Form-Focused Instruction for Heritage Language Learners

By Irina Dubinina (Brandeis University) and Olesya Kisselev (Univesity of Texas, San Antonio)

Structural accuracy remains a persistent issue for heritage learners, who do not always reach higher levels of proficiency in their heritage language (as measured by standard language proficiency tests). Using instruction in heritage Russian as an example, we argue for the critical role of form-focused instruction in teaching a heritage language, and in particular in bringing heritage learners to higher levels of proficiency. The argument for the importance of form-focused instruction is based on the results of extensive linguistic research combined with insights from the currently available pedagogically oriented research. We formulate and discuss instructional methods that help educators 1) develop heritage learners’ attention to grammatical form, 2) foster heritage learners’ understanding of grammatical concepts, and 3) increase learners’ metalinguistic awareness. Given consistent parallels across different heritage languages, the methodologies developed for Russian learners can apply to other heritage language classrooms as well, with adjustments based on the sociolinguistic context of particular heritage languages.

Published: Thursday, May 28, 2020