Podcast Episode 38: Teaching Heritage Speakers With Sybil Alexandrov

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Sybil Alexandrov is one of the most well-regarded language instructors at Yale. In this episode we talk about teaching heritage speakers, a group that is vulnerable, diverse, and a “challenging opportunity” in the classroom. Among many other things, Sybil shares her strategies for making group projects work and tells us about the Heritage Meets Heritage project where heritage speakers of different languages learn from each other.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:38 Introducing Sybil Alexandrov. Teaching ‘heritage speakers.’

1:49 What heritage speakers bring: issues of self-worth plus lots of cultural and other knowledge.

5:04 Teaching a wide range of students: challenge? opportunity? or challenging opportunities? Jigsaw groups.

7:31 Teams in the real world vs. in the classroom: John D. Cook’s endeavor blog.

9:37 Active learning and the classroom.

10:04 Empowerment and cultural status in a Yale classroom. Helping students feel at home.

12:01 How is the heritage speaker classroom different? They’re not blank slates. Varieties of Spanish.

15:34 Avoiding making the students feel that everything they do is wrong. “The affective component is tremendous.” Personalizing learning.

19:49 Helping students understand what’s in store for them. Giving students choices.

24:03 Assessment and Yale’s language requirements. Why the heritage speakers are there–including just wanting to express themselves in Spanish.

28:27 A project to understand what heritage speakers have in common. Diversity at Yale “I didn’t know other people felt this way.”

32:57 Heritage speakers interviewing other heritage speakers: Spanish, Greek, Russian, Korean.

36:45 Reducing the students’ feelings of isolation and not belonging. Nomadic and exilic cultures.

40:22 “Whatever they bring to class is great.” Something to address and not to dