage Language Resource Center (NHLRC) conference dedicate themselves to studying or teaching heritage languages to generations of immigrants or indigenous groups and to finding ways to prevent them from falling into monolingualism.  The NHLRC itself receives support for their work from many sources, including Title VI.  Consider Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations, “The millions of heritage language speakers at varying levels of proficiency in the U.S. represent a tremendous reserve of students and potential teachers who can put their skills to work improving our cultural understanding...” Olga Kagan, director of the NHLRC, stated that the Department of Defense supports the work of language teachers and the maintenance of languages through programs like StarTalk.

What you can use right now:

I attended the Research Institute to gather information with the goal of helping teachers become aware of materials that can help them in their struggle to adapt foreign language materials to the needs of their students who already have some familial or community knowledge of the language. 

And this is what I found:  The NHLRC makes available online a varied, interactive, and user-friendly series of lessons on the rationale and methods for teaching HL students.  The online workshop uses interviews with scholars, teachers and students; reflective questions; and real examples of methods used in classrooms. Experienced teachers will be gratified to find that problems they have identified in the classroom are addressed in this workshop: limited vocabulary, a failure to understand and use formal register, and elementary sentence structure.     Brief and not burdened with excessive jargon, each module within the eight lessons is comprehensible and offers immediately useful ideas. I’m planning to use the green card/red card method as well as the questionnaire to learn about my students at the outset of the academic year.

Research on questions that you may have asked yourself:

Frankly though, I also wanted to see what was happening on the cutting edge, what new routes teaching and thinking about languages would take.  I wanted to be in the know. You can be savvy too, since most presentations are posted on the NHLRC webpage. These presenters address issues about a whole host of languages:  Korean, Russian, Arabic, Maori (in a poster presentation), Spanish, Polish, Chinese and others. The ones that I refer to below may all be accessed at                       

If you’ve wondered which parent has a greater impact on the maintenance of a heritage language, you might be pleased to know that Kim Potowski of UIC has too.  Her new research looks at whether Mexican or Puerto Rican terminology will be preferred in families that mix these two ethnicities.

And the question of baby talk or, prior to that, babbling.  Do babies babble differently in different languages?  Can babies babble bilingually?  Megha Sundara of UCLA has studied the matter and her findings are heartening. 

For would-be scholars, many of these presentations, like María Polinsky’s or William O’Grady’s can serve as both a guide to their recent research, and also as a template for questioning and scientific method in linguistics.  

Terry Wiley of the Center for Applied Linguistics asked: “What happens to the potential HL students who don’t go to college, or who do but never make it into a language classroom in their HL?  How can we access what Arne Duncan refers to as this “tremendous reserve?”

For faculty who would like to introduce the topic of heritage languages in their college classrooms, I would suggest the presentation that Vera Gribanova and Maria Polinsky gave including an overview of two undergraduate courses in heritage languages that were given at Stanford and UCLA.

Projects that can serve as a model:

A number of participants mentioned projects produced by faculty or students that can aid in instruction or serve as a model for other practitioners.

Elisa Duder of Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand introduced us to the work of Dr. John Moorfield whose online Maori dictionary is just one of many efforts to improve the instruction received by Maori speakers and learners.

Michele Anciaux Aoki of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington state directed me to , a website for information about how students in Washington schools who are proficient speakers of a whole host of languages may avail themselves of the inexpensive STAMP assessment at, and earn high school credit for language skills. 

The NHLRC website offers a host of services specifically geared to faculty who teach heritage languages.  The Research Institute is just one.  Please check out the NHLRC to see what seminars, classes and research they can offer to you and your students. 


July 2011

Janet Nolan, Co-Director, Multilingual Chicago


Four years ago, the City Council of Chicago adopted this Resolution: 

To celebrate, support and develop the great language resources of the City of Chicago in order to fully realize the rich assets they can be to the economy, the social fabric and democratic participation in the community. (Signed by Mayor Richard J. Daley, March 15, 2007.)

What in the world is the City of Chicago talking about? This Resolution honors Heritage Language students, their families and all other Chicagoans who speak one of 100 different languages in addition to English.  According to Brecht and Ingold, “The nation needs a strategy for developing an important, but largely untapped reservoir of linguistic competence – heritage language speakers.”  (ERIC Digest,
“Tapping a National Resource: Heritage Languages in the United States.” November 1998)

Teachers of Heritage Languages are the key players in keeping languages alive and adding to our national treasure. They are the Talent Scouts who identify the young people with a head start on competency in English and another world language.  They are the Coaches who take their Rookies, at whatever starting points, and move them upward through the necessary competencies of Communications, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons and Communities. (Standards for Foreign Language Learning, Goals 2000, Clinton Administration) They are the Cheerleaders who know how to build up their Rookies’ pride in who they are, what they can do and what they will be able to contribute to our country.  Cheerleaders work with Parent Fan Clubs to ensure support and inspiration along the way.  Finally, Heritage Language teams need Managers.  To win, Managers know their team has to get inthe game. Managers are advocates, making sure the playing field is level as they negotiate with administrators, politicians and funding sources.

icon1Talent Scout Job Description

Be on the lookout for new recruits to your classroom.

  • At the elementary school level, look within bilingual and ESL programs for children of immigrants, developing English but speaking their home language at home and in the community; look in Dual Language Programs where children who speak their home language and children who speak only English learn together to become bilingual and multicultural.
  • At the middle and high school levels, check with the school office.  In some states it is mandatory that parents complete a Home Language Survey upon enrollment.  Find out which students enrolling in your classes come from a non-English language background.
  • Create your own home language survey to use for the first day of class. 
  • Develop your own placement test. Make sure your test includes an oral component.  Some Rookies may have had little formal instruction in their Heritage Language but have advanced communication skills. Level 1 classes often mix Heritage Language and English only students together.

icon2Coach Job Description

Of course your Rookies won’t know everything they will need in their future as bilingual-bicultural-multicultural adults.  Yet we don’t want them to reject what they have picked up on the playground of life.  We can show them it is okay to be bidialectical, as well as bilingual. One dialect will be needed in the home and neighborhood environment.  The other dialect will serve them well in the world at large. 

  • Build on the skills Rookies already have. You will have to find out what those are.
  • Create real-world exercises, demonstrating how the Heritage Language has a place in daily life.

 For example: Help a tourist who is lost; direct an elderly neighbor out of a burning home; comfort a younger student; write to a pen pal or family member in another country; become a “buddy” for a new student; write and perform a radio or TV script; read and write news releases; demonstrate how you would translate for a family member at the doctor’s office.

  • Create scenarios where Rookies can show appropriate use of the home dialect and the professional one. Compare student vocabulary and usage based on country of origin.  How many ways are there to say “kite” in countries where the Heritage Language is spoken?
  • At the middle and high school level, re-create the Five Standards as a checklist. Give each rookie a copy and ask them to come up wi th projects and assessments based on the checklist.

icon3Cheerleader Job Description

Traditionally, any person in America not dominant in English is considered inferior.  It doesn’t matter how many other languages the person speaks.  Your Heritage Language student may have picked up the infection of inferiority and rejection because of his or her ethnicity and initial lack of English. How will you help them see who they really are?

  • Develop Rookies’ global awareness. ”How many people in the world speak my language? What are their countries like? How do our cultures differ? How do they contribute?  What obstacles have they overcome?”  Rookies can also write and share travelogues of their life experiences.
  • Create Parent Fan Clubs. Invite parents to contribute homeland stories, music, and artifacts that illustrate the value of language and culture. Make regular, positive reports to parents.
  • Play games and hold contests that provide winning opportunities for all. Contribute your team’s best efforts to the school-at-large.

 icon4Manager Job Description

You just may need to be the Manager of your Heritage Language Team.  Do your Rookies have what they need to play the game?  Do their highly verbal language skills count in a required curriculum or are they ignored in favor of monolingual students’ skills at conjugating verbs? Work with your school leader.  Give parents the information they need to ensure their children have all the support the school can provide.  As their winning Manager, you’ll have a winning team! 

