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Innovative “Spanish for Heritage Speakers” Class Responds to Student Needs
12.06.12 |

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As the Hispanic population continues to grow in Lebanon County and across the country, the number of children raised in Spanish-speaking homes continues to rise. But as these students attend school where English is the language of instruction, they grow up without any formal education in their native tongue.

Lebanon Valley College also realized an increase of Hispanic students that were fluent Spanish speakers, but were struggling with spelling and grammar, and therefore having difficulty placing into the appropriate Spanish class for their abilities. Additionally, some of these students felt embarrassed that although they could speak conversational Spanish well, their academic Spanish may be less developed.

Spanish program instructors took note of the students’ challenges, and quickly responded with an innovative new course to help meet their students’ needs. Now completing its first semester, “Spanish for Heritage Speakers” is designed specifically for students who grew up speaking the language, but had little, if any, academic Spanish training.

“They speak Spanish at home, and probably have for most of their lives. But most of them have no formal education in Spanish,” said Dr. Kathleen Tacelosky, associate professor of Spanish and chair of the department of languages.

Spanish for Heritage Speakers is similar to a typical first-language English course, except that the content covered includes culture and history of places where Spanish is spoken. The course debuted this fall and more than a dozen Spanish-speaking students chose to enroll, including Carlos Garcia ’13, a native of Puerto Rico, who moved to Lebanon at the age of 5. Now a senior at LVC, Garcia feels more comfortable with the language he grew up speaking.

“This class is really to expand our knowledge of how we speak and write our Spanish language,” Garcia said.

Course instructor Dr. Ivette Guzman-Zavala identifies with the students taking her class and is able to teach in a way that is relatable. She moved to the United States from Puerto Rico 16 years ago to attend graduate school and has been teaching at LVC for six years.

“Most of the students in the U.S. take English courses. This course is similar, but in Spanish, and exists to help our Spanish-speaking students brush up on their academic skills – vocabulary, grammar, and so on,” Guzman-Zavala said.

The 12 students in this fall’s Spanish for Heritage Speakers class come from diverse backgrounds. Some were born in the U.S. to immigrant parents while others moved to the country at a young age. Still others arrived after living 30 years in their home country. They represent Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Peru, Portugal, and Guatemala.

As long as there is a need to assist this group of LVC students, the Languages Department will continue to offer the Spanish for Heritage Speakers class every other fall semester. The Department is also researching a study abroad program in the Dominican Republic, since that is a country that local Spanish speakers are more likely to be from. LVC currently offers study abroad programs in the Spanish-speaking countries of Spain and Argentina.


Both WGAL and the Lebanon Daily News have covered this innovative new class. Please take a moment to watch and read their stories.

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