Shared Solutions for Common Problems

First Time Presentation:NO
Presentation type:Sole Presentation
Co Presenter:
First Name:Danko
Last name:Sipka
Email address:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Name of Institution :Arizona State University
Country:United States
Paper Introduction :
Technological Needs:Multimedia Projector
Abstract Supporting Attachment:

The present paper reports on the findings of applied linguistic research on Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian (henceforth BCS) heritage speakers in four major US metropolitan areas conducted from May of 2010 to December of 2012. The project was centered around the following two principal goals: a. to survey BCS heritage speakers’ potential and needs, b. to propose a syllabus for a course tailored to their needs. At a more practical level, the goal was to investigate if the population of BCS heritage speakers can be used to build a body of cadres with ILR 3 (full professional linguistics proficiency) command of BCS.

The conclusions and recommendations stemming from this research fall into the following two broad categories: a. The factors influencing language maintenance in the community (and securing ideal prospective students for heritage language courses), b. The parameters of the course design (ideally leading toward full working proficiency).

In considering the factors influencing language maintenance, it is quite clear that early family exposure, travel to HL countries, visits to HL venues, and the presence of HL materials contribute to a higher self-assessment. While definitive answers can only be obtained by correlating test results with the aforementioned factors (which would require larger scale research), even the present limited evidence points to the need to strengthen and facilitate HL activities. A range of programs can be envisaged, from organizing an exchange of materials with the target countries (English for HL materials, through their diplomatic posts or with relevant institutions, to be disseminated in the HL communities), to the outreach in the HL communities by matching funds for HL venues, scholarships to travel to the HL countries, information sessions about the importance of early exposure to the HL, etc. One important finding is that a higher self-assessment leads to a less prominent desire to take heritage classes. This was confirmed both qualitatively in face-to-face interviews, and quantitatively in the survey. The problem with this attitude is that most heritage speakers are not at ILR 3 proficiency level and that they do indeed need heritage language classes to attain it.

There are two strategies that can be adopted in this regard. First, university centers which offer BCS classes, and in particular those which have HL classes, should be strengthened to avert the negative trend. Strengthening of such centers, which can be tied to their embeddedness in heritage communities (outreach, guest lectures, etc.) would go a long way toward making the communities realize that classes are indeed necessary even if speakers sound fluent. Second, information sessions in communities where such university centers do not exist that emphasize the need to formally study one’s HL would additionally contribute to changing the erroneous impression that “fluent” heritage speakers do not need classes. Creating a national center for BCS HL maintenance and learning, which could be affiliated with a prominent university department offering BCS for heritage speakers, would be an optimal solution to coordinate all aforementioned activities. This center can be used as a case study for other similar languages. While more populous strategic languages (MSA, Mandarin, Russian, etc.) have HL population covered under the Flagship program (, equally strategically important HLs like BCS remain bereft of such organized institutional support. To bridge the obvious gap, smaller-scale centers can be constructed/organized to perform the exchange of the materials, coordinate outreach activities, popularize the courses, etc. Turning to the design of the course, a modular hybrid course delivered on-line during one semester (regular or summer) and followed by a three-month supervised study abroad would be optimal. The course should be offered for BCS as a whole but students should be given a choice to complete all activities with their ethnic variant alone if they so desire.

The reasons for such recommendations are as follows: First, an additional immersion period seems to give a realistic prospect of crossing from ILR 2+ to ILR 3 –, specifically because the vocabulary range, discourse complexity, and cultural competence require more time and immersion. Second, there are numerous reasons why on-line delivery of the first module of the course is preferred: a. most subjects prefer such delivery and even those who prefer in-class delivery cannot travel somewhere else, b. on-line delivery is available to those who live outside the areas with university centers, c. such a format offers more flexibility in terms of the ethnic variants (and some portion of the prospective student population is focused on only one ethnic variant). Third, supervised immersion abroad would enable the envisaged stay abroad to be much more productive, in particular because the students would be asked to engage in more formal activities, e.g., performing research about politics, culture, etc. and having to interview academics, political leaders, etc. The format of supervised immersion should be kept open and flexible to accommodate students’ professional interests (for example, an economics major would have different activities from an art history major) but in each instance they would include formal oral communication, reading and summarizing daily news, writing formal reports, etc. Fourth, a common BCS course is preferred over separate ethnic courses for strictly practical reasons. It is difficult enough to recruit enough people for a common course and recruiting for separate ethnic courses would be close to impossible. One should note however that the course should offer full flexibility in enabling students to work with their ethnic variant alone or with several of the variants (given that preferences were rather dispersed on this score). Moreover, the immersion part would be performed in a region of the former Yugoslavia dominated by one ethnic group (as ethnically-mixed areas are extremely rare), which would be another accommodation for those who seek to work with their ethnic variant without any interference from other ethnic variants (i.e., they would typically function within a mono-ethnic environment). The aforementioned BCS HL center would be most useful in coordinating this kind of course, offering the on-line component, preparing and sending students abroad, and coordinating target-country immersion programs.