2011 Symposium

Sharing Knowledge, Finding Pathways: Developing Pedagogical Resources for Spanish Heritage Speakers

The purpose of this two-day symposium was to initiate a productive dialogue among language faculty at Harvard and local colleges and high schools with the goal of evaluating and enhancing current and future educational resources for Spanish heritage speakers. Leading scholars and researchers in the field presented their work relating to key issues such as the benefits of bilingualism, vulnerable areas in the linguistic system of heritage speakers, the influence of ideologies of language in curriculum design, assessment and placement, and the importance of the connection between practitioners and researchers.


Maria Polinsky, Department of Linguistics, Harvard University

Re-learning a Childhood Language in College: Opportunities and Challenges [PPT]

A growing number of heritage speakers, who grew up hearing and maybe even speaking a home language but who are dominant in American English, choose to take their heritage language as a foreign language in college. This creates new opportunities and new challenges for heritage language researchers and for specialists in language pedagogy. This talk will present and analyze patterns of acquisition in heritage speakers who choose to re-learn their home language as young adults. Observational studies in the classroom and experiments on re-learning suggest that even a rudimentary knowledge of a heritage language creates advantages in phonology and lexical learning. However, few if any heritage speakers show the re-learning advantage in morphology or syntax. The talk will offer several explanations for such selective advantages and for the morphosyntacitc deficits.


Silvina Montrul, Department of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Linguistic Knowledge in Second Language Learners and Heritage Speakers: Where are the Differences? [PPT]

  • Montrul S. How "Native" Are Heritage Speakers? [PDF]
  • Montrul S, de la Fuente I, Davidson J, Foote R. The role of experience in the acquisition and production of diminutives and gender in Spanish: Evidence from L2 learners and heritage speakers. [PDF]
  • Montrul S, de la Fuente I, Davidson J, Foote R. Early language experience facilitates the processing of gender agreement in Spanish heritage speakers. [PDF]

Does early language experience bring an advantage to Spanish heritage speakers in their knowledge of early acquired aspects of morphosyntax when compared to late L2 learners of Spanish of comparable proficiency? Results of recent studies are mixed, with some finding no advantages (Au et al, 2002) and others finding some depending on structures and tasks (Montrul 2010, Montrul, Foote & Perpiñán, 2008). I revisit this question and present recent experimental studies on knowledge of gender agreement in speech perception and production. Results confirm that early language experience and the type and modality of input received do confer some advantages to heritage speakers over L2 learners, especially in oral production (Montrul, Foote and Perpiñán 2008, Montrul, in press) and in tasks that minimize metalinguistic awareness. (Link to articles)


Rebeca Barriga Villanueva, Centro de Estudios Lingüísticos y Literarios, El Colegio de México 

The Consequences of the Contradictory and Ambiguous Language Policies for Speakers of Indigenous Languages in Mexico [PPT]

This presentation gives an overview of how language policies have had a long term impact on the overall cognitive, linguistic and social development of speakers of indigenous languages in Mexico. Drawing from the history of language policies in Mexico, I will focus on three crucial issues that have impacted mainly indigenous school aged children: Asymmetrical bilingualism, intercultural misunderstandings and the difficulties that emerge from literacy.  I will address the following questions: How does the educational system respond to the needs of this population?  What is the status of their language related to their writing and reading skills? What are the teachers’ attitudes towards understanding the problems facing these children?  How parents face their children’s linguistic challenges? What are the deep issues that block the possibilities of embracing diversity in schools with indigenous population? How can we break the barriers of discrimination and segregation? Without trying to give a definite answer to these questions, I will present a preliminary set of measures and possible solutions to  barriers that undermine the quality of the knowledge acquired and built by indigenous children  and impede the possibilities of a successful story for their lives.


Doris Summer, Department of Romance Languages and Literature, Harvard University

Bilingual Benefits

For some educators and parents, bilingualism has been a challenge, even an obstacle to clarity of thought and expression.  But the same challenges of clarity and cultural references give bilinguals a decided intellectual advantage regarding the philosophy of language, aesthetic appreciation, and political be-longings. My project aims to identify these advantages to counterpoise years of worry for heritage speakers with a measure of new self-esteem.


Guadalupe Valdés, Stanford University School of Education

Language as Linguistic Knowledge versus Language as Social Practice: The Challenges of Curricularizing Language for Heritage Language Students [PPT]

In this presentation, I problematize notions of “teaching” and “learning” in college/university heritage language classrooms and describe the challenges faced by the language-teaching profession in addressing the real and perceived needs of these students. I begin by presenting a brief overview of current debates about the nature of language both from the critical literature on multilingualism (Atkinson, 2010; Auer, 2007; Heller, 2007; Makoni & Pennycook, 2007; Rampton, 2006) as well as from the field of applied linguistics (Block, 2003,2007;Canagarajah, 2007; Cook, 2010; Ellis & Larsen-Freeman, 2009; Firth & Wagner, 2007; Kasper, 1997;Larsen-Freeman, 2010; Long, 1997, Seedhouse, 2010; Swain & Ping, 2007; Zuengler & Miller,2006). I then examine the implications of these two opposing conceptualizations of language for curriculum development (i.e., for the planning, ordering and sequencing of instruction) for heritage students given traditional professional orientations, existing ideological positions, and student expectations.


Kim Potowski, Department of Hispanic & Italian Studies at the University of Illinois Chicago

Developing an Online Placement Exam for Spanish Heritage Speakers and L2 Students [PDF]

This presentation describes the development and piloting of an adaptive, online placement exam for L2 and heritage learners of Spanish. Particular attention is given to the structure of the exam and the linguistic strategies employed to distinguish heritage speakers from L2 learners. Statistical analyses of results obtained from three pilot phases are presented, along with a description of modifications made during each stage. Further challenges and steps are outlined.

2011 Symposium


The last event of this symposium was a panel with the guest speakers. As a summary of the two-day event, the experts reflected and dialogued with the audience on the state of the art regarding heritage languages linguistics, pedagogy, as well as the ideological and cross-cultural dimensions for curriculum design for heritage Spanish classes. The presentations made clear that, although the field is rapidly expanding more research but specially, more connections between teachers and researchers are sorely needed to move the field forward.