Heritage language healing? Learners’ attitudes and damage control in a heritage language classroom

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‘Pa’ lo que sirve el español, ya lo hablo suficiente (I speak Spanish well enough for what it [the language] is good for). This statement was shared in class by one student of Spanish as a heritage language when the professor challenged him to be more engaged in classroom discussions and activities. The sentiment that Spanish is not as valuable as other languages “to get ahead in this world” is not a rare predisposition among heritage language learners when they first enroll in a Spanish course. A primary challenge in the heritage language classroom is, first of all, to shift students’ attitudes from a utilitarian perspective (Spanish is only good for home and for grandma’s consejos) to a more positive attitude conducive to expanding registers and improving academic skills in Spanish. This challenge is related to students’ response as well as reproduction of social values assigned to certain languages, specifically to some varieties of a language. For example, the vernacular variety of Spanish that learners come with to the language classroom has traditionally been stigmatized in non-heritage courses. The societal indexing of the home language can lead to linguistic insecurity, inhibition and ultimately an abandonment or rejection of the heritage language by younger generations (Beaudrie & Fairclough, 2012; Schwarzer & Petron, 2005). This chapter investigates the oral discourse as well as the linguistic attitudes of Latino/a speakers of Spanish in a heritage language classroom. The results shed light on heritage speakers’ linguistic confidence and its relation to the heritage language course. Based on the link between motivation and language maintenance, this paper argues that the main goal of a heritage language class should be to help speakers develop linguistic awareness and increased confidence while validating their own vernacular variety.


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