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Brief interview with Dr. Sara Beaudrie professor of Heritage Language Pedagogy, ASU

Brief interview with Dr. Sara Beaudrie professor of Heritage Language Pedagogy, ASU

As some people reading this may know, heritage speakers/students have become increasingly discussed among both scholars and pedagogues alike. Heritage students are bilinguals who grew up in a context where their minority language coexists with English as the dominant language, e.g. Spanish and English. Therefore, the heritage language may only be utilized in the community or home. The importance of this context is two-fold, heritage students may or may not have acquired an academic or formal register. In addition, they may also have difficulties applying an academic/formal register in essays or in class presentations. Secondly, research in sociolinguistics has taught us that bilingualism leads to language change and contact phenomenon. For example, in the case of Spanish, due to its contact with English in the U.S., it has several linguistic features that come about such as code-switching, semantic extensions, calques, and borrowings from English. The culmination of these two sociolinguistic factors unfortunately often leads to these students being judged or treated harshly by both teachers and native speakers due to their bilingual language variety. 

Forturtunatley, studies in Heritage Language Pedagogy are aimed towards addressing these social and linguistic factors in the classroom. Professor Sara Beaudrie is a leading expert in this field and has contributed several scholarly articles and books towards the teaching of heritage languages. I decided to share this Q & A with professor Beaudrie to further disseminate more information to readers, teachers, graduate students, TAs, or curious souls that want to learn more about speakers of minority languages in the classroom.

Q: What have been some of the most significant accomplishments of the SHL area of research?

A: The field has grown tremendously in the last two decades. We now understand significantly more about who the heritage learner is and their needs as learners of Spanish. We are also beginning to understand their linguistic performance and how it differs from other groups of learners. There are several proposals for how to teach them in the classroom by using a holistic approach that takes into account the socio-political reality of minority speakers in the United States.

Q:  From your perspective, what is the significance of having Spanish heritage language courses for Hispanic students in college?

A: Spanish heritage courses reconnect students with their language and cultural roots and help them explore aspects of their ethno-linguistic identity that will be so important for their personal and professional development. They are able to graduate from college with the ability and confidence to use their heritage language in community and professional contexts and give back to their communities by being a cultural and linguistic resource.

Q: What are some challenges that SHL faces in higher education and in society?

A: The main challenges have to do with the generalized lack of understanding and appreciation for heritage studies. While second language learning is valued and promoted, heritage language learning is still treated as a problem. The lack of support and funding is still present in many universities in the United States.

Q: Where is the field going in terms of future directions?

A: The field is exploding as more and more graduate students are interested in heritage language research. At Arizona State University, we now have a PhD in heritage language pedagogy and research. This will lead to the expansion of our current knowledge of how a language is developed and maintained in a context where it is a minority language and of research-based methodologies to use in the classroom.

Q: Why should secondary Spanish language teachers care about heritage students and heritage pedagogy?

A: Heritage students are a growing population nationwide whose needs vary significantly from other types of learners. Learning about their needs and how to help them is now a must for all teachers, including language instructors.

Q: Finally, what can current and future high school teachers do to learn more about heritage students in the classroom?

A: Many universities, like Arizona State University, offer graduate courses about heritage language pedagogy. There are also workshops offered by entities like the National heritage language resource center. Finally, there are new books about heritage language pedagogy that provide a great introduction to the field and ways to approach teaching these learners.


My hope is that this brief interview might encourage more language teachers to get involved in giving heritage students the best possible education and classroom experience possible. If you want to learn more the Heritage Language Journal is free and only requires you to register.


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