Heritage Language Learners are in your hands. Maybe it is possible to change an oft’ heard description of America as “the place where languages come to die.”

May 2011

heritagelogoThe Alliance: Supporting and Developing Heritage Languages in the US
Silvia Koscak and Jacqueline Lopez Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington DC

In 2002, following the Second National Heritage Languages Conference, the Alliance for the Advancement of Heritage Languages (the Alliance) was officially established at the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL). The mission of the Alliance is to promote the maintenance and development of heritage languages for the benefit of individuals, communities, and society.
An integral part of the Alliance’s work is the collaboration with other organizations. Major partners include:

After the formation of the Alliance, the immediate need to collect information about heritage language programs and topics in heritage language use and education emerged. As a nation there is a lack of information at all levels of heritage language programs across the United States and our goal is to make this information visible, easily accessible, and a vital part of U.S. society. As a result, the Alliance created an online Heritage Language Programs Database of heritage language programs in K-12 and community-based settings and continues to work diligently to fill this void. We work with heritage language programs to:

  • heritage_classCreate a community dedicated to supporting heritage language instruction and promoting societal multilingualism
  • Share current practices, successes, resources, and funding opportunities with other program developers and staff
  • Share information on starting heritage language programs
  • Continually improve approaches to teaching heritage languages

Through participation in this data collection project and providing information about their programs, educators make a tremendous contribution to this important national initiative.

The Alliance provides easily accessible information on a variety of heritage languages represented across the United States through Language Spotlights, designed to provide a brief overview of a specific heritage language and encourage further exploration. Spotlight pages include:

  • A brief introductory page about the language
  • A description of a heritage language speaker
  • A description of the language (i.e. history, grammar, phonology, orthography)chinese
  • A direct link to the heritage language programs database
  • Links to other web sites on language-specific areas

The Heritage Voice Collection features profiles of both languages and programs and is designed to build a community among all those interested in preserving our rich heritage of language resources. Heritage Language Voices provide the opportunity for heritage language speakers to chronicle their personal experiences focusing on the importance of the language and culture in their lives. A Heritage Language Voice typically includes the following:

  • A personal story about their relationship with their culture and language
  • Information about the language (population, history, dialects)
  • Key facts about the spoken language (tones, intonation, phonology), including links to audio samples if available
  • Key facts about the written language and texts

chinese1Autobiographies of speakers show how language connects them to their culture in powerful ways. As stated by Anissa Sorokin, a Russian speaker,
"While most people probably face difficult choices about how much of their family’s past to weave in the present and propel them into the future, heritage speakers occupy a particularly complicated space in their families’ histories, service as both a link to the old and a bridge to the new."

A Heritage ProgramVoice generally includes the following:

  • Mission of the program
  • Background information (i.e. history, location, curriculum, students, teachers)
  • The programs philosophy and goals
  • A success story and challenges faced

A common challenge stated by many of the programs documented in the database is the need for funding and support. In response to this observation, the Alliance has developed a brief entitled “Where do community-based heritage language programs find funding?” Heritage briefs are short accessible papers written by researchers, practitioners, and experts in the field of heritage language education. Such as:

A current effort underway is the compilation of a series of briefs on the history and current status of heritage language education in the United States. To be part of the community of heritage language speakers and programs, join our list and subscribe to the Alliance News Flash. It is the quarterly electronic newsletter of the Alliance dedicated to sharing resources and information of interest to the heritage languages field.

If you would like to connect with the Alliance on any of these efforts, please write to us at

April 2011

On Using Film for Spanish for Native Speakers Classes 
Ami Vonesh
East Hall High School, Gainesville Georgia

News flash – just because you’re teaching a Spanish for Heritage Speakers class doesn’t mean your students are any more enthusiastic about learning about the history of Spanish speaking countries than any other group of high school students.   But there is one technique that I have found that engages students: using films to approach history. Three films have worked well for me: Macario, El Compadre Mendoza  and Gertrudis.  Both Macario and El Compadre Mendoza are classics of Mexican cinema and lend themselves to discussion of film as literature.
macarioMacario, typically the first film I use, is set during the “Día de los Muertos” holiday, so I usually show it at that time of year. While history and sociology texts tell us that holidays such as Dِía de los Muertos provided a respite from the daily grind of the colonial period, for the title character, Macario, the opposite is true.  The constantly hungry woodcutter is tortured by the sight of a parade of roasted turkeys, destined for the holiday celebration in the house the richest man in the town.  Macario confesses to his wife his selfish desire to eat an entire turkey by himself, without having to share it with anyone, even his wife or his children.  She steals a turkey for him.  When he flees to the forest to eat it, he begins a surreal journey where he meets God, the Devil, and Death, all of whom want him to share the turkey.   

Macario makes a deal with Death which changes his life radically.  The special powers Death grants Macario lead him to fame, fortune and the attention of the Inquisition. My classes have had lively discussions on the topics of social inequalities and daily life in colonial Mexico, superstitions and comparisons to works such as The Portrait of Dorian Gray which students may have read in an English class.

Several activities work well in conjunction with the film
The first is a “think pair share” activity in which they think about what has happened in the scenes they have watched, pair up with a partner and then write a quick summary together of what has happened.

  • The “share” aspect of this activity helps those students who have difficulty following the movie or putting their ideas into Spanish on paper. 
  • They then make predictions as to what will happen to each character they have met so far, and do an analysis of setting, characters and imagery or symbolism.

For a culminating activity,

  • the class writes a skit detailing what they think happens to the characters after the movie ends. 
  • write a reaction to Macario’s choice, and explore what they think they would have done in similar circumstances. 
  • re-write the story based on the point of view of one of the other characters, such as the wife or one of the children. 
  • create a storyboard of the movie, which involves less writingt.  This is especially attractive to students who are still struggling with producing written work in Spanish.
  • create a poster which illustrates salient points about the main characters, time frame, societal groups such as the Dons, the Inquisition and the campesinos. We use this poster when we begin the unit on Mexican history.

When we start the unit on Mexican history,

  • I pull out the chart/poster and have students reflect on what they learned from the movie about Mexico under Spanish rule. 
  • At this point we are reading and accessing different sources about Mexican history. 
  • Having the images from Macario in mind gives students a more concrete vision of what life was like for people in this time period.

bocaneraOnce we’ve begun the unit, the next movie I use is Gertrudis Bocanegra, another critically acclaimed film from Mexico.  This film brings to life the first years of Mexico’s struggle for independence, and also features a strong female protagonist (Gertrudis Bocanegra) who used all of her intelligence and skills to further the fight for independence from Spain.  Additional themes in the movie are the influence of the Enlightenment on the leaders of the independence movement and the sharp divisions between criollos and indigenous groups.  If time allows, I also have students research other women in Latin American history as an enrichment activity. 

mendozaThe final film I use for the Mexican history unit is El Compadre Mendoza.  Although it deals with the most recent historical events, (the Revolution) it is the oldest film.  It gives more stimulus for thoughtful conversation, since its protagonist is less than heroic.  This film encourages students to debate the roles people may take on during a war when “good” and “bad” are not always clear.

During and after viewing all the movies, I include activities that not only help students review, but also help students who were absent keep up with what is going on in the film.

  • comprehension checks,
  • summaries, and
  • storyboards or outlines of the events.

One of the unforeseen benefits I have come across in using these three films is that many students discover that their parents have also seen some of the films and remember them. It always pleases me when students can take something that we are doing in class and get feedback or involvement from their family members. 

Macario and El Compadre Mendoza are readily available.  Gertrudis Bocanegra can be more difficult to find, but is usually available through online sources.

