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Medical Spanish for Heritage Learners: A Prescription to Improve the Health of Spanish-Speaking Communities

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The wide-ranging economic, security and social justice challenges of the 21st century have pressed language educators to search for innovative strategies to promote greater linguistic proficiency and enhanced cultural understanding in tomorrow's workforce. Many educators have turned to heritage language learners as a viable student population to meet these growing demands in the future (Ricento 2005). While Spanish heritage language programs have been in existence since the 1950s, it has not been until very recently that these programs have gained widespread recognition within the circles of professional associations, private and federal granting agencies, and the textbook publishing industry. This recognition, in turn, has led to a rapid professionalization of the field through the creation of national surveys and databases and through the diffusion of knowledge in specialized journals and monographs. The growing body of research in the field has helped practitioners to define instructional objectives, to refine pedagogical practice, and to lobby for administrative support within institutions and agencies. Guadalupe Valdés (2001) proposed four key instructional goals for Spanish heritage language educators. Valdés argues that heritage language teaching and learning should focus on the maintenance of immigrant and minority languages, the expansion of bilingual range within the heritage and the mainstream languages, the acquisition of prestige dialects of the heritage language, and the transfer of literacy skills from the mainstream language to the heritage language and vice versa. The articulation of these goals has helped practitioners to find unity and coherence in the body of research on heritage learners that dates back to the 1980s. New researchers have also benefited from this conceptual map by fitting their individual research questions within a much broader research agenda.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010

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