An evaluation of two university Spanish foreign language programs' practices for heritage language learners: an action research study

The Hispanic population grew to 54 million, or an estimated 17 percent of the U.S. population, and is projected to be almost 31 percent by 2060. As the number of Spanish-speaking immigrants increases, the population of non-English speaking immigrants also increases. Studies show that within two to three generations most of the non-English speaking populations will lose their heritage languages. As a result of this language loss, researchers have advocated for the preservation of the nation’s heritage languages. By preserving the heritage languages, the U.S. political and commercial situation worldwide would stand to benefit from the language resource available within the country; however, only 24% of the 772 colleges and universities offer Spanish language courses for native speakers, or heritage language learners. This multiple case study addressed the academic challenges that heritage language students face in two university Spanish language programs: One research institution had a Spanish heritage language for Spanish native speakers and the other state university had only a foreign language program. The study examines how the programmatic features, curricular strategies, and variables affect heritage language and foreign language learners. In order to get multiple perspectives, interviews surveys, and telephone interviews were conducted with 14 participants - coordinators, instructors, and students - from the two university Spanish programs. The investigation into Spanish language programs examined the demographics of each language program, programmatic characteristics, placement procedures, curriculum objectives, instructional practice goals, and program satisfaction. Unlike previous studies, the results were triangulated to analyze similarities and differences in the two programs. The findings suggest that learners, instructors, and coordinators of the two Spanish language programs should endeavor to improve on program practices, writing, multimedia use, and practicing Spanish in the community and in the students’ chosen profession. Furthermore, the instructors and coordinators in university Spanish programs in the United States should also address the language learning needs of heritage language students, so that their proficiency in written and oral Spanish can improve, providing an opportunity for heritage language students to utilize Spanish away from the academic learning environment, and thus succeed in their professional lives as well.