2012 Symposium

Applying Innovative and Effective Pedagogy for Spanish Heritage Speakers in the Classroom 

This gathering drew upon the theoretical foundations presented in the 2011 symposium and made a significant step forward. The 2012 event focused primarily on new pedagogical directions and practices that are being implemented in higher education classrooms. The topics covered included: the contribution of sociolinguistics to student development of metalinguistic awareness, differentiated teaching to address the needs of all students and bi-literacy and academic writing development in SHLs. The symposium also included a panel with teachers from universities in the Boston area that attended the 2011 symposium and were eager to present on the Spanish programs for SHLs at their respective institutions.

2012 Symposium


María Polinsky and Siena R. Leslie, Department of Linguistics, Harvard University

Linguistics in the Heritage Spanish Classroom

This presentation examines how linguistic knowledge and methodology can be used to improve the teaching of Heritage Spanish. Previous research has suggested that it is beneficial for many heritage language learners (HLLs) to be taught in special “heritage language tracks” (Peyton 2008). The presenters argue that in HLL classrooms, sociolinguistic research and linguistic exercises should be used to supplement the curriculum. Several observations support this proposal. HLLs rarely speak standard Spanish, due to a lack of schooling in the language. As a result, HLLs often emerge from foreign language classrooms with a damaged sense of linguistic identity, believing that the type of Spanish they and their families use is “wrong.” HLLs should be taught that the many dialects and registers of Spanish are all linguistically correct, and that language variation should be viewed in terms of linguistic prestige, not “correctness.” Thus, dialectal variation and registers are vital topics. Next, HLLs can learn to develop their incipient grammaticality judgments, which is often characteristic of bilinguals (Benmamoun et al. 2010), into a stronger metalinguistic awareness. With this goal in mind, the presenters propose the use of supplementary problem sets that encourage HLLS to think about structural patterns in their daily use of Spanish so they can learn to generalize linguistic patterns. Overall, the proposed model language can be used as a starting point to create similar curricular supplements for heritage languages other than Spanish.

María Cecilia Colombi, Professor, Spanish and Portuguese, UC Davis

The Role of Language Education in Developing Advanced Literacy in Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States"


Heritage language speakers constitute a unique cultural and linguistic resource in the United States while also presenting particular challenges for language educators and language programs. This presentation examines the potential of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) in a curriculum for Spanish second language learners/heritage speakers, with particular emphasis on the meaning- making of language in the construal of discourse. Following SFL pedagogy, descriptive language teaching refers to ways of treating language in functional terms; productive language teaching involves students in using the resource of their language in powerful ways in light of the demands of particular social contexts.

Many heritage speakers have developed their heritage language (Spanish) in the family context but want to be able to use it in the professional areas. SFL with its explicit focus on language allows for the development of advanced literacy in a heritage language in the educational context. Accordingly, the paper discusses explicit instruction of genre/register theory as a way of promoting students’ awareness of discourse-semantics and lexico-grammatical features of academic language in courses for heritage speakers. Students’ sucess in developing academic registers in Spanish is evident in their use of lexicogrammatical features (such as grammatical metaphor) that index academic writing.


How We Teach: Heritage Spanish Courses in Today’s University Classroom

The goal of the panel was for the guests to present about their Spanish heritage language courses (or tracks) or courses on related topics like Bilingual Arts taught by Prof. Sommer. The panel made clear that addressing all student needs in one classroom --with different levels of oral and written Spanish proficiency—is a major challenge for most of the teachers. However, teachers often face the challenge of finding adequate support within their institutions to offer level appropriate courses for SHLs with different levels of Spanish proficiency.

Panel participants:

Sesion 2 Doris Sommer


A Comprehensive Approach to Teaching Spanish as a Heritage Language with a Focus on Classroom Strategies, Curriculum Development and Program Design

Prof. María Carreira provided teachers with an ample repertoire of activities to address students individual differences in every day classroom practices.

Sesion 3 Maria Carreira

A Functional Approach for Teaching Writing

Prof. Cecilia Colombi provided the audience with insightful ways to connect the SFL approach with concrete literacy activities and practices in the classroom.

Symposium Conclusion