Heritage Language Programs - Spanish

Georgia State University (GSU)

Arts & Sciences, Department of Modern & Classical Languages

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Address: 33 Gilmer St. SE Unit 8, Atlanta, GA 30303-3088

Contact: Oscar H. Moreno

Email: omoreno@gsu.edu

Telephone: 404-651-2265

Fax: 404-651-1785

Web address: http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwmcl/

Languages/dialects taught: Chinese, French, German, Ancient Greek, Modern Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish

In addition Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, and Turkish are taught through the Mideast Studies Institute.

Course sequence for heritage Spanish: Two levels of Spanish for heritage speakers: Span 2501, Intermediate Spanish for Heritage Speakers; Span 3501, Advanced Spanish for Heritage Speakers

Graduate courses lead to a Masters Degree in Spanish, but we hope to introduce a Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies, with a focus on literature, linguistics, language teaching, and culture.

Program Description

Purposes and goals of the program
1. Heritage language maintenance and appreciation of the Hispanic tradition in the U.S.
2. Expansion of the bilingual range (Valdés 1997)
3. Acquisition of a prestige variety (or general Spanish)
4. Continuation of heritage speakers in the regular program

Type of program: Part of a foreign language program. In Georgia, Spanish is a foreign language, and until recently the presence of a Hispanic community in the state was minimal. The heritage Spanish courses seek to help heritage speakers to take courses in the Spanish language curriculum. There are two courses for heritage speakers (intermediate and advanced); heritage speakers then take advanced courses together with non-heritage students.

Includes language for special purposes. The regular program--i.e. non-heritage courses--offers a very popular BA track in Language and International Business, as well as a special joint program leading to the MIB, between our department and the Robinson College of Business at GSU. In fall 2006, the Department also anticipates inaugurating a new major in conjunction with the Department of Economics, a BA degree in International Economics and Modern Language (French, German or Spanish). On the graduate level, Spanish offers the MA as well as a certificate program in Translation and Interpretation that prepares students for employment as technical translators, court interpreters, and other professional occupations.

GSU also has an interdisciplinary Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, which sponsors lecturers' visits to campus on a regular basis and supports faculty research. The Center also grants a Certificate in Hispanic studies.

Program Origins: The program for heritage Spanish was founded in the fall of 2000 as part of the regular offering of courses.

Faculty's and administration's expectations for the program: To disseminate Hispanic culture in the state of Georgia, help promote it through education, and increase the number of Hispanics on campus.

GSU has created a Latino and Latin American Studies Freshman Learning Community, and has funded a staff position for recruiting and retaining Hispanic students. The university has also sought funds for Hispanic students who excel academically by establishing alliances with organizations such as The Goizueta Foundation.


First-generation immigrants: 60%
Second-generation immigrants: 30%
Third generation immigrants: 10%
Children of interethnic marriages: 5%
Children of interethnic adoption: 5%
Non-ethnic background: 5%
Countries of origin: Primarily Colombia, Mexico, Perú, Puerto Rico
Total student enrollment: 12-25 per course
Age of students: 18-24

Identification of Heritage Speakers: The program identifies heritage Spanish speakers first by means of a Spanish proficiency exam offered through our website, and then by means of a written exam taken in the Department. The score on the latter exam indicates fairly accurately who is a heritage (bilingual) speaker and who is a native (monolingual) speaker of the language. We assume that proficiency in Spanish correlates with the learners' experience.

Methods of Determining Language Background/Proficiency: The introduction of the Spanish proficiency exam--designed by Dr. Oscar Moreno--has made it unnecessary to use a home language survey. Once students declare an interest in studying Spanish, they are asked to take the Spanish proficiency exam for both course placement at the intermediate and advanced level and for possible departmental credit. We will share this exam and its rationale with others, as a work in progress. It has a good rate of success in placing students properly.

Percentage of students who complete the program: 90%

Percentage of students who continue to study the heritage language after completing the program: 60-70%. Continuing students take upper-level courses with Spanish language students or professional/workplace courses.
Possible reasons for their withdrawal: Inability, and sometimes unwillingness, to comply with course requirements, such as homework completion, to earn acceptable grades, or to study sufficiently.

Students' attitudes toward the language varieties they speak: More than attitudes, there is mainly confusion. They usually do not have much of an idea about how language varieties are configured and where U.S. Spanish stands among the varieties of the language. Also, the attitudes—if observable—generally vary according to generational patterns. U.S. Hispanics beyond first-generation usually think they can do a lot more than they really can in Spanish. Newcomers—recent, first-generation immigrants—commonly criticize U.S. Spanish.


Number of faculty teaching in the program: 2 to 4 rotate in the first level (intermediate), but one usually teaches the advanced level.
Number of Full-time instructors: 2-4
Number of Part-time instructors: 1-2

Languages in which faculty members are proficient: Spanish, English, and several others. They are highly proficient, with native mastery, in the language they teach.

• Minimum requirement for part-time teaching: MA in an appropriate field plus native or near-native fluency in Spanish
• For regular teaching, Ph.D in Hispanic Studies or a related field of Spanish.

Professional development opportunities for faculty: Funds for trips to professional conferences, traditionally for both attendance and paper presentation. There are also summer research grants for regular faculty, and applying for external support is strongly encouraged.


