Texting en español: An Activity that Connects Communicative Tools and Literacy Skills for Heritage Language Learners of Spanish.


A heritage speaker is an individual (either born in the host country to an immigrant family or an immigrant child his/herself) that belongs to a community enclosed by the dominant one. Their exposure to a language other than the one spoken by the majority and used in mass media takes place at home and the community in early childhood. Lastly, this individual is educated in the dominant language, thus, not developing his/her first language on the same literacy levels as, in this case, English (Valdés, 2001; Hornberge and Wang, 2008; Montrul, 2012). Although college students in the Midwest and those self-identified as heritage speakers have claimed not to consume Internet content in Spanish, they have shown to text in Spanish as a way to keep in touch with friends and family both in the US and abroad (Velázquez, 2015). Given how Spanish heritage speakers use their non-dominant language both when texting and in the classroom setting, one might suggest that Spanish lessons focused solely drill activities involving grammar, vocabulary and some cultural facts render insufficient in their acquisition process. On that account, language lessons targeted to heritage speakers must built on what they already know and on the language they already using (Polinsky and Kagan, 2007), thusly, in this poster I present an activity that serves as a bridge between the use of a daily communicative tool among young adults and their pedagogical needs as heritage speakers of Spanish.

First, I take into account the characteristics of the heritage speakers, as presented in my definition above, and I pay attention to their pedagogical needs for, despite the variation on language level among Spanish heritage speakers, it is possible to identify some basic objectives that heritage language learners have to achieve. According to Valdés (1997), their main goal is to maintain the heritage language while also acquiring a formal, standard or prestigious variety of that language. Also, the need to expand their abilities as bilingual speakers extends to the need of acquiring academic skills in their heritage language by transferring their literacy skills from the instruction language at school. Finally, besides focusing on the development of linguistic skills, courses for heritage speakers also need to encourage a positive attitude towards their heritage language as well as help acquiring or developing cultural awareness of the use of the languages they know. The present poster develops the activity “Texting en español” by taking text messages produced by the students as real examples to work with in order to improve orthography and become aware of lexical varieties with special emphasis on the connection to the community of each student. The activity approaches second-generation bilingual learners in a course to improve transferring oral utterances (their main use of Spanish) into written productions at the Intermediate level as it encourages students to read and write simple texts in the first weeks of the semester. Gradually, students would be producing longer and more complex works, incorporating to each unit the aforementioned pedagogical needs. Through a series of activities in “Texting en español”, students have to discuss the use of texting in English and in Spanish by paying special attention to the reasons and purposes of using their heritage language. Additionally, these activities gather a rich corpus of text messages students have sent and received in Spanish to/from friends and close or distant family. These two exercises lead the students to consider their own production in Spanish as they also learn about orthography and the differences between constructions such as “haber” vs. “a ver,” or “ahí” vs. “hay” vs. “¡ay,” etc. By connecting sharing both similar, and distinct expressions in different Hispanic communities in the US, students also reflect on the use of colloquial words and abbreviations in their texts in connection to the recipient of the message. Finally, whereas the linguistic progress of second language students is usually assessed on a summative assessment by comparing their learning against a standard by means of quizzes, midterm exams, final papers, etc., it is crucial that heritage language learners’ progress be assessed on a formative basis. This type of assessment allows for the supervision of the student learning process by providing ongoing feedback that not only helps students identify those areas where they need to work on, but it also helps the instructor in identifying those areas that need further clarification. For that reason, the poster also presents an evaluation for this type of activity targeted to heritage language learners. In contributing to a better practice of teaching Spanish to heritage language learners in college, this poster presents an example of how to develop activities that establish connections between the use of the heritage language in real life, different linguistic levels and the academic abilities of students (Potowski, 2005) by university instructors of Spanish.

Texting en español: An Activity that Connects Communicative Tools and Literacy Skills for Heritage Language Learners of Spanish

Poster in PDF here

References: Hornberger, N. H., & Wang, S. C. (2008). “Who are our heritage language learners? Identity and biliteracy in heritage language education in the United States”. Heritage language education: A new field emerging Ed. D. M. Brinton, O. Kagan, & S. Bauckus. New York: Routledge, 3-38. Montrul, Silvia. (2012) “Is the Heritage Language like a Second Language?” Eurosla Yearbook. Urbana: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaing. Polinsky, M., & Kagan, O. (2007). “Heritage Languages: In the ‘Wild’ and in the Classroom”. Languages and Lingustics Compass, 1(5), 368-295. Potowski, K. (2005). El español del hablante de herencia. Fundamentos de la enseñanza del español a los hispanohablantes en los EEUU. Madrid: Arco Libros. Valdés, G., López-García, D. & Márquez, P. (2003). “Language Ideology: The Case of Spanish in Departments of Foreign Languages.” A nthropology & Education Quarterly. 34, 3-26 Valdés, Guadalupe. (1997). The Teaching of Spanish to Bilingual Spanish-Speaking Students: Outstanding Issues and Unanswered Questions. In M. C. Colombi, & F. X. Alarcón (Eds.), La enseñanza del español a hispanohablantes. Práxis y teoría. (pp. 8-44). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. –. (2001). “Heritage language students: Profiles and possibilities.” Heritage languages in America: Preserving a national resource. Ed. J. K. Peyton, D. Ranard, & S. McGinnis. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics and Delta Systems, 37–77. Velázquez, I. (2015). “Reported literacy, media consumption and social media use as measures of relevance of Spanish as a heritage language.” International Journal of Bilingualism, 1-13.