Language Ideologies and Identities: Beliefs and Practices of College Level Spanish Students and an Instructor in a Spanish Heritage Language Classroom

Viridiana Vidana Matus, University of Texas at El Paso


Research on Heritage Language Learners (HLLs) began in the 1970s when the term heritage languages originated in Canada (Cummins, 2005); later in the 1990s, the subfield of heritage language education was created. HLLs are defined as “students who [are] raised in a home where a non-English language is spoken, who speak or at least understand the language, and who [are] in some degree bilingual in that language and English” (Valdés, 2001, p.38). From its inception, research on the education of HLLs has focused heavily on linguistic aspects (Beaudrie & Fairclough, 2012; Colombi & Alarcón, 1997; Potowski & Carreira, 2010), however, during the early part of the 21st century, interest in the sociocultural context(s) in which language learning as well as language use takes place has shifted research on minoritized languages and education to focus on the relationship between identities, power, and language learning (Achugar & Pessoa, 2009; Fuller & Leeman, 2020; Villa, 2002). Despite such interest, there is a dearth of qualitative studies on HLLs, language learning, and identities in general, and, more specifically, qualitative studies that center the voices and experiences of HLL students are at all but absent from the literature. Given the gap in the literature, this one-year qualitative study sought to understand how wider language ideologies influenced the identities of 22 Spanish Heritage Language Learners (SHLLs) and an instructor in a heritage language college course at a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) located on the U.S. - Mexico border. Drawing on a theoretical view of identities and identity formation as dynamic and contextual within and across social processes (Bucholtz & Hall, 2005) and the theoretical lens of coloniality/modernity (Mignolo, 2005 & 2012), findings highlight the particular ways in which dominant language ideologies intersected with SHLLs lived language experiences in schools and in their family lives to reflect the hegemonic dichotomization of standardized, academic language as an asset and heritage language as an obstacle. Findings also show how SHLLs suppressed their heritage language and identities by reproducing the wider dichotomization of languages that they encountered in their PreK-12 and higher educational experiences. The findings of this study have implications for post-secondary level policy and practice as well as for research related to textbooks and curriculum among SHLL college students.

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Recommended Citation

Vidana Matus, Viridiana, "Language Ideologies and Identities: Beliefs and Practices of College Level Spanish Students and an Instructor in a Spanish Heritage Language Classroom" (2020). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI28262065.