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Contexts of learning in the endangered language college classroom

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Title: Contexts of learning in the endangered language college classroom
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: Hinton (2011) demonstrates how the learning and teaching of endangered languages have features and needs that are distinctly different from the teaching of heritage languages and of second languages (whether foreign or majority languages). In the United States, many indigenous languages are being offered as university language classes to fulfill foreign language requirements. In examining the Native American Language Program (NALP) at the University of Oklahoma (OU), we find that university-level endangered language classes contain a mixture of second language learners, heritage language learners, and endangered language learners. Each of these groups of learners have distinct motivations, attitudes, and pedagogical needs.

Second language learners (L2Ls) include anyone learning a language which is not their mother tongue and to which they have no previous connection or experience. Heritage language learners (HLLs) have a familial connection and/or previous linguistic background with the language. In defining HLLs, researchers debate whether the learner’s level of linguistic proficiency or association with an ethnic identity/community is more important in determining status as a HLL (Hornberger and Wang, 2008). For most researchers, HLL refers to a student with a previously developed proficiency in the language via their home environment (Valdés, 2001). In this study, we focus on one subcategory of HLLs called ‘learners with a heritage motivation,’ which describes learners who are defined primarily by their familial or ancestral background, not by their present primary membership or linguistic proficiency in the heritage language and community (Carreira, 2004). The term ‘endangered language learner’ is developing from research focused on language revitalization, and emphasizes the unique challenges faced only by endangered languages (Hinton, 2011).

This paper aims to present new contexts of learning of endangered languages by adult learners who are not typically represented in the language pedagogy and language revitalization literatures. Using surveys administered to over 400 students enrolled in a Native American language class at OU during 2010 and 2011, in addition to interviews conducted with two OU NALP instructors, we discuss the challenges presented by teaching endangered languages to these diverse groups of learners all in the same classroom.

Carreira, M. (2004). Seeking explanatory adequacy: A dual approach to understanding the term ‘heritage language learner.’ Heritage Language Learner, 2(1), 1-25.

Hinton, L. (2011). Language revitalization and language pedagogy: New teaching and learning strategies. Language and Education. 25(4), 307-318.

Hornberger, N. H., and S. C. Wang. (2008). Who are our heritage language learners? Identity and biliteracy in heritage language education in the United States. In Brinton, Kagan & Bauckus, 3-35.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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