For information about these movies, check out or if you would prefer sources in Spanish for your students to investigate, the following offer up-tp-date information: and

For additional activities and questions for Macario and Gertrudis Bocanegra, click here

February 2011

60+ Activities to Help You Achieve ACTFL Performance Guidelines
By Belinda Sauret

Using the target language in the classroom can too often seem forced and stilted, so Iʼve put together a list of verbs and some activities that have worked for me to make the use of the language more engaging, fluid and authentic. Many of us have already used verbs lists derived from Bloomʼs Taxonomy, and these, of course, serve as the inspiration here. However, instead of building from knowledge to evaluation á la Bloom, I have arranged these activities from repetition to recognition to selection and finally to formation. Itʼs relatively easy, after all, to get students who can speak to do so, but finding the way to allow them to safely say something in class when they are at the beginning levels is a much greater challenge. Students sometimes enroll in Heritage Language classes although they can only manage some comprehension on a narrow range of topics, so this list of activities can be used for HL instruction as well. Differentiating in this way allows all students to participate and avoids the stony silence of the student who thinks she is being asked to do something unreasonable. Please note that the two categories, formation and recognition,complement each other nicely, as when a student develops texts (formation) that allow other students to participate in a guessing game (recognition). Additionally, some activities can be joined together to form a series of exercises around a test; recently a gave groups of students a number of L2 articles on the topic of memory. Each student read the article, told the other students about it, took notes and discussed other studentsʼ articles and wrote a paragraph of synthesis on what each student had learned. I suppose we could call that combination something like “read-share-write” if we felt the need for a handle.

Naturally, I have not had all the awesome ideas that teachers have used for making classrooms brim over with L2 chatter, nor have I been able to keep the categories from overlapping a bit. But I hope this chart will help us all achieve our goal: to encourage students to speak freely, to enjoy communication and to risk making an occasional error, and also to structure the activities so that errors are minimized even as meaningful messages allow for a genuine exchange. Download Full Document (PDF)

January 2011

The National Heritage Language Resource Center
By Kathryn Paul and Clair Chik

Recognizing the unique needs of heritage language speakers, in 2006 the Department of Education funded the National Heritage Language Resource Center (Heritage Center) at UCLA. The original proposal to establish the Heritage Center emerged from UCLA’s Center for World Languages, long identified as a leader in the field of heritage language education. Developing effective pedagogical approaches for teaching the heritage language population became the central mission of the Heritage Center, and three interrelated and interdependent goals have guided this endeavor:

  1. Fundamental and Applied Research: To understand heritage language speakers’ capabilities and needs and to use this knowledge to develop effective, research-based pedagogies for heritage language learning.
  2. Learning and Teaching: To improve classroom instruction by developing curricula, materials, and teaching strategies.
  3. Community Building: To institutionalize the field of heritage language by creating pathways for the dissemination of theory and practice.

In the 2006-2009 funding cycle as with NLRC, the Heritage Center promoted and pursued relevant research, fostered curriculum design and materials development, and created models for educating heritage language teachers. The Heritage Center’s accomplishments included: (1) convening four research institutes that helped advance a comprehensive research agenda; (2) conducting two K-16 teacher workshops; (3) teaching summer classes for high school heritage speakers in less-commonly-taught languages; (4) conducting an online national survey of college-level heritage learners; (5) publishing the Heritage Language Journal; (5) publishing the edited volume Heritage Language Education: A New Field Emerging (Brinton, Kagan, and Bauckus, eds.); (6) convening the first International Conference on Heritage/Community Languages; and (7) disseminating our findings and materials at national conferences, on the Heritage Center website, and through publications.

The 2010-2014 funding cycle has seen the addition of several projects including: (1) an investigation into the nature of deficits present in heritage language comprehension and production with a view to informing instructional strategies; (2) a project that aims to clarify similarities and differences between heritage and non-heritage students by comparing data from heritage speakers of Russian with L2 learners closely matching them in proficiency; (3) the creation of a searchable database of U.S. college-level heritage language classes and programs; (4) the identification of oral proficiency profiles of heritage language learners and the elicitation of linguistic biographies in order to increase understanding of factors contributing to speaking proficiency and also to inform OPI descriptors and tester training; (5) a Startalk/NHLRC online heritage teacher workshop ( comprising a comprehensive mini-course that can be used by heritage language practitioners for self-study, in workshops, and in pre- and in-service methods courses.; and (6) the development of a curricular model that will provide information and tools for heritage language instructors and administrators as well as online tutorials to support literacy for Arabic, Hindi, and Persian heritage learners.

Heritage language speakers constitute a significant fraction of students of world languages in K-16 settings; indeed, they are the largest category of language learners for most less-commonly-taught languages. Definitions of heritage language and heritage language speakers vary; Fishman (2001, p. 81) defines a heritage language as one with “particular family relevance.” The most widely accepted definition of a heritage speaker is “a person who is raised in a home where a language other than English is spoken, who speaks or understands that language, and who is to some degree bilingual in English and the home language” (Valdés, 2000, p. 1). At the Heritage Center, we define a heritage language as “a language other than English that is acquired first but learned incompletely due to emigration and/or schooling in English” (Polinsky, 2008). The UCLA Research Priorities Conference Report (2001) distinguished between heritage language acquisition, which begins in the home, and second language acquisition, which typically begins in the classroom. These definitions focus the Heritage Center’s work on developing resources for learners whose early experience with the language requires that we teach them differently from second language learners. Skillfully instructed and motivated heritage speakers can become high-functioning bilinguals much more quickly than is typical for foreign language students.

Almost 20% of U.S. residents speak a language other than English at home (U.S. Census Bureau’s estimate for 2006-2008); this is up from 17.9% in 2000. The data include heritage speakers who arrive in the U.S. in childhood and those born in the U.S. to immigrant parents, and indicate the large-scale potential to strengthen language knowledge in the U.S. through more effective instruction. Heritage language speakers have complex language profiles; they often demonstrate high-level competence in speaking and listening alongside low proficiency in reading and writing. Moreover, because of the home-based nature of their language knowledge, even heritage speakers with high oral/aural proficiency often lack the formal education to shape the skills they need to function in academic and professional settings.
Heritage language speakers typically speak the heritage language until they start school and then rapidly switch to English. However, they continue to use their home language to some extent so retain some, or even considerable, proficiency. For this reason heritage language learners need instruction that addresses both their knowledge and gaps if they are to make substantial progress. Wiley (2008) shows convincingly that curricula unsuitable to the needs of heritage language learners can de-motivate these learners and frustrate language (re)learning. We have ample evidence that foreign language curricula and textbooks do not meet heritage learners' needs (Campbell & Rosenthal, 2000; Kagan, 2005; Kanno, Hasegawa, Ikedo, Ito, and Long, 2008), and additionally that language textbooks and curricula designed for native speakers are inappropriate for this population (Bermel & Kagan, 2000). Despite their mixed profiles and incomplete knowledge, heritage language speakers have what Valdés describes as “developed functional proficiencies” (2001, p. 38). This is echoed by Kagan’s (2005) findings that heritage language learners who begin classroom instruction with no literacy nonetheless have measurable proficiency in speaking and listening. Because of this proficiency, they can progress much faster than foreign language learners if they are taught with a pedagogy that builds on their incoming proficiencies. The work of the Heritage Center aims to inform such a pedagogy through its research and projects.

Contact Belinda about Root Words


Differentiation for better comprehension
B. A. Sauret, Ph.D.

I have had good results from professional development. I hate to admit it: I’m often one of the people slumping, sighing and blowing my bangs when I realize that I have to give up my planning period to go to training of some sort. As it turns out, the session on differentiation came as I was wrestling with why my native speaker students insisted on identifying the wrong person as the protagonist in Pedro Antonio de Alarcón’s story "El afrancesado." I couldn’t just tell them they were wrong; I needed them to see the answer for themselves. After a school improvement specialist showed a video that gave a sample of activities for differentiation, I came up with the following assignments. Since my students had written a number of things about themselves and their preferences, I knew enough about them to create and assign tasks on the basis of their tastes. This continues to be one my students’ favorite activities and after they have to think about what character would say or do in a different situation, they will generally recognize that the named character is really not the one who undergoes the transformation. These activities could easily be adapted to another story.

