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
~Explanation of Misconceptions~
"For heritage speakers, Spanish is easy": According to current research, heritage speakers of Spanish find learning the heritage language in formal academic settings extremely challenging. A simple, yet equal comparison: How easy is it for an native-English speaker to learn English?
"Heritage speakers have negative attitudes towards their ancestral language": Studies have shown that the vast majority of HSS feel very proud of their ancestral language and culture. However, some HSS (mainly 3rd or 4th generation) have adopted preconceptions about their backgrounds which they have at times associated with their ancestral language -- forming then negative connotations about their culture. Overall, HSS have positive attitudes towards their ancestral language and culture and wish to cultivate their ancestral language.
"Heritage speakers of Spanish are fluently bilingual and fully bicultural": HSS are such a diverse group whose bilingual and bicultural levels vary widely; it's well documented in existing research.
"Heritage speakers are not interested in other cultures, other than their own": According to current studies, HSS are very curious not only about their own ancestral background, but also others'. Bilingual students commonly want to learn a third language because they value culture and languages.
"Refuse to learn the heritage language": More and more HSS are choosing to remain bilingual and bicultural and wish to pass these skills on to their children and grandchildren. Heritage Spanish programs are becoming more popular in states with large Hispanic populations.
"Are embarrassed by their backgrounds": Actually, current research shows that more than ever before, heritage speakers of Spanish understand the value of bilingualism and biculturalism and are eager to become more knowledgeable about their cultural history, their languages, and their identities. Today, HSS value their origins and are assertive when speaking about their Hispanic heritage.
"Don't speak "proper" Spanish": The richness of the Spanish language and the diverse contributions to its evolvement, have made it one of the most interesting languages. One of the consequences of Spanish being the third most spoken language in the world is that there are many different ways to say so many words! Languages evolve due to the influence of its surroundings; it's a natural phenomena. HSS speak a variety of "dialects" and may feel that if their language doesn't mirror the language used by the media or by folks from a "higher" socio-economic status, it must not be "proper." Many HSS, however, do wish to speak the "standard" version of Spanish which is why they often enroll in Spanish courses. They understand the value of "professional-level" Spanish in the workforce and wish to use their skill as a means to reach their ultimate professional goals.