Heritage Speaker ~~ “a student who is raised in a home where a non-English language is spoken, who speaks or merely understands the heritage language and who is to some degree bilingual in English and the heritage language” (Valdés, 2001)

Heritage Speakers of Spanish

  Considerations  - What does the research say?

Some Facts:

  • Heritage Spanish Speakers are the largest population of heritage language speakers in the United States
  • Approximately 68% of US postsecondary institutions do not offer heritage language courses
  • In the absence of HS course, HSS are often misplaced in Spanish courses
  • Spanish-speaking immigrants are the fastest growing heritage language population in the United States.
  • An increasing number of secondary schools, colleges, and universities offer Spanish for Native or Heritage Speakers courses/programs for HSS.
  • HSS' language proficiency varies from completely fluent in oral Spanish to basic oral skills in Spanish
  • HSS come from various cultural backgrounds and speak different varieties of Spanish
  • Number of Spanish language radio stations, television programs, and newspapers has increased significantly -- over 600 Spanish radio stations and 500 Spanish language newspapers
  • The US is home to 50.5 million people who identify as Hispanic or Latino.
  • The US is the second largest population of Spanish speakers in the world, after Mexico.
  • Due to the increase in the Hispanic population, there have been calls for more studies that compare HL learners of Spanish with traditional FL learners.
  • The number of students graduating with professional-level bilingual skills is minimal.
  • Researchers and educators say HS "...need courses tailored to their specific needs."

  • Some research suggests that Latino students tend to learn well in groups
  • Varieties in Spanish: Research suggests that no Spanish "dialect" is inferior to a standard form of the language
  • HSS may have encountered negative attitudes toward their dialects
  • Manifest sensitivity to HSS' dialects/form of speaking
  • Some studies suggests that many Latino students tend to be "frequently auditory" learners
  • HSS feel nonnative Spanish students have a "better" understanding of Spanish grammar rules
  • When misplaced, despite their oral fluency in Spanish, HSS "often receive lower grades than their Spanish foreign language" peers
  • Often, HSS have "difficulty identifying the names of linguistic terms"
  • Many times HSS are not aware of the existence of HS courses
  • HSS experience less anxiety than L1 students in a First Semester Spanish class
  • The typical HSS have acquired nearly 90% of the phonological system of the ancestral language
  • HSS seek a greater understanding of their culture through the study of Spanish
  • Many HSS wish to reinforce the development of their own identity
  • There are clear advantages to continuing heritage language development, both to the individual and to society
  • Research suggests that it is important to know your student population
  • Know HSS' language proficiency to better assist them in meeting their unique academic needs


HS = Heritage Speaker(s)

HSS = Heritage Spanish Speaker(s)

HL = Heritage Language

HLL = Heritage Language Learner(s)

FL = Foreign Language