  1. Trabajo de "El afrancesado"
    Uds. son periodistas en el pueblo de El Padrón en Galicia, España. Han recibido las noticias de que ocurrió una masacre en la casa del boticario. Estos son tiempos de guerra y se sienten obligados a decir la verdad, pero también hay que expresarse cuidadosamente para no provocar ataques de venganza de los invasores franceses. Les toca escribir artículos y presentarlos en forma de periódico con la fecha, el tiempo, títulos de otras noticias. Todo esto lo van a presentar en papel de envolver. (Butcher paper)

  2. Trabajo de "El afrancesado"
    Uds. forman parte del "grupo de sombras". El día después de los acontecimientos en la casa del boticario se encuentran en una taberna y hablan de lo sucedido. Es un lugar a donde los franceses no van nunca. Aunque todos son realistas y patriotas, hay diferencias de opinión y, por eso, surge una discusión amarga. En el grupo hay quienes dicen "Deberíamos haber sabido que García de Paredes era siempre un patriota y no un traidor. Así no hubiera tenido que morir." pero otros contestan que no, fue imposible saberlo, y "García de Paredes murió porque así lo quiso." Ambos lados emplean razones (citas directas o indirectas del cuento) y no llegan a una resolución de sus diferencias. Esta discusión Uds. la van a representar ante los otros estudiantes de la clase. Todos deben tener su propio guión y el diálogo debe durar unos cinco minutos.

  3. Trabajo de "El afrancesado"
    La historia de García de Paredes ha llegado a Jalisco donde un grupo de cantores y músicos quiere convertirlo en un "francocorrido" o sea, un corrido acerca de la invasión napoleónica hecha por los franceses, de ahí "franco". Al igual que todos los corridos, los versos riman y son octosílabos. Debe de tener unos veinte versos e incluir citas directas del cuento. Pueden cantarlo a la clase. Un ejemplo:

  4. De aquel caballo ligero
    solo un corrido quedó
    Porque una noche de luna de su corral se salió
    muerto cayó en la ladera
    del rancho donde nació.

  5. Trabajo de "El afrancesado"
    Uds. van a diseñar y dibujar una imagen grande y simbólica del personaje García de Paredes. Este dibujo emplea citas del cuento y representa el carácter del personaje pero también los hechos del cuento. Deberían de incluir por lo menos 7 citas del cuento para ayudar la comprensión de los demás alumnos. El dibujo será grande y se presentará en papel de envolver, o sea, "butcher paper". El primer paso debe de ser una lluvia de ideas; apunten las ideas de todos los del grupo sin rechazar ninguna ni reírse de los demás. Luego volverán a seleccionar las ideas que pueden alcanzar representar en una hoja de papel en el tiempo que tienen.

  6. Trabajo de "El afrancesado"
    Uds. van a diseñar y dibujar una imagen grande y simbólica del personaje las sombras. Este dibujo incluye citas del cuento y representa el carácter del personaje pero también los hechos del cuento. Deberían de incluir por lo menos 7 citas del cuento para ayudar la comprensión de los demás alumnos. El dibujo será grande y se presentará en papel de envolver, o sea, "butcher paper". El primer paso debe de ser una lluvia de ideas; apunten las ideas de todos los del grupo sin rechazar ninguna ni reírse de los demás. Luego volverán a seleccionar las ideas que pueden alcanzar representar en una hoja de papel en el tiempo que tienen.

  7. Trabajo de "El afrancesado"
    Uds. se tienen que imaginar agentes de bienes raíces. Después de la muerte de García de Paredes hay que vender la casa. Pero ¿quién va a querer comprar una casa donde acaban de morir 21 personas? En "butcher paper" o sea, papel de envolver, hagan un anuncio comercial. Piensen en quién es el público que quiere comprar la casa de un patriota, o que quiere comenzar un nuevo negocio en lo que antes era una botica. Deben incluir imágenes de varios cuartos y un texto que describe toda lo bello, lo histórico y lo atractivo de esta casa. En los anuncios de bienes raíces se suelen incluir datos acerca del tamaño de la casa, cuántas habitaciones tiene, cuántos baños, etc.

Discovering What Bilingualism Is

This month’s offering is a lesson plan that helps students to discover what bilingualism is, what the advantages to being bilingual might be, and a series of activities that lead to a discussion about preserving and encouraging bilingualism in today’s world. Download Lesson Plan (Word Document)

Un petit Tour du Recherche - From why to how and back
by Belinda A. Sauret

A kind-hearted teacher who taught Algebra in the room across the hall from mine mused aloud while we stood watching the copier churn that if he were to move to another country he would make sure that his children spoke only the language of the new home country.

“Really,” I asked, making my eyes as round in astonishment as I could. “So, you wouldn’t let them talk to their grandparents? You wouldn’t let them talk to you?”
I told him about my own grandmother’s fears that, while her daughter’s children were growing up in Argentina, they would lose the ability to understand the stories that grandma told. Of course, his observation wasn’t really about my childhood; it was about our present: he was uncomfortable having so many students speaking other languages in our school and was trying to grapple with what the new reality meant.

I suspect that I’m not the only teacher who’s ever had to quietly defend what I do in teaching Spanish for Native Speakers or Spanish for Heritage Learners. His cocked eyebrow and measured, “Shouldn’t they be learning English instead?” hinted at so much misinformation about the nature of language learning and bilingualism. In this case, as in others like it, I just responded with, “English speakers take English classes and Spanish speakers take Spanish classes,” while I make a mental note that I will wait for a better occasion to show my friend the research about the value of bilingualism cited on the ACTFL website.

The lack of knowledge is just surprising to me, but for some of my students such ignorance, especially when it comes out of the mouth of someone in authority, can be destructive. A student of mine can’t speak to his parents because, in an effort to assure for their son all the promises of liberty in their new land, they stopped speaking to him in their native tongue. Now he can’t really speak to them nor they to him. On the upside, he’s been studying his parents’ language and once in a while will ask me for clarification about a linguistic or grammatical term. In some of those exchanges, he’ll echo doubts he’s heard from others with an anxiety-revealing “I read somewhere...” construction. “I read somewhere that some writers have really rich vocabularies because they only focussed on one language,” or “I read somewhere that knowing two languages makes little kids not be able to pronounce either one right.” It’s my hope that next summer’s trip to Asia will assure him that there are only advantages in communicating to more people in more languages. Other students I know share community languages with their families-Vietnamese, Laotian, or Amharic-but they’ve never had the chance to learn history and culture through a study of that literature.

So, on behalf of our would-be, could-be, emergent bilingual students, I invite you to review just three journal articles about why teaching Heritage Language Learners is important and how we can make our efforts more effective:


Lee, Jin Sook and Eva Oxelson, “”It’s Not My Job’: K-12 Teacher Attitudes Toward Students’ Heritage Language Maintenance”, Bilingual Research Journal, Volume 30: 2 Summer 2006, 453-477.

