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Detail of contribution

Auteur: Marta FAIRCLOUGH

Assessing Spanish language abilities of Hispanic heritage students entering U.S. universities

Abstract/Résumé: Most practitioners in the field of heritage language (HL) education are aware of how different HL learners are from L2 learners. Although a good number of tools are available to assess the language abilities of L2 learners, the applicability of those instruments to HL students is questionable, not only for theoretical reasons but also because the two groups have very different patterns of linguistic proficiency. Whereas research on L2 assessment, especially relative to English, has grown exponentially in the last few decades, similar research in HL education has been limited. Most publications on the assessment of language-minority students address bilingual, language immersion, or K¬–12 HL students (Baker, 2006), rather than postsecondary students (Fairclough, 2006; Fairclough et al., 2010; Li & Duff, 2008; Valdés, 1995), who are a rapidly growing population of HL learners (Beaudrie, 2012, forthcoming). This presentation builds on current L2 theory and research and what is known of HL learners (Beaudrie & Fairclough, 2012) to present a working model for assessing general Spanish abilities of linguistic minority students in an academic context. It will focus specifically on what should be tested and how, suggesting issues that test users should take into consideration when designing (or adopting) and implementing a placement test for postsecondary Spanish HL learners. In addition to (a) background information (sociolinguistic data), three types of skills need to be measured: (b) receptive (knowledge of general vocabulary; Alvar Ezquerra 2004), (c) productive (with a focus on linguistic gaps, i.e. “what students do not know”; Parodi 2008, Silva-Corvalán 1994, Valdés 2000), and (c) creative (speaking and writing abilities that closely match those of an educated Spanish speaker; Colombi, 1997, 2002). Assessing different aspects of the heritage language helps determine not only proficiency levels (and consequently a more accurate class placement), but also contributes to the consolidation of a typology of Hispanic heritage students, and generates a better understanding of their linguistic variation, which in turn serves to better address their learning needs.