Some students at Ohio State take Spanish to fulfill a foreign language requirement. Others might have come to the university as native speakers.
Then there are also those who fall somewhere in between; students who might have grown up in Spanish-speaking households or environments but did not receive a formal education in the language.
Those students are Ohio State’s heritage speakers.
Elena Foulis, a senior lecturer in Ohio State’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese, has developed a three-course program aimed at providing a Spanish education to student heritage speakers.
“With heritage language learners, we focus a lot on identity, on herencia (heritage),” Foulis said. “We incorporate identity; we incorporate those experiences from the home that they can bring into the conversations that we have in class.”
In the past two years, Foulis and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese have worked to develop the full, three-course program for heritage speakers. Spanish 1113 and 3413 will be offered Autumn 2019, while Spanish 2213 will be available Spring 2020.
“Now we can talk in terms of a heritage language program for students,” Foulis said. “Now, starting next academic year, we will have all three courses.”
Since 2014, Ohio State has offered Spanish 3413, “Spanish for Heritage Speakers.” Foulis said the department originally chose to offer the 3000-level course due to the high number of students who tested into the course.
“Since then, we’ve been seeing more heritage learners as a whole, but also different levels,” Foulis said. “Even though we had one course that they could take, they really needed to start at a lower level.”
Foulis said the need for three separate courses had become increasingly important because of the wide range of diversity among students. Differences in fluency, experiences and cultures are key values of the program, and Foulis wanted to develop courses which catered to a number of different backgrounds.
“Heritage learners are those students that grew up speaking, listening or interacting with the language,” Foulis said. “So that means, too, that their range of fluency varies depending on whether the whole family spoke Spanish at home, or maybe just one parent, or they spoke Spanish at home and also in their communities.”
Interviews and a writing assessment used to determine which students would qualify for the heritage speaker course, Foulis said. Now, students are able to consult with their advisor about inclusion in the program.
Michelle Coria, an academic adviser in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, said the three-course program is based on what students have told her about their experiences.
“They are welcome to enroll in the courses if they so choose, or they can enroll in the equivalents for non-heritage learners,” Coria said.
Each of the three heritage-speaker courses correspond with the objectives and requirements of a course in the traditional Spanish track, Coria said.
“After that, they can be integrated if they choose to do a minor or major,” Foulis said. “They can move on to the higher-level courses.”
Foulis said one of the benefits of the program’s 3000-level course has been the interaction between students and cultures. Its value serves as the basis for the rest of the program.
“We’re all sort of helping each other, learning from each other and talking about issues or things that are so similar yet different, but are part of our upbringing,” Foulis said. “Those courses create community.”