Even if you haven’t had experiences similar to mine, I would bet that students in your Heritage Language classes could tell stories about the disdain or outright disapproval of their languages that they’ve faced from teachers or other significant authority figures. The Lee and Oxelson article traces the process and the findings of a survey of teachers. The authors set out to see the depth of knowledge and the nature of attitudes among faculty members with regards to questions of language and culture. The findings lead logically to actionable recommendations, but the introduction offers a whole host of reminders (with all the appropriate research citations) of why we teach Heritage Languages:

Proficiency in the heritage language not only facilitates English acquisition...and leads to higher academic achievement...but also results in greater cognitive flexibility including an enhanced ability to deal with abstract concepts...students who do not have the opportunity to fully develop in both languages are significantly more likely to drop out of schools than those fluent in both languages.(p. 455)

Further, the authors point to research that indicates “that when teachers communicate that only English is appropriate for school. Students infer that their home language and culture are less important.” But all is not lost, since even in cases where the subject is not the heritage language and the teacher is not a speaker of that language, “positive effects are also found when teachers express interest in the heritage language and treat it as a resource”(p. 456). The authors cite a teacher comment to point out that this support of a Heritage Language doesn’t have to be elaborate, “Just asking them to share some things in their language, letting them use it. Then they don’t have to hide that part of themselves. It’s part of who they are. They can be proud” (p. 468).

Tse, Lucy. “Resisting and Reversing Language Shift: Heritage-Language Resilience among U.S. Native Biliterates.” Harvard Educational Review, Volume 71, Number 4, Winter, 2001.

While we may rightfully lament the typical loss of heritage language literacy, Lucy Tse looked at a small group of not-so-typical heritage language speakers, those who bucked this trend, who maintained or improved literacy in their ancestral language. She delineates two common factors in the ten bilingual/biliterate college and university students she interviewed: first, what she calls “language vitality,” a factor that includes the status and prestige of the language, peers and parents who speak the language and “contact with institutions that valued the language” and second, language environment and literacy. The students in the study spoke Cantonese, Japanese and Spanish. Tse’s findings include some revealing remarks by the students themselves: Julie, for example, became interested in teen culture in Japan, and that interest served to motivate her reading. Tse also addresses how questions of identity helped to make the heritage language an entrée into a privileged group rather than a marker that identified the speaker as part of a stigmatized minority. The interviews and personal experiences of the students help make this study very readable. Tse doesn’t claim that the conditions are entirely within the purview of schools or individual teachers, but she does offer support for making schools and individual classrooms rich in varied texts from the target language.

Ducar, Cynthia M. “Student Voices: The Missing Link in the Spanish Heritage Language Debate,” Foreign Language Annals, Volume 41, No. 3, Fall 2008. 415-433.

Ducar includes the questionnaire that she used with the 152 heritage language students whose opinions she sought. In addition to some surprising findings (“91% of those surveyed want their Spanish to be corrected”) she also offers some practical and realistic suggestions for course activities that address students’ perceptions of what they need to learn in Spanish. These projects include students’ producing “linguistic autobiographies” or surveys and analyses of different terms in Spanish. Some of these respond to the fact that students in her survey indicated that they were looking to broaden their competency in a “personally relevant” variety of Spanish; for these University of Arizona students that meant that “a Mexican or Mexican-American variety of Spanish would be the students’ first choice in the classroom.” Based on Ducar’s results and suggestions, I believe I will have my students put together a sort of linguistic map of expressions they typically use like naiden or muncho. (Naiden is used instead of "nadie" the more widespread word to express "nobody” or “no one.”  Muncho is used instead of "mucho," in Spanish to say "a lot" or "much.")

I hope that summer will allow you at least a little time to reconsider why we teach Heritage Languages and that reading these articles (ask your public library to use Interlibrary Loan to get them for you) will afford you new ideas to make the class ever more relevant for our students. I, for one, will mull over these words:

Knowing two languages is much more than simply knowing two ways of speaking. Some of what is learned about the second language appears to be attached directly to the first language, while other aspects create new ways of thinking and new mental organizations. The result of this is that the mind of a bilingual speaker has a different structure than the mind of a monolingual. While it may involve a value judgment to describe it as richer, or more complex, it seems evident that the mind of a speaker who has in some way attached two sets of linguistic details to a conceptual representation ... has entertained possibilities and alternatives that the monolingual speaker has had no need to entertain. (Bialystock and Hakuta cited in Cooper, et al. “Foreign Language Learning and SAT Verbal Scores Revisited” Foreign Language Annals 41, 2, Summer 2008.)

For information about ACTFL’s position on Heritage Language Learning, please go to:


Challenges & Strides in Heritage Language Education
by Victoria Hasko, Ph.D. University of Georgia

On the pages of the NCLRC Newsletter and beyond, language educators and scholars have been pondering over the question of how the U.S. language education system can be improved to ensure maintenance and development of heritage languages. The question does not have easy answers, as we are only beginning to understand the nature of heritage language acquisition and to envision solutions for developing an effective and responsible heritage language education policy. Here, I will provide an overview of some of the critical issues that the field of heritage language education is facing today and will share some innovative educational initiatives that heritage language educators have been recently experimenting with in the state of Georgia, a state with a rapidly growing immigrant population.

Challenges we are facing
The first critical step on the path to serving the needs of heritage language learners involves identifying their educational needs, which presents a formidable challenge. Heritage language learners are not a monolithic group: the circumstances of their upbringing are varied in sociocultural, educational, economic, dialectal, ancestral terms, etc. As a result, they come to school with a broad range of skills from purely receptive to fluent, depending on the amount, quality, and contexts of exposure to the heritage language. In spite of a growing body of studies, the topics of heritage language acquisition and pedagogy remain woefully under-researched with many questions pertaining to the dynamics and profile of heritage language acquisition still unanswered. Coherent pedagogical theories which would guide and inform research on heritage language learning and teaching are yet to be fully articulated (Valdés, 2001).

There is some consensus in the literature about the general strengths and weaknesses that apply to students whose parents speak the heritage language at home. Because they are typically exposed to their familial language from birth, these students come to school with significantly more developed speaking and listening comprehension skills than traditional foreign language students (Kondo-Brown, 2005; Valdés, 2005). However, their profile often does not fit upper-level academic courses. Although heritage language learners may be well-versed in everyday topics (e.g. house chores, prayers, play talk), their academic lexicon and knowledge of the formal register is limited, and oral speech might abound in colloquialisms, non-standard forms, and dialectal variations. What particularly sets heritage language learners apart from students who learned foreign languages in academic settings is that the former typically either completely lack literacy skills in the heritage language or lag behind the traditionally-educated students in reading and writing abilities (Friedman & Kagan, 2008; Valdés, 2005).

Heritage language education is currently realized through various models in elementary and secondary schools. Most heritage language students enroll in traditional foreign language courses, much to the dismay of foreign language teachers who have no training or prior knowledge of how heritage language and “true” foreign language acquisitional systems differ and how the academic needs of these two populations can be met (Schwartz, 2001; Valdés, 2005). Hybrid courses in which both heritage and non-heritage students are placed together may fall short in serving the needs of both learner groups (Sohn & Shin, 2007). As traditional students struggle with oral skills, they may feel threatened by the seeming fluency of heritage language students. At the same time, activities characteristic of initial foreign language instruction, such as listening to simplified dialogues, engaging in basic vocabulary drills, and producing scripted output exercises, do not contribute to the linguistic development of heritage language students and decrease their levels of motivation. Harklau (in press) conducted ethnographic case studies documenting experiences of several high school heritage language students placed in traditional Spanish classes. She found that while the students entered the classes with neutral or positive expectations, they left with antipathy, frustration, low course averages, and the perception that Spanish classes are boring (in fact, “the boringest”!). The students additionally felt disempowered and stigmatized by the teacher’s dismissal of the regional dialects they spoke.

Language courses or articulated tracks specifically designed for heritage language learners are still exceptions rather than a rule. The number of students enrolled in these courses varies from state-to-state and to depend on local variables, such as demographic situation, state and local policies, levels of support for minority language education, funding, etc. Valdés (2006) reports that 18% of U.S. universities and only 9% of secondary schools offer special courses for heritage speakers. Foreign language immersion programs and two-way or dual immersion programs present alternative pathways for heritage language education. The latest updates in the CAL’s online directory report that in 2006 there were 263 foreign language immersion programs in the U.S., and the number of two-way immersion programs reached 335 in 2007. Originally designed for and still largely serving monolingual English-speaking communities, immersion programs have been shown effective in helping heritage language students develop biliteracy and reach academic success (Christian, 2008; cf., Wang & Green 2001).