Student Grouping: Students are grouped according to level
• Intermediate Spanish for Heritage Speakers, Span 2501, 3 hours per week, 15-week semester
• Advanced Spanish for Heritage Speakers, Span 3501, 3 hours per week, 15-week semester

Language Skills

Heritage Skills
• Reading
• Writing

Skills and levels of language proficiency students reach by the end of the program: At the end of Span 2501, students are expected to have mastered writing conventions (such as spelling rules, rules for accent writing, etc.), increased vocabulary in several areas of knowledge, and become aware of formal, public Spanish. The course attempts to provide access to monolingual Spanish (from Latin America and Spain) so that students can increase their repertoire of linguistic registers (prestigious or General Spanish included). The course also focuses on the heritage and experience of Hispanics in the U.S. and in Latin America and Spain.


Culture taught
• History
• Festivals
• Customs
• Traditions/beliefs
• Religion
• Folktales
• Arts and crafts
• Dances
• Songs
• Rhymes
• Social and cultural norms
• Cultural appropriateness
• Literature

Kind of student identity the program fosters: The program is trying to develop individuals of Hispanic ancestry who are aware of their traditions and experience in the U.S., are proud of their bilingualism, and regard their families, home, and friends' Spanish as a valuable asset not only culturally but also as a tool for job promotion, and to regard themselves as capable of integration into their own and the global community. For a more global integration this person should seek access to formal, public Spanish.

Special content courses offered for heritage speakers: The several courses offered by the department in specific areas, such as business, economy, translation, etc. are open to Hispanic and non-Hispanic students.


The first course for heritage speakers addresses the particular needs of U.S. Hispanics, basically addressing literacy in the heritage language and promoting awareness of formal, general Spanish by exposing students to Spanish from Latin America and Spain in a monolingual environment. These language-specific skills are combined with topics that relate to the students' capacities as bilinguals and Hispanics in the U.S. The methodology is largely traditional, as found in commercially available textbooks for heritage speakers.

The second course, advanced Spanish for heritage speakers, focuses primarily on mastery of the formal registers of Spanish by providing advanced grammatical training and access to monolingual sources from Latin America and Spain. Students are asked to read these sources and write papers on them, choosing their own topics. The program, in general, seeks to promote Hispanic students’ mastery of the Spanish language curriculum.


Ana Roca's Nuevos Mundos (Wiley, 2004) for Span 2501 has worked very nicely.
For the advanced course, students use an advanced grammar manual written by Dr. Oscar Moreno.

Other materials: Sources of monolingual Spanish, primarily websites from Latin America and Spain, and novels. In Spanish 3501, the first short story is mandatory (“La historia de la gaviota y del gato que le enseñó a volar” by Luis Sepulveda); later readings are chosen by the student.

Technology used in the program: Mainly access to Latin American and Peninsular sources through the Internet, plus programs for practicing spelling rules, accents, and other mechanical aspects of the language. Email is also used.


• Weekly quizzes
• Chapter tests
• Final exams
• Research reports based on several sources in monolingual Spanish about a topic of their interest.
• Exit tests are under construction.

Sample SPAN 3303 Test (pdf)


Connections with local high schools: Our graduates teach in a number of school districts in Georgia, and they usually keep in touch. Our Latino FLC also visits schools with Latino and non-Latino populations as part of their community service learning. These students help tutor and mentor students from those schools. Georgia State University receives students from metro area high schools and colleges and from elsewhere in Georgia and the United States.

Some students continue their study at the graduate level, often choosing GSU, the University of Georgia, and other universities such as Emory.

Opportunities heritage students have outside the college to use their
heritage language or develop their cultural knowledge:
Atlanta and several other cities in Georgia have seen their Hispanic population multiply in recent years. This has caused an important demand for speakers of the language mainly around major cities. Many of our students take our heritage courses after realizing that their home Spanish is not enough to keep a well paying job.

What the Program had in Place

The university promotes involvement by supporting, and at times providing some funding, for Hispanic student events and by promoting faculty involvement in these events. Our Latino FLC, though technically not part of the departmental program for heritage speakers, is constantly looking for opportunities to reach out to the local Hispanic community.

Financial support: The courses are part of the institutional/regular credit program.

Other sources: Some students have been granted generous scholarships funded by The Goizueta Foundation.

Kind of assistance the program needs: Logistical support basically in the area of publicity for our program and student recruitment.

Research on heritage language issues or heritage program evaluations: One area of concern is course sequencing (skills, methodology, local vs. global focus) and student placement. Nothing has been published yet.

Special Challenges and Comments:

Funding and student recruitment

Orientation for the Program: There are two possible orientations for a heritage language program. One is locally oriented and seeks to serve the local community (culturally and linguistically). The other is non-locally oriented and seeks to prepare heritage speakers for the job market and the global village. Because the arrival of Hispanics in Georgia is still perceived as recent, our program focuses more significantly on the second orientation. Our program seeks to help heritage speakers to compete in an environment in which Spanish can allow them to promote themselves professionally and beyond their local community. A large majority of the Hispanics who conduct their lives in Spanish in Georgia are first-generation Hispanics. Practice and experience show that second- and older-generation Hispanics find it hard to communicate with first-generation speakers, (who frequently are )highly critical of U.S. Spanish. Globally, focus on formal Spanish is undoubtedly required, and this is our primary, though not exclusive, goal.

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