ERIC Identifier: ED433696
Publication Date: 1999-05-00
Author: Lewelling, Vickie W. - Peyton, Joy Kreeft
ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Spanish for Native Speakers: Developing Dual Language
Proficiency. ERIC Digest.
The increasing number of children who enter U.S. schools from homes where
languages other than English are spoken and the overdue recognition that
bilingualism is a valuable national resource have helped to generate interest in
the field of heritage language instruction, or the teaching of heritage
languages as academic subjects. Heritage language students are "students who
speak a language other than English as their first language, either because they
were born in another country or because their families speak another language at
home" (Campbell, 1996). The fastest growing of these heritage language
populations is Spanish-speaking immigrants and Americans of Hispanic descent who
come from Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Central and South American
backgrounds. The entrance of Spanish speaking students into foreign language
classes places huge demands on teachers, particularly at the secondary and
postsecondary levels. As a result, a growing number of secondary schools,
colleges, and universities in states with large Hispanic populations are
offering Spanish courses tailored to the needs of Spanish speaking students.
These Spanish for native speakers (SNS) courses offer Spanish as an academic
subject to students who have some level of exposure to Spanish from their home
THE NEED FOR SPECIAL COURSES
Concern over how to teach
Spanish to students from Spanish-speaking backgrounds surfaced as early as the
1930s (Valdes-Fallis & Teschner, 1977). However, it has been only since the
late 1970s and early 1980s that the practice of teaching Spanish to native
speakers has achieved wide recognition. During this period, increasing numbers
of students from Hispanic backgrounds began enrolling in Spanish courses at the
secondary and postsecondary levels. Teachers trained to teach Spanish as a
foreign language to monolingual English speakers found that they also needed to
provide instruction to students who already possessed some level of competency
in Spanish. In some cases, the Hispanic students were more fluent in oral
Spanish than the teacher. According to Campbell (1996), "the average heritage
language student possesses a level of competence in many aspects of his or her
ancestral language that far exceeds what typical students in foreign language
courses can attain after many years of formal study." At the same time, however,
there was consensus among foreign language teachers that these students needed
to develop other areas of Spanish language proficiency. Many students had an
extensive vocabulary in some contexts, but a restricted one in others. They were
unfamiliar with the formal grammar of Spanish and did not read or write it. Many
spoke a rural or stigmatized variety of Spanish, different from the Spanish of
the classroom. The challenges of teaching Spanish to students who have no
experience with the language are clearly different from those involved in
helping students develop a broader understanding of the language in which they
already have considerable competence (Bills, 1997). Increasingly, teachers of
Spanish came to the conclusion that Spanish instruction that had been developed
for monolingual English speakers was inappropriate for Spanish speakers.
To fully understand the goals and
challenges of teaching Spanish to Spanish speakers, it is important to have an
idea of the diversity of backgrounds of students who participate in SNS courses
and their motivations for studying a language they already know. Enrollees in
SNS courses include these groups: * Third- or fourth-generation U.S.-born
Hispanic students considered to be receptive bilinguals. That is, they are
dominant in English and understand almost all spoken Spanish, but they have
limited speaking skills in Spanish and do not read or write it. * First- or
second-generation bilinguals who possess different ranges of proficiency in
English and Spanish. In most cases, these students have received their education
in English and have developed few if any literacy skills in Spanish. * Recent
immigrants to the United States who are Spanish dominant. Their level of English
proficiency and the amount of formal education they have had in Spanish varies.
In all of these groups, language proficiency may vary from individual to
individual and from language to language. Many students are completely fluent in
oral Spanish (both speaking and comprehending), others speak and understand
Spanish fairly well, while others possess only basic skills in the language. In
addition, students in SNS courses come from a number of cultural backgrounds and
have had exposure to different varieties of Spanish (Rodriguez-Pino, 1997).
GOALS OF SNS INSTRUCTION
Hispanic students participate in
SNS courses for a number of reasons. These may include a desire to reactivate
the Spanish they have learned in the past and develop it further, to learn more
about their language and cultural heritage, to acquire literacy skills in
Spanish, to develop or augment academic language skills in Spanish, to enhance
career opportunities, or to fulfill a foreign language requirement. Although the
exact goal of different SNS courses may vary, most aim at maintenance and
retrieval of functional abilities and further development of existing
competencies (Valdes, 1997). SNS courses offer Spanish-speaking students the
opportunity to study Spanish formally in an academic setting in the same way
that native-English-speaking students study English language arts. The skills
that students can acquire range from learning grammar and spelling and
developing basic academic vocabulary in Spanish to learning how to critically
analyze a text, write poetry, or acquire new information in different academic
content areas. Valdes (1997) delineates the instructional goals of SNS
instruction as language maintenance, expansion of the bilingual range,
acquisition of a prestige variety of Spanish, and the transfer of literacy
"Language maintenance". This goal is based on the view that Spanish
maintenance across generations can be sustained through the formal study of
Spanish. Instruction with this goal focuses on grammar, reading and writing
instruction, vocabulary development, exposure to the language and culture of
Hispanic communities, and consciousness raising activities about Spanish
language and identity. "Expansion of the bilingual range." Valdes (1997) defines
the bilingual range as "the continuum of linguistic abilities and communicative
strategies that . . . individuals may access in one or the other of two
languages at a specific moment, for a particular purpose, in a particular
setting, with particular interlocutors." Many bilingual students have uneven
development in their two languages. For example, they may possess the cultural
understanding to participate in a particular exchange but be unable to express
themselves using the appropriate vocabulary. The goal of expanding the bilingual
range moves beyond developing initial expressive and receptive language
abilities to cultivating a much broader command of the language.