Offering more language courses designed specifically for heritage language students is constrained not only by such issues as funding, policy, or logistics, but also by a shortage of interested instructors. Teachers who take on the challenges of developing and offering heritage language courses are undoubtedly passionate and devoted educators, but they also require support and training in the topics of heritage language acquisition, pedagogy, bilingualism, sociolinguistics, and dialectology (cf. Schwartz, 2001). The demands of being a heritage language teacher are not trivial. Successful heritage language teaching demands that teachers significantly revise their pedagogical practices, create well-articulated course tracks and lesson plans, develop new materials, as well as identify appropriate assessment and placement tools.  Outside of the classroom, heritage language teachers often find themselves serving as surrogate counselors, administrators, and ESL teachers as they are asked to translate and interpret for their students and their families (Colomer & Harklau, forthcoming); such responsibilities do not only impose extra responsibilities but require special preparation and skills. Foreign language teacher education programs are responding to the new demands in the field very slowly: only a small number of universities offer courses and programs designed to prepare language educators to meet the needs of heritage language students. In the next section, I will describe several exciting initiatives that have been recently implemented by educators in Georgia to address the aforementioned challenges in the field of heritage language education and teacher preparation.

Strides in Georgia
As one of the fastest growing states in the country, Georgia has witnessed a significant influx of immigrants over the last decade and, consequently, remarkable changes in school demographics For example, Gwinnett County in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area, one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, saw a dramatic increase in the number of students with home languages other than English (LOTE) from 2002 to 2008; specifically, the numbers doubled from 28,454 to 56,791, with Spanish-speaking heritage students as the largest linguistic minority group (Jahner, 2009). As a result of proactive educational efforts in the county, the number of students enrolled in Spanish for Native Speakers courses increased tenfold over the last 6 years. Still, much work remains to be done, as even after these accommodations, the country could provide heritage language instruction to only about 2% of all LOTE students enrolled in the county’s public schools in 2007-2008 (ibid.).

Hispanics are one of the largest minority groups in Georgia. While it had not been considered a state with a high percentage of Hispanic population in the past, this has changed over the last decade. Today, Georgia is home to over 730,000 Hispanics, and its schools are implementing innovative and welcome initiatives to maintain and develop Spanish proficiency in heritage language students, 45% of whom are native-born (Pew Hispanic Center, 2007). Thus, in 2006 the first Georgia public dual language English-Spanish charter school Unidos opened its doors to level K-1 students in Clayton County. Today 312 students are enrolled in K-3 grades, 46% of whom are heritage speakers of Spanish, and the school is continuing to grow. In accordance with the dual language immersion model, English-speaking and Spanish-speaking children study together and receive content area and literacy instruction in both languages, following a “one language – one teacher” principle. Students in grades K-1 start out with 70% of instruction time in Spanish and 30% of instruction time in English before switching to a 50/50 model in levels 2-5. There are no language courses per se, as language instruction is grounded in content-based curriculum. For example, students learn science-related academic vocabulary in English and Spanish as they engage in meaningful contextualized reading, discussions, and writing activities in science classes in each of the two languages. Spanish Languages Arts and English Language Arts classes zoom in on literacy skills development. One of the school’s primary goals is for all of its students to reach bilingualism and biliteracy by the time they finish fifth grade. Unidos has made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) each year since it opened in 2006 and in 2008 was awarded the Superintendent's Distinguished Achievement Award by the Georgia Department of Education for improvement in Grade One Reading on the CRCT.

In 2008, the World Language Academy followed suit by launching into the first year of the dual language immersion program at Hall County School System’s first charter school of choice. During the first academic year, the additive English-Spanish bilingual program was open to grades K-1, and as this cohort of students progresses through the grades, the dual-immersion format will follow them. Similarly to Unidos, about half of the students the school serves are heritage speakers of Spanish, i.e. the World Language Academy integrates native English speakers and heritage Spanish speakers in the same classroom and provides quality, standards-based content instruction in both languages.  Grades K and 1 are in a 70/30 model, which will shift to 60/40 in the next year reaching a 50/50 balance when this year’s first grade students progress to grades three through five. The World Language Academy is unique, as in addition to promoting bilingualism and biliteracy in English and Spanish, Mandarin Chinese is taught to all students in grades K-5. Both charter schools have generated much excitement in their respective counties and the state, with hopeful parents turning up in such high numbers, that the schools will hold a lottery to establish the order for the waiting list for the 2009-2010 academic year.

To encourage heritage language students to apply to and succeed in colleges, West Hall High School in Hall County articulated and developed a comprehensive curriculum for heritage speakers of Spanish leading to Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish Literature courses. The AP program turned out to be a great success resulting in the highest AP scores in the school (Sauret, 2008). In 2006, the school additionally established the first International Baccalaureate (IB) School for heritage speakers of Spanish (A1) in a U.S. public school. IB policy presupposes the right of heritage students to study their own language at the highest level, and, accordingly, West Hall offers its Hispanic students an opportunity to develop personal appreciation of the literature written in their heritage language, to gain literary criticism skills, as well as to strengthen written and oral skills in Spanish as part of the rigorous IB course of study (Sauret, 2009). Both educational initiatives at West Hall High School serve as a convincing demonstration that the study of heritage languages does not only lead to linguistic gains but also to students’ increased confidence in themselves and in their academic abilities.

At the University of Georgia, we have also taken steps to address the educational needs of in-service and pre-service teachers interested in offering heritage language courses. In Spring of 2009, a graduate-level seminar titled “Heritage Language Education in Georgia” was offered with the goal of exploring the issues related to providing high quality heritage language education, particularly as they apply to our local context. The seminar addressed such topics as the dynamics of heritage language acquisition, factors that promote or inhibit retention of heritage languages, methodological considerations, instructional needs of heritage language students and professional needs of teachers, state demographics, and types of programs serving heritage language communities in Georgia. In the spirit of serving local heritage language communities, the students in the course participated in a service learning project by running bilingual storytime sessions in Spanish and Korean at the local library during the course of the semester. In Spring 2010, the University of Georgia will be offering the course on a satellite campus in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area, so that more of the in-serving teachers typically commuting to Athens from Atlanta could have an opportunity to benefit from taking the course.

Much work remains to be done for the field of heritage language education, but exciting initiatives are springing up across the country (cf. Brinton et al., 2008; Kirklighter et al., 2007; Valdés et al., 2006) bringing education activism and attention to the heritage language communities which represent the most underserved, excluded, and marginalized student populations. More than ever, heritage language learners and teachers need attention, support, respect, and representation in the school system, government, universities, funding agencies, and heritage language communities. Therefore, I conclude with the call to action: “In a nation of diverse languages and cultures, we must do what we can to ensure that our linguistic wealth and cultural heritage are passed down to the next generation.” (Wang & Green, 2001, p.187).



Baker, C. (2006). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Brecht, R., & Ingold, C. (2002). Tapping a national resource: Heritage languages in the United States. ERIC Digest EDO-FL-02-02. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics/ERIC.

Brinton, D., Kagan, O., & Bauckus, S. (2008). (Eds.). Heritage language education: A new field emerging. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Colomer, S., & Harklau, L. (forthcoming). Spanish teachers as impromptu translators and liaisons in new Latino communities. Foreign Language Annals.

Christian, D. (2008). School-based programs for heritage language learners: Two-way immersion. In Brinton, Kagan & Bauckus, 257-268.

Friedman, D., & Kagan, O. (2008). Academic writing proficiency of Russian heritage speakers: A comparative study. In Brinton, Kagan & Bauckus, 181-198.

Gunning, T. G. (2008). Creating literacy instruction for all students. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Harklau, L. (in press). High school Spanish in the new Latino diaspora. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies.

