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Article

De bueno a muy bueno: How Pedagogical Intervention Boosts Language Proficiency in Advanced Heritage Learners

Heritage Language Journal. 2018. Vol. 15. No. 2. P. 203-241.
Parra M. L., Bravo M. L., Polinsky M.

This paper presents and analyzes quantitative and qualitative changes in the performance of seven advanced-proficiency heritage speakers of Spanish over the course of one semester of instruction, during which these speakers were part of a college-level macro-based heritage Spanish class. Using oral narratives recorded in the first and last weeks of class, we analyzed changes in key categories such as overall narrative organization, use of discourse connectors, tenses, complex structures (subordination), and lexical proficiency. The post-intervention results showed positive improvements in students’ linguistic ability to narrate in more sophisticated and complex ways as the proportion of subordinate clauses, variety of tenses, and diversification of discourse connectors increased, as well as the use of stylistic phrases and formulas characteristic of the narrative genre. The results provide concrete examples of the positive impact that a pedagogical macro-approach can have on advanced heritage learners’ language development, use, and motivation. We propose a combination of pedagogical practices that include a rich language environment, meaningful interactions, continuous scaffolding, and explicit instruction about discourse elements, complex structures, and genre characteristics to continue fostering advanced language learning. Other factors we analyze as part of the dynamics of change in students’ narrative skills include the interaction between oral and written modalities of the language and individual differences.