"Acquisition of the prestige variety." Many students who participate in SNS
courses speak what may be interpreted as rural or stigmatized varieties of
Spanish. One goal of SNS courses is to teach students the prestige or standard
variety. Such instruction involves developing metalinguistic awareness about the
differences between the standard and other varieties, teaching traditional
grammar, and teaching when it is appropriate to use more or less formal Spanish.
"Transfer of literacy skills." According to Cummins (1984), "academically
mediated language skills can be transferred across languages in a manner that
facilitates the acquisition of these skills in the second language." Peale
(1991) emphasizes the need for Spanish-speaking students to develop not only
their oral language but also their literacy skills in Spanish. In the process,
they draw on existing English literacy skills and enhance their English literacy
Although a well-articulated
instructional sequence for SNS has not yet been achieved, many teachers have
been successful in implementing instructional strategies. Two SNS resources
published in the last few years (Colombi & Alarcon, 1997; Merino, Trueba,
& Samaniego, 1993) include a number of activities that incorporate a high
level of interaction among students, teachers, and the community. In addition,
Faltis (1990) offers an approach to instruction that draws from Paulo Freire's
problem-posing method. Rodriguez-Pino describes the use of ethnography in SNS
instruction, in which language is an essential tool. The field work involves
interviewing native speakers in the local community who can provide an account
of specific topics. Students must ask "descriptive questions that will give them
practice in becoming creative listeners in an authentic setting" (1994). The
American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP) is publishing
a handbook that will be useful to high school and college SNS teachers (in
THE GOALS According to Valdes (1997), the initial goal of SNS instruction was to
develop skills in Spanish speakers that would allow them to participate in
advanced placement courses in Spanish. She has suggested that the goals need to
expand to appeal to students who do not want to be Spanish majors, but who may
want to use Spanish in other ways (professionally, for example). Benjamin (1997)
discusses how the goals of SNS educators may not jibe with the goals of the
students taking SNS courses.
Some SNS educators take issue with the focus on the prestige variety of
Spanish and are concerned that some teaching practices may harm students by
suggesting that the language they have learned at home is inferior. Francisco
Alarcon, director of the SNS program at the University of California, Davis,
suggests that "the traditional view is to put down the Spanish spoken in the
barrio. People will say it's not pure Spanish." George Blanco of the University
of Texas suggests that instructors should work to build on what students already
know, rather than trying to replace it. Ana Roca of Florida International
University believes that the goal should be to expand students' repertoire
without making them feel bad or putting down their parents (described in
Collison, 1994, p. 1).
The field of Spanish for native speakers is
currently served by a task force of the American Association of Teachers of
Spanish and Portuguese, a special interest group of the American Council on the
Teaching of Foreign languages, an annual conference, a newsletter, an electronic
listserv ([email protected]
SUSCRIBE SNS-L), and a growing body of research
and specialized teaching and learning resources. In addition, the Institute of
Spanish for Native Speakers at New Mexico State University was established to
provide a theoretical and pedagogical framework for teachers who teach Spanish
to Spanish speakers. The institute maintains a database of statistical
information about students and a collection of pedagogical practices in
placement, curriculum, texts, and assessment. For information, write to this
address: Institute of Spanish for Native Speakers, Dept. of Languages and
Linguistics, New Mexico State University, Box 30001, Dept. 3L, Las Cruces, NM
American Association of Teachers of Spanish and
Portuguese. (in press). "Spanish for native speakers: A handbook for teachers." Greeley, CO: Author.
Benjamin, R. (1997). What do our students want? Some reflections on teaching
Spanish as an academic subject to bilingual students. "ADFL Bulletin, 29,"
Bills, G. (1997). Language shift, linguistic variation, and teaching Spanish
to native speakers in the United States. In M.C. Colombi & F.X. Alarcon
(Eds.), La ensenanza del espanol a hispanohablantes. Praxis y teoria (pp.
263-82). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Campbell, R. (1996). New learners and new challenges. In R.C. Lafayette
(Ed.), "National standards: A catalyst for reform" (pp. 97-117). Lincolnwood,
IL: National Textbook.
Collison, M. N-K. (1994, February 2). Spanish for native speakers. "The
Chronicle of Higher Education."
Colombi, M.C., & Alarcon, F.X. (Eds.). (1997). "La ensenanza del espanol
a hispanohablantes. Praxis y teoria." Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Cummins, J. (1984). "Bilingualism and special education: Issues in assessment
and pedagogy."San Diego, CA: College Hill.
Faltis, C. (1990). Spanish for native speakers: Freirian and Vygotskian
perspectives. Foreign Language Annals, 23, 117-26.
Merino, B.J., Trueba, H.T., & Samaniego, F.A. (Eds.). (1993). "Language
and culture in learning: Teaching Spanish to native speakers of Spanish."
Peale, C.G. (1991). Spanish for native speakers (and other native languages)
in California schools: A rationale statement. "Hispania, 74," 446-51.
Rodriguez-Pino, C. (1994). Ethnographic studies in the SNS program. "Teaching
Spanish to Native Speakers, 1," 1-4.
Rodriguez-Pino, C. (1997). Spanish for native speakers. "ERIC/CLL News
Valdes-Fallis, G., & Teschner, R.V. (1977). "Spanish for the Spanish
speaking: A descriptive bibliography of materials." Austin, TX: National
Valdes, G. (1997). The teaching of Spanish to bilingual Spanish-speaking
students: Outstanding issues and unanswered questions. In M.C. Colombi &
F.X. Alarcon (Eds.), "La ensenanza del espanol a hispanohablantes. Praxis y
teoria" (pp. 93-101). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.