Hornberger, N. H., & Wang, S. C. (2008). Who are our heritage language learners?  Identity and biliteracy in heritage language education in the united states. In Brinton, Kagan & Bauckus, 3-35.

Jahner, D. (2009, February 10). Spanish for native speakers. Invited lecture, University of Georgia. Athens, GA.

Kondo-Brown, K. (2005). Differences in language skills: Heritage language learner subgroups and foreign language learners. The Modern Language Journal, 89(4), 563-581.

Kirklighter, C., Cardenas D., Wolff Murphy, S. (2007). Teaching writing with Latino/a students. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Peyton, J. K., Ranard, D. A., & McGinnis, S. (2001). Heritage languages in America: Preserving a national resource. Washington DC: CAL.

Pew Hispanic Center. A Pew Research Center Project. Accessed in October 2009,

Shannon, S. (1999). The debate on bilingual education in the U.S.: Language ideology as reflected in the practice of bilingual teachers. In J. Blommaert (Ed.) Language ideological debates (171-200). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Schwartz, A. M. (2001). Preparing teachers to work with heritage language learners. In Peyton, Ranard &McGinnis, 229-254.

Sohn, S. & Shin, S. (2007). True beginners, false beginners, and fake beginners: Placement strategies for Korean heritage speakers. Foreign Language Annals 40(3), 407-418.

Sauret, B.A. (2009). An innovative program for heritage learners of Spanish. Paper presented at the ACTFL Convention. Orlando, FL.

S auret, B.A. (2009). The International Baccalaureate approach to native language study. NCLRC Newsletter. Retrieved in October 2009,

Valdés, G. (2001). Heritage language students: Profiles and possibilities. In Peyton, Ranard & McGinnis, 37-80.

Valdés, G. (2005). Bilingualism, heritage language learners, and SLA research: Opportunities lost or seized? The Modern Language Journal, 89(3), 410–426.

Valdés, G. (2006). Introduction: The development of non-English-language resources in the United States. In Valdés, Fishman, Chávez, and Pérez, xiii-xxi.

Valdés, G., Fishman J.A., Chavez, R.M, Perez, W. (2006).  Towards the Development of Minority Language Resources: Lessons from the Case of California.  Multilingual Matters: London.

Wang, S., & Green, N. (2001). Heritage language students in the K-12 education system. In Peyton, Ranard &McGinnis, 167-196.

Wright, S. C., & Bougie, E. (2007). Intergroup contact and minority-language education: Reducing language-based discrimination and its negative impact. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 26(2), 157-181.

October 2009

Can it be done?  Is it really possible for Heritage Language students to learn well in a class where the majority of students are second-language learners?

B. A. Sauret

Ms. R of Colorado, posed this question in an email that she sent to the NCLRC newsletter.

“Some Spanish teachers and some administrators consider [it] fine to have Heritage Spanish students mixed in a class with non-natives taking Spanish as a FL.” Ms. R went on to point out that research suggests that the needs of Heritage Spanish students are very different from those of second language learners. Her question was not just one of curiosity since at her school a plan is afoot “to have the same level for Spanish IV and Heritage Spanish Course level 2 (the school only has two levels for Heritage students). I think this is not a good route to take. They will be doing a disservice to the Heritage students whose needs fall in different range than those of Americans taking Spanish as a FL.” Further, she inquires about professional organizations that, she hopes, will help find ways of “giving Native Spanish students better opportunities to improve their literacy in Spanish, and to learn more of their own cultures.”

The question, or rather, all three questions (about mixed classes, the needs of Spanish for Native Speaker (SNS) students, and the role of professional organizations) seemed huge and current, and email seems a medium too little suited to nuance for this (or these) discussions. So, Ms. R agreed to a phone interview.

It turns out this is an issue faced by both Ms. R and her sister, both of them teaching in charter schools. While they’re glad that there are students who are Native or Heritage speakers of Spanish in both schools, they also find smaller schools like these (between 300-400 students) often have scheduling and staffing limitations. As a result of these limitations, at least for this year, they have mixed classes. Naturally, since they’re familiar with the work of Guadalupe Valdez and that of Ana Roca, they would prefer to be able to direct classwork toward the specific needs typical of SNS students: increasing reading skills and expanding vocabulary into academic content areas. And since these students have shown the gumption to apply to and attend a charter school, these young scholars’ skills should be nurtured.

Or to appropriate a phrase that Ms. C uses on occasion in her remarks on FLTEACH and on the AP Spanish listserve, “we should treasure these students.” Ms. C has taught for twenty-five years in a school of about 2200 students, located in a Texas suburb. Over those years she has watched the Hispanic portion of the institution grow to 42% of the total school population. But she didn’t just watch: she developed a Spanish for Native Speakers program that takes students through to Advanced Placement Spanish Language. In addition to a strong pass rate on the demanding AP test, Ms. C can also point to another sort of success: many students who complete the SNS sequence of classes take advantage of one of the many advantages of bilingualism, metalinguistic skills that make learning a third language easier. These students often take French, Japanese, Chinese, German or Latin classes.

While Ms. C does recommend separate classes for Heritage Spanish learners, the reality is that too often teachers have to juggle more than one class preparation within a single class period. For Ms. R and for others struggling to manage this pedagogical sleight-of-hand, Ms. C offers some ideas:

  • For her native speaker students whose academic skills need improvement, Ms. C has a particularly useful and simple reading activity. With regards to developing reading skills in her charges, she makes mention of a conversation she had with a reading specialist. According to her source, two problems that many students have when it comes to taking reading tests is that they lack the stamina to read for more than about five minutes, coupled with the fact that they haven’t developed the habit of forming mental images of what they have just read. The answer that Ms. C used in her classes involves some independent group work, suitable for her group of 3 native speaker students. Ms. C gives her groups of three all the same reading. For a limited period of time, say 15 minutes, the students are asked to read together. They can read aloud, they can help each other with difficult words, but they must read steadily. They can’t lift their writing utensils though until all members of the group have returned the reading to the teacher. Then each student must make a drawing to represent the content of the reading. Variety and high interest are key here, so Ms. C picks things that she can get enthusiastic about and things that she can involve the students in. When test time comes along, Ms. C includes one of the previously read (and drawn) selections as part of the evaluation.
  • Technology can play a part in giving SNS students useful activities that help correct errors they might have. Most faculty who have taught heritage language students are aware that certain structures that have no strong equivalent in English, will often start to disappear from the heritage language. For Spanish, subjunctive forms, especially the imperfect, will often be mysterious for students who have spent most of their school years in the United States. One of Ms. C’s favorite websites,, corrects students’ work. While Ms. C describes the website as basically a big online workbook, students may keep on working on the activities until they score a sufficiently high mark, and then move on to other activities.
  • Another academic skill that can be practiced in the SNS classroom is note-taking. Here Ms. C offers for Ms. R’s and the reader’s use a series of Powerpoints that were put together on the topic of Human Rights. While she goes through the Powerpoint with the students she asks them to take notes of central ideas, not to copy the Powerpoints, but to digest them to the degree that their notes will serve as a recall for the thrust of the material. These remarkable high-interest materials are available at

Finally, I would point out that our professional organizations do offer support. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has a Special Interest Group (SIG) on the topic of Spanish for Native Speakers. This SIG even offers scholarships for teachers to attend the national conference in November.

The American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP) has long offered the National Spanish Examination, and they even have a specific category of competition for bilingual students. Additionally, local chapters of the AATSP may offer competition in writing and in poster-making. These may also include native speaker or heritage language categories.

Many readers will have had Ms. R’s experience, trying to teach well to native speaker students, using a curriculum that did not originally have them in mind. If you would like to share how you’ve coped with this difficult situation, we would be pleased to pass along your ideas.

