Last week I blogged about how the argument for authentic resources is so close to my heart.

Well, today, those of us who are members of the ACTFL Heritage Learners SIG received a fantastically generous gift in our inbox!

We received a link to the pdf verson of a recent webinar given by Dr. Kim Potowski on the topic of being a sociolinguistically informed World Language teacher.

This is the link, I am not sure who all will be able to access it. I hope you all will be able to, because there is some really great research presented in it. Keep reading, and I’ll explain how this all relates to authentic resources!

Here are some of the points that I found very valuable:

1. We, as language teachers, need to rethink the concept of “correct language.”

I do believe that we should have standard grammar rules, but we have to understand that the way people actually communicate may differ drastically from the rules. The examples given by Dr. Potowski include bits of language from various English-speaking countries. All are correct in the specific country, but considered incorrect in the other English-speaking countries. “She working,” and “I don’t want none,” are both correct in African American English. “I’ll be here December,” and “He’s in hospital,” are both correct in British English. Because they are variants from mainstream U.S. English, we consider them “different” and possibly even “wrong.” But what Dr. Potowski argues is that language that is acquired naturally in the form that it is used within a community cannot be “wrong.” She cites Hidalgo (1997), “There is no standard
language, only a social or regional variety that, for economic or political reasons, was elevated to higher status, ” and Escobar (1976), “Standard language is an abstract concept; it represents a variety that no one actually speaks.”

There are several great analogies in the presentation. My favorite is the “taxi driver”. Taxi drivers may violate regional traffic laws, but it is humanly impossible to violate the laws of physics. In the same way, just because a person violates so-called grammar rules, they cannot violate the rules of “language,” if they are indeed communicating successfully.

2. Another important piece of this argument is the idea that language rules were developed because a certain group who said something a certain way, once rose to power over the groups who said things differently. Therefore, “correct language” rises from prestige. If we ask heritage learners to abandon their own language, we are not only asking them to abandon apart of themselves, but we are also celebrating the idea that someone else is better than they are. Could you imagine someone telling you that you had to stop using the words “trunk” and “apartment,” and you could only refer to them as “boot” and “lift”?


There are so many more gems in this presentation; I really hope you will spend some time with it.

And now you ask “why does this matter in my Spanish class?”

This is where authentic resources come in. Our non-heritage learners need to be exposed to the kinds of Spanish spoken by REAL people. And yes, it even occurs in announcements, songs, advertisements, and all kinds of “realia.” As you will see in Dr. Potowski’s presentation notes, we also need to reconsider our use of the term “Spanglish.” If we use it, it should be in a positive, celebratory manner. We should not talk about it as something to avoid, but rather a very useful communication device.

So go on! Expose your students to the REAL varieties of Spanish they will in the United States and rural communities around the world. You have no reason not to. What’s more “comprehensible” than Spanglish, anyway?!

Buena suerte,

Profe C