Project Description

Successful Latino Professionals and the Teaching of Spanish as a Heritage Language in California

On February 17, 1999, the San Jose Mercury News published a front-page article entitled: LATINO LAWMAKERS STUDY THEIR SPANISH. SOME WERE FLUENT AS KIDS BUT STUMBLE TODAY The article pointed out that newly elected Latino lawmakers, as products of a public- school system that emphasized English, and immigrant parents who wanted their children to assimilate, were wrestling to recover the Spanish that they had spoken fluently as children. Many found themselves struggling to discuss complicated issues of policy such as health care as they accompanied Governor Grey Davis to Mexico. They realized that the pressure to perfect Spanish speaking skills is rising as Spanish language media cover the Capitol and as Latinos emerge as a major voting bloc. Faced with the need to campaign in Spanish and to court the Latino population, the article reported, many Latino lawmakers are taking intensive courses in Spanish and immersing themselves in the language among family members and Spanish-speaking aides.

A currently on-going research project of the Stanford Initiative on Heritage Language Resources focuses on the issues raised by the Mercury News article by surveying successful Latino professionals in the state of California about the demands made on their Spanish by their everyday professional interactions. Funded by the Spencer Foundation, the project hopes to determine:

  • patterns of English and Spanish used in childhood and early youth by Latino professionals
  • patterns of current used of English and Spanish by adult Latino professionals
  • formal study of Spanish in high school or college
  • self-evaluation of existing language proficiencies in Spanish
  • perceived needs for Spanish language proficiency in professional lives
  • types of community contacts that require proficiencies
  • efforts made to improve/develop Spanish
  • perceptions of kind of instruction that would have produced needed proficiencies
  • perceptions of community contacts that would have produced needed proficiencies
  • recommendations for secondary and tertiary institutions

The project will also survey California secondary and tertiary institutions that are currently offering special courses for heritage speakers of Spanish to determine:

  • sequences of courses available for Spanish-speaking heritage students
  • curriculum content for courses in the heritage sequences
  • course objectives in the heritage sequences
  • materials used in heritage sequences
  • classroom practices used with heritage students found to be particularly effective
  • methods of assessment used with heritage sequences
  • instructors' language background (native, non-native, heritage-speaking)
  • instructors' training or preparation for teaching heritage speakers
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