March 2009

Discourses in Dying Languages: My Story With Yiddish

A report on the talk by Miriam Isaacs at the National Museum of Languageisaacs by Tom Braslavsky, National Capital Language Resource Center

On January 25, the National Museum of Language hosted University of Maryland Professor Miriam Isaacs. as part of the Marian M. Jenkins Memorial Speaker Series. A Visiting Assistant Professor of Yiddish in the Jewish Studies Program of the University's Meyerhoff Center for Jewish studies, Isaacs spoke about her family history and how she became interested in the Yiddish language. Born in a post-war refugee camp in Germany in 1946, Isaacs grew up in Montreal with parents who exclusively spoke Yiddish at home. Isaacs recounted a story of how one day, when she was 10, her father explained why it was important for her to know the language.

"He told me that that I was an intelligent girl and that I could learn English well anyhow," Isaacs said. "But if I didn’t speak Yiddish at home, I wouldn’t know where I came from."

Since that conversation, Isaacs said, she has had an interest in sustaining the Yiddish language and other fading languages of ethnic minorities. Isaacs gave a brief history of Yiddish in modern times, starting from the late 19th Century. She said that as the Enlightenment spread throughout Europe, Ashkenazi Jews (Jews living in Europe) underwent large and quick changes in lifestyle, transforming from a life focused on religion and community to one much more cosmopolitan.

"Jewish thinkers were foremost in understanding the implications of modernity, both good and bad," Isaacs said. "Included in their ranks were the first linguists and anthropologists."

With Modernity, Yiddish had been transformed from a vernacular into a sophisticated language of literature and theater. There were and still are Yiddish authors, Yiddish newspapers and Yiddish plays. Yiddish was also involved with significant political movements in Europe and the United States.

Isaacs expanded on the question of whether Yiddish is a "dying language". She said that its position as the primary language of most Jews was permanently damaged by the Holocaust, in which 5 million of the 6 million Jews killed were Yiddish speakers.

Isaacs also recounted the decades-long 20th century struggle between Yiddish and Hebrew, a struggle to define the linguistic identity of Jews. Hebrew speakers often considered Yiddish to be a remnant of the Diaspora – a language of persecution that did not deserve pride. Yiddish speakers, on the other hand, wanted to retain a part of the spoken and literary heritage of the Ashkenazi Jews in Europe.


Now, while Hebrew has become the native language for millions of Jews in Israel, Isaacs said that Yiddish is the primary language for only some tens of thousands of people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Hasidim. However, the language is taught at some universities, and there exist a number of organizations that try to preserve Yiddish.

Isaacs also brought up the interesting fact of non-Jews learning and speaking Yiddish. On a Yiddish program in Lithuania that Isaacs attended last summer, about half of the students and teachers were not Jewish.

"While Yiddish has gone out of fashion for many Jews," Isaacs said, "quite a few non-Jews have begun to study it."

In Poland, Germany, Lithuania and other European countries, there are Yiddish-centered cultural institutions and university courses in the language. Isaacs said that one interpretation she has for this desire to study Yiddish is as a "gesture of good will."

"There’s an awareness that Yiddish was brutally destroyed in Europe, and that this is a way of showing in a very meaningful way a respect for the language," Isaacs said.

Isaacs also discussed how her involvement in the preservation of Yiddish has endeared her to the struggles of other people trying to preserve their languages. She described the pains of a native Lakota teacher who was interested in the revival of the Hebrew language.

"When I described the process," Isaacs said, "That it had taken dedicated effort for the better part of a century to bring Hebrew to where it is as a modern language, he became disheartened. Lakota, he told me, did not have that much time."parents

Isaacs said that too many schools were not interested in preserving the languages of their minority cultures, and merely tried to make everyone learn English. She saw a similar assimilationist attitude during a recent trip to Mexico. While there, Isaacs met a family of indigenous Zapotec speakers in Tenochtitlan. Isaacs said a man told her how his children were embarrassed to speak Zapotec, and that the parents have to send them to a Spanish-language school in another city, Oaxaca.

"What really struck me was the sense of shame on the part of the kids – that they’re embarrassed by their parents, and how frustrated the parents are that this is the reality that they have," Isaacs said.

In Mexico City, Isaacs visited a Spanish-language Jewish school that also teaches Hebrew and Yiddish. When the students at the school asked her why they should be learning Yiddish, Isaacs responded that having its own language gives a group a feeling of peoplehood and shared heritage.

"It occurred to me that when we speak a different language, it’s how you define ‘us’ and ‘them’. And when your own language becomes a ‘them’ language, then you’ve cut yourself off from prior generations – in attitude as well as in comprehensibility," Isaacs said. "People are perfectly capable of being multilingual… But in order to keep multilingualism going, one must give those languages a purpose."
To see a podcast of this lecture, click here to go to the National Museum of Language podcast.

February 2009

Ninging the praises of My Friends - Spanish for Native Speakers

An interview with Sara Urquhart
By Belinda A. Sauret

So, why are you reading about Spanish for Native Speakers on the Internet? Wouldn’t it be faster to go to the teacher next door and ask her what to do with the students who struggle to tell “hogar” from “ahogar” when they read. Why not just turn to the new and fun SNS activities section of your regular Spanish textbook? Or, maybe you could flip back through the SNS chapter of your foreign language methods class text.
In your dreams, right? In my dreams, come to think about it. And, as it turns out, in Sara Urquhart’s dreams too.
This year, not far from the vineyards and farms in Newburg, Oregon, Sara started a program new to her school to develop the academic reading and writing skills of her native speaker students in Spanish. For this class she has no colleagues, no curriculum, no statewide objectives, no prerequisites, no placement tests, no texts, nor even enough desks for her 37 SNS students; all this to help her teach a class the other Spanish teachers turned down with a “No, thanks!”
Sara, however, did not see anything in front of her that was much more difficult than the duties she had discharged in her two years as a Peace Corps worker in Macedonia, and this first year teacher undertook her task with little more than daily writing prompts and the Dibels literacy scale. Even with 160 students and three other preparations, Sara has managed to find considerable joy in the creativity that preparing these classes allows her. She has helped them build their confidence in using Spanish in an academic setting, so much so that her students have even written two essays in that language.
It certainly wasn’t a lack of preparation that left Sara having to resort to finding whatever newspaper and magazine articles, poems or stories she thought her students might find compelling. Before she graduated from Virginia Tech in 2005, she had taken a methods class with Dr. Judith Shrum, one of the authors of the reputable “Teachers Handbook: Contextualized Language Instruction”. But even that text had, she says, only a few pages on instruction for native speakers, so Sara was pretty much on her own.
Sara set out to conferences, and at one of them, COFLT, a regional languages conference, she met Mary Ann Casas, also a new teacher, trying to find or develop suitable units and measures of achievement for a class on heritage speakers of Spanish at Centennial High School, not far from Gresham, Oregon. Mary Ann, already a big fan of social networking sites, had set up also known as “My Friends - Spanish for Native Speakers”. Teachers who wish to take part in the dialogue on the site only need to submit their name and email address on the first visit to the site. Soon a confirmation message will allow access.
Mary Ann had spent too many evenings staring down her computer screen in search of helpful ideas for her SNS students. The helpful people at had loads of experience in L2 language teaching, but SNS was and is another matter.
Mary Ann and later other SNS teachers began to post useful information on the site: videos, photos, websites with appealing readings, jokes or comic strips. But best of all, the forum allows all the 119 (and counting) members to plead for help. A question about making a unit on Latin American legends has brought seven replies; one about devising a lesson on coming to the U.S. has brought five helpful references to books, authors and Internet available websites. Latin Food units, history of the Spanish language, and even managing a classroom all figure as discussion topics on the forum.
Certainly, many readers will already be familiar with listservs like FLTeach (you can sign up at and listservs that address the needs of teachers of specific classes like AP Spanish Language or AP Spanish Literature ( ), but for other teachers who are in the vanguard of teaching native speakers of Spanish in the public schools, there is one Ning for us.

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