Spanish 101 for Heritage Speakers? A Love Letter

Hola mis queridos estudiantes.

If you are a heritage speaker of Spanish, you may have easily recognized that warm introduction. In fact, if you’re getting ready to take my Spanish 101 course (either in person or online), you will probably recognize easily a LOT of the things I say in the first few weeks. While your peers are nervously trying out new words, a new(ish) alphabet, and new sentence structures, you may be floating easily back and forth between your two languages.

This post is a love note from me to you guys: I am honored and respectful of the efforts you are making to (re)connect with a family language. I earnestly hope this will be a good experience for you, but that being said, studying ANY language and at ANY level is not all rainbows and flowers.

If you’re signing up for a Spanish 101 (or even a 102) course as a heritage speaker, you may be thinking it is an easy A. And the thing is… you might be right up to a point… Heritage speakers tend to have a much easier time with speaking and listening as you have maybe grown up hearing and even speaking some Spanish at home or in your community. That’s great! And there is definitely room for that in a Spanish 101 classroom.

I know the first few weeks may seem boring, but they are crucial for you. BECAUSE…

Just as easy as you find listening and speaking, I bet reading and writing is a lot harder. Typically what we find is that heritage learners (or heritage ‘listeners’ as a colleague of mine once called them) is that you don’t necessarily know the rules. That’s OK! That’s exactly what Spanish 101 (and 102, 201, 202, etc.) are for: clarifying the rules.

So here’s the truth: depending on your exposure, the skills you have from your life will take you reasonably far in Spanish 101, but they will not take you all the way to an A. You must study and learn the forms. Why? Because in this class we are focused on accuracy and un español educacdo y elevado (that is the use of Spanish in a well-mannered and elevated way as befitting a college graduate).

Things to watch out for:

  1. Accent Marks: I don’t stress (pardon the pun) these too much with my in person classes, but for heritage speakers and for all online students, they matter a lot.
  2. Correct Grammar: I recently corrected a heritage speaker’s grammar and she said, “Oh, that’s what my grandma always tells me.” Right. In this class, we are learning elevated speech, not really street-Spanish (I do try to tell you guys how I would say things in real life scenarios but graduating college and looking for jobs ARE real life scenarios and you need to learn Spanish that works in those situations.) This means read the grammar sections and then practice. Yes, I know sometimes it won’t be how you (or your dad, or your abuelita, etc.) would say it but we have to learn things correctly to understand when (and how!) we make exceptions.
  3. Practice Opportunities: Especially for heritage speakers, use activities to practice writing and reading Spanish. You will get so much out of these. I promise. One easy trick is to start turning the subtitles on your movies in Spanish, watching the accent marks and the grammar will be very helpful.

Finally, a personal story. My mother’s side of the family is German and Polish. When I took my first German class, I was surprised how difficult the grammar was even though I could understand almost everything the teacher said. When it just got harder, I was hurt and confused because it felt like I was actually disconnected from an important part of my family’s heritage. Now that I have worked, very, very hard, I understand German and that heritage and its history much more than I did before. It wasn’t easy but the effort itself is so valuable.

And with that, buena suerte queridos.

Dra Reynolds

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