New Insights into Heritage Language Learners of German

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“There is no space for
being German”:
Portraits of Reluctant
Heritage Language
Learners of German
Roswita Dressler
University of Calgary
[email protected]
While some Heritage Language Learners
(HLLs) are comfortable identifying
themselves as such, others are decidedly
uncomfortable or reluctant to adopt this
term (Piño & Piño, 2000, p. 13).
Motivation for Article
By definition, HLLs may have one parent or
grandparent who speaks the target
language or they may have spent a
significant period of their childhood in the
country where the target language is
spoken (Beaudrie & Ducar 2005).
“Does the above definition apply to you?
Study Definition



HLLs, who appear at an advantage because
of their connection to the target language
community, are not always more successful
than true beginners (Montrul 2007).
HLLs may come to the L2 classroom with
incomplete or little language competence
(Kagan 2005).
HLLs often report higher motivation to learn
the target language than their non-HLL peers
(Noels 2005).
Characteristics of HLLs
language identity is the “assumed or
attributed relationship between one’s
sense of self and a means of
communication (i.e. language)” (Block,
2007, p. 40).
 comprised of expertise (competence),
affiliation (formal identification) and
inheritance (heritage) (Leung, Harris, &
Rampton, 1997, p. 555)

Language Identity
objects or symbols which have meaning
for a specific group of people.
 An artifact can “assume a material aspect
(which may be as transient as a spoken
word or as durable as a book) and/or an
ideal or conceptual aspect (such as a
label, like “good girls” and “bad boys”)
(Bartlett, 2007, p. 217).

Cultural Artifacts
Block (2007) describes positioning as the
adoption of an “imagined” subject position
by the language learner.
Positioning
Beginner, intermediate, advanced German
language students at the University of
Calgary
 Fall semester – 2 online questionnaires

oBeginning and end of semester
o33 participants completed both

Winter semester - follow-up interviews
◦ 12 participants
Study Design

6 students
◦ 4 “typical” HLLs
◦ 2 reluctant HLLs

Pseudonyms chosen by the students
Case Studies of HLLs
Name
Christine
Magdalena
Carolyn
Sue
Alexander
Bianca
Level
of Who speaks
German
German?
Advanced
Parents,
grandparents
Beginner
Parents,
grandparents
Beginner
Grandparents
Advanced
Grandparents
Advanced
Parents,
grandparents
Advanced
Parents,
grandparents
HLL Participants
Childhood
Experience
None
Self-Identify
None
yes
None
None
None
yes
yes
no
Ages 8-10
no
yes
Mature student, adv. German class,
parents speak German
 Chose German to “open pathways to older
members of the family”
 Driven to obtain mastery of grammar
“grammar in German is critical to
communicating, perhaps more so than
English”
 Sees herself as German-Canadian

Christine
“There’s a broader openness to different
cultures, accepting that there can be
significant differences. I think some of the
work ethic definitely was inherited from
my parents. The German part tends to be
a little more rigid. ‘This has to be done
now. It’s got to be on time’” (Christine).
On being German-Canadian
First year student, dual citizenship,
previous HS and Community school
German classes
 Chose German to keep up her
competence
 Somewhat demotivated “seen it all
before”

Magdalena
“In Germany, when we say we are
Canadian, we tend to get more attention.
. . just because we’re from Canada. . . In
Canada, I feel like I am like any other
person” (Magdalena).
On Her Language Identity





4th year student, advanced German class,
German- speaking grandparents
“always wanted to know German”
Desires fluency, but hesitant to speak in
class
Proud of German heritage, unable to
articulate why it is important
Identifies with German traditions
Sue
“My German identity comes out at
Christmas time” (Sue).
On Her Language Identity
2nd year student, beginner German,
German-speaking grandparent
 “always wanted to know German for a
really long time”
 More motivated than for other classes
 “wasn’t brought up in a classic German
household”

Carolyn
“It started making my life better. It became
the course I would look forward to every
day” (Carolyn).
On Studying German
3rd year student, advanced German class,
German-speaking grandparent
 Interested in languages, since family
heritage is German, it would be a “terrible
thing to let go”
 Devotion to German high, to assignments
“not very high”
 Does not consider himself an HLL

Alexander
“My grandmother, she’s German, but she
never spoke it. Kind of odd. I would say a
few sentences, but she would never
respond in German and that’s why [I
answered no. I] never had German
spoken to me in my family” (Alexander).
On not self-identifying
Recently graduated, adv. German class,
lived in Germany ages 8-10
 Spoke German fluently as a child, then
forgot it, relearned “’cause it might be
easy for me”
 Very motivated, found it interesting
 Does not consider herself an HLL

Bianca
“I don’t feel anything at all. I feel no
connection. I already have to judge being
Canadian with being Romanian. Really,
there is no space for being German”
(Bianca)
On Her Language Identity
Language expert - Expertise
 Language loyalty

◦ Affiliation
◦ Inheritance
(Rampton, 1990)
Discussion

“My devotion to German is high.”
(Alexander)

“I like German. I like the way it is
structured. I enjoy the language, I have
no negative points on it.” (Bianca)
Expertise
“Me being German, a German citizen, I
am German. That’s how I always will be”.
(Magdalena)
 “being just someone who passed through
Germany, on the way to Canada. . .”
(Bianca)

Affiliation
“All my friends know I am German”. (Sue)
 “My family heritage is German, so it is
kind of nice to keep it up.” (Kath)
 “I was always really interested in that part
of my heritage.” (Carolyn)

Inheritance
German Christmas traditions
 “a classic German household”
 Canada as a multicultural country
 Germany as a country intolerant of nonGermans

Cultural artifacts

For the classroom
◦ Student
◦ Instructor

For research
Implications
Where students reject the label of HLL,
these students do not “situate
themselves” or consider themselves to be
“situated by others” (Block, 2007, p. 18)
in an HLL identity.
Conclusion
Bartlett, L. (2007). Bilingual literacies, social identification,
and educational trajectories. Linguistics and Education,
18(3-4), 215-231.
Beaudrie, S., & Ducar, C. (2005). Beginning level university
heritage programs: Creating a space for all Heritage
Language Learners. Heritage Language Journal, 3(1), 1-18.
Block, D. (2007). Second language identities. London:
Continuum.
Gonzalez Piño, B., & Piño, F. (2000). Serving the Heritage
Speaker across a Five-Year Program. ADFL Bulletin, 32(1),
27-35.
Kagan, O. (2005). In support of a proficiency-based
definition of Heritage Language Learners: The case of
Russian. International Journal of Bilingual Education
&Bilingualism, 8(2-3), 213-221.
References
Leung, C., Harris, R., & Rampton, B. (1997). The
idealised native speaker, reified ethnicities, and
classroom realities. TESOL Quarterly, 31(3), 543-560.
Montrul, S. (2007). Bilingual Past Project. from
http://www.international.ucla.edu/languages/nhlrc/2
007summer/Bilingual+Past+Project.pdf
Noels, K. A. (2005). Orientations to Learning German:
Heritage Language Learning and Motivational
Substrates. The Canadian Modern Language Review,
62(2), 285-312.
Rampton, M. B. H. (1990). Displacing the 'native
speaker': expertise, affiliation, and inheritance. ELT
Journal, 44(2), 97-101.
References
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