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VOCES: Spanish for Heritage Learners Introductory Exercise

Activity authored by Laura Franklin, Professor, Northern Virginia Community College, to be used in conjunction with a module from the original website REACH VOCES by Roberta Lavine and Evelyn Canabal, University of Maryland, College Park
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This material was originally developed through Merlot
as part of its collaboration with the SERC Pedagogic Service.


In this just-in-time activity, students will listen to and work through the REACH VOCES module on the REACH website. In this module, they will listen carefully to the introductions of three young university students, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico and El Salvador and are now studying and making career plans for the future in the United States. The students will then come to their Spanish for Heritage Speakers class, discuss the REACH module questions and begin a discussion on identity, being bilingual in America and their own academic and career aspirations.

Learning Goals

  • Students will discover common concerns as they begin studying Spanish as a heritage language.
  • Students will be able to articulate their own individual views on identity, language and culture after listening and working through the REACH module.
  • Class can come to consensus on some realistic language–related goals that can be realized in the Spanish for Heritage Class.

Context for Use

The REACH module can be used in any size Spanish for Heritage Speakers class and in face to face, hybrid or online courses. The REACH module can be assigned during the first class meeting and the discussion can take place at the following meeting or online. A variation on this would be to have the students do FLIP camera videos of 2-3 minutes in the style of the videos of the REACH module.

Description and Teaching Materials

  1. During the first week of class, students should be assigned Module 5 of the REACH website for homework. They should listen to all of the three audio portraits and work through the questions in the module.
  2. In class, the instructor should lead a discussion where students review the questions and viewpoints raised by the students in Voices. This discussion should be all oral and content-focused. All dialects, vocabulary and accents should be respected. The goal is a free exchange of ideas and the creation of an atmosphere of mutual respect.
  3. For homework, in the class course management system or in another discussion board, the students should find the same Module 5 questions and continue to develop their own answers for all of them. At this point, their responses are in writing, so instructors will have to provide information on dictionaries and spell-checkers in Spanish.

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • This is an introductory exercise for Spanish for Heritage Speakers courses that sets the tone for a semester. Students need to understand that this is not foreign language instruction, but a place where they can take their native language and learn to use it in academic and professional situations.
  • The Center for Applied Linguistics Digest website includes a downloadable PDF digest entitled "Heritage Spanish Speakers Language Learning Strategies" by Zennia Hancock of the University of Maryland. In this digest, the author proposes that it is important to use particular strategies with heritage learners that are consistent with those used in Module 5 of the REACH materials:

    "To address the issues described above, researchers have suggested the following guidelines for teaching heritage Spanish speakers:

    • Learn about and show respect for different cultures and dialects. Highlight vocabulary choices and grammatical structures for different contexts and purposes rather than prescribing specific rules for all occasions. Speak, for example, of Southwest, Puerto Rican, or Cuban Spanish rather than formal and informal Spanish (Villa, 1996).
    • Base courses on topics that have cultural appeal to heritage Spanish speakers (Faltis, 1990).
    • Observe student behavior in the classroom and identify whether students benefit most from group or individual work, oral or written language exercises, and so forth (Vásquez, 1990).
    • When designing courses, include writing activities (including spelling, self-editing, transcribing, translating, and journaling), contrastive analysis (activities to explore and acknowledge a variety of dialects), culture (projects involving research beyond the classroom), and oral skills (class discussions and community work) "(Aparicio, 1983, pp. 236-237).

(Retrieved on August 9, 2009 from CAL Digests)


Students can be evaluated based on their meaningful contributions to the discussion, either in class, in the discussion forum or both. However, grades are less important in this assignment than creating the proper learning environment.

References and Resources