Heritage Language Programs - Spanish

University of Illinois at Chicago

Liberal Arts & Sciences
Department: of Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese

Download this profile as a pdf file

Address: 601 S. Morgan St., 1722 UH, Chicago, IL 60607

Contact: Kim Potowski
Assistant Professor

Email: kimpotow@uic.edu

Web address: www.uic.edu/depts/sfip/undergraduate/spbilingual/index.html

Languages/dialects taught: the program is only Spanish. However, several other languages taught on campus are de facto heritage programs including Polish, Hindi-Urdu, and Arabic.

Undergraduate level courses:
Three sequential courses
• Beginning level
• Intermediate level
• Advanced level

Program Description

Goals and mission statement of the program are defined in the following web address:

Type of program: The university provides an independent heritage language program.

The program was founded around 1995 by two professors, including sociolinguist Lucía Elías-Olivares, who saw the need for such courses.


Second-generation immigrants 90%
Third-generation immigrants 10%

Countries of origin: Predominately Mexico. Some from Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Ecuador, El Salvador.

Total student enrollment: 120 per semester
Age of students: 18-25

Students’ self-identify as heritage speakers per the criteria explained in

The program also uses
• Background questionnaire
• Placement test

Percentage of students who complete the program: 100%. It fulfills the campus language requirement. 30% continue to study the heritage language. They go on to 200-level Spanish courses. Continuing students take upper level courses with foreign language students. The students who do not complete the program are the ones leaving the university.

Students' attitudes toward the language varieties they speak: varied, but generally positive


Total number of faculty teaching in the program: Varies from 3-5
Number of tenure-track professors: 1 (very occasionally I teach a course)
Number of full-time instructors: 1
Number of teaching assistants: 4
Faculty members are proficient in Spanish and English. They are native or 'near native' in Spanish.

MA in Spanish linguistics

Professional development opportunities for faculty: Dr. Potowski requires instructor candidates to read several articles and her book on Spanish for native speakers (SNS ) methods; she conducts two guided observations of courses at different levels; and mock grade 10 proficiency exams.

Professional development opportunities that faculty need: Instructors should be required to take a semester-long course on SNS methods, but Dr. Potowski’s schedule does not allow it. This course was offered only once.


The students are grouped by level
Face-to-face courses: 112, 113, and 114
4 hours per week during the length of the semester (16 weeks).

Language Skills

Heritage Skills
• Listening
• Speaking
• Reading
• Writing
• Cultural knowledge; knowledge of U.S. Spanish phenomena

The level of language proficiency students reach by the end of the program is not known because it is not measured formally.


• History
• Traditions/beliefs
• Songs
• Literature
The program fosters a student identity that is aware of U.S. Latino culture.


The program is interested in more communication and literacy rather than grammar focused, although Dr. Potowski would like to incorporate a greater focus on form.


Nuevos mundos: Lectura, cultura y comunicación: Curso de español para estudiantes bilingües by Ana Roca
Other materials: Bilingual dictionaries and thesaurus

Technology used in the program: Online spell checking workshop (see
www.uic.edu/depts/sfip/undergraduate/spbilingual/revisor.html )


• Chapter tests
• University developed test


Program Connections
• Local high schools
The program receives heritage students from many local high schools, but unfortunately there is no articulation between our program and theirs. In fact, some Chicago high schools use the same book as we do. In addition, our program does not promote involvement with the heritage community.

What the program has in place

Financial support
The heritage program is part of the institution’s regular course.

Kind of assistance the program would like to receive from other entities: The program would benefit from a grant to revamp the program and 'hybridize it' (make it 3 days per week instead of 4, and have that 4th hour be required online work).

System for graduating students: Students get 4 hours undergraduate credits per course.

Faculty’s research on heritage language issues: Dr. Potowski is conducting a study of the efficacy of processing instruction (VanPatten 2004) with all three levels of heritage speakers in our courses.

Special Challenges and Comments

• Some professors at the 200-level feel we should be doing more to promote critical thinking and linguistic/writing skills in our 100-level program. But only 30% of our program graduates go on to the 200-level.
• Placement tests are always a thorny issue. I think our homegrown exam is OK, but a conference panel devoted to this topic is needed.

Back to the list of program profiles.