Heritage Conference (cont’d)

First International Heritage Language Conference Report from Julia Titus

Thanks to the generous support of the CLS, I had a wonderful professional opportunity to participate at the First International Heritage Language Conference held on February 19-21, 2010 in UCLA. This is the first international conference dedicated exclusively to teaching heritage languages, and that is why it was so valuable for me as a professional language instructor.

The field of heritage language teaching is relatively new, and the demographic changes in the US indicate that heritage learners are going to make a larger group in our academic institutions. For that reason it is essential to be able to offer these students separate language courses since the linguistic strengths and weaknesses are markedly different between the heritage learners and the traditional L2 learners. As has been noted in the research, the heritage learners consistently outperform L2 learners on tasks involving speaking and listening and fall behind on tasks related to writing and reading. It is clear that a separate curriculum is needed for this type of learner that would allow them to bridge the gaps in their language skills and strengthen the skills that need the most improvement – that is reading and writing.

Since here at Yale I regularly teach a separate course to heritage speakers of Russian, my research interests have focused around this new growing category of learners and the specific needs of this unique group. My presentation was part of a panel “Russian: Best Practices.”  In my paper “Creating a Web-Based Test for Heritage Speakers of Russian” I analyzed the differences between the L2 learners and the heritage learners in terms of their linguistic performance and offered a framework for creating a separate test for the heritage learners based on the ACTFL OPI guidelines.

My presentation discussed the drawbacks of traditional grammar tests created for L2 when applied to the heritage language classroom setting and argued that these types of tests do not adequately reflect the language skills of the heritage learners. The paper further commented on the great discrepancy existing between different language skills of heritage learners supported by the current research (O.Kagan and K.Dillon), and examined its implications for the creation of appropriate testing tools.

The conclusion of my talk suggested that the ACTFL proficiency guidelines could be used as a valuable starting point in creating an assessment test for the heritage learners since the strengths of the heritage learners can be captured by creating a more global test, similar to the OPI in structure.

In addition to my own panel, I was able to attend many other very stimulating sessions. I especially enjoyed the round table on Identity of Heritage Learners organized by the editors of National Heritage Languages Journal. The conference also offered a great opportunity to get to know many colleagues from other institutions who are also involved in the heritage learners’ education and created a forum for exchanging ideas with other colleagues from Yale and other universities.

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