Language Shyness among Heritage Speakers

Let´s talk about the widespread belief among native Spanish-speaking parents that what their heritage speaking children really need is to be corrected every time they make a mistake. This belief even shows up among some Spanish teachers!

As a non-native speaker (I did not start learning Spanish until I was in my mid-twenties), I have often felt slightly conflicted when I meet parents because of my refusal to correct the speech of my heritage speakers. It is not that I doubt my own language competence or that I am intimidated by the regional dialects of my students; whenever I have corrected heritage students in the past I have always had the feeling that I am employing a technique that “wins a minor battle while losing the war”.

If you teach heritage speakers, and especially if you have a separate class for heritage speakers, you really must read this article by Stephen Krashen on language shyness. Within the article there is great validation for FVR. This is the article that I would use to make a case for funding if I were writing a grant application to enlarge my FVR library.

photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ieepco/6217914163 made available through a creative commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/


    1. I came across the article this summer when Krashen sent a link out to the moreTPRS yahoo list and I immediately recognized what he was describing. Normally with my 10 minute back to school presentation I limit myself to talking about the importance of pleasure reading when addressing the parents in the heritage speakers class. I think I will tweak my presentation this year to also talk about the roots of language shyness.

      1. Do you have an outline of what you discuss at Open House? I have just modified my syllabus and am starting to think about how I will introduce my class to both students and parents since it will probably represent a paradigm shift for most.

      2. With only ten minutes I try to get the essentials of what I need for parents to support me: understand my attendance policy (the importance of attending class versus the impotence of make-up work) & tech policy. I spend the rest of the time talking about reading, why they should be using public libraries, the power of pleasure reading and why pleasure reading should be a family activity. I will be making a new presentation within the next two weeks and will post it on my blog.

  1. Thanks for posting this! I was following this thread closely on the listserv. My 14- and 12-year old sons were beautifully bilingual when they were preschool, but are now passive bi-linguals. My older son becomes “active” when we visit my husband’s family in Argentina but my younger struggles with output.

    The comment in Krashen’s article by the student who associated speaking Spanish as something she just does with her parents struck home – teens are trying to move AWAY from ties with parents, so what can I do to make it something they want to do here at home? Rewards? If anyone has any ideas on how to promote speaking at home in this situation (in addition to more reading and no correcting) I would love to hear them!

    1. I am not sure about getting them to speak at home, but the one tried and true thing is to make sure that they have access to compelling media in Spanish. I have had native-speaking parents thank me for getting their kids interested in Spanish despite all they have done at home, and when I track it down to what really made the difference it has turned out to be showing a cool tv show in class (El Internado). What impresses me is that, normally, a so-called weird regional dialect (and I will not deny that Castillian Spanish sounds weird to my heritage-speaking students) would turn heritage speakers off. That is often a problem with mixing Argentine, Puerto Rican and Mexican heritage speakers together in one class: they heckle each other into silence! Yet, if something is undeniable cool, it is cool.

      Along that vein I have been spending a lot of my FVR budget on biographies of soccer players. It is obvious, I know, but I have to spread the net widely.

      1. Thanks Mike! I will show them El Internado and maybe it is time to break down and get cable and some Spanish channels. Thanks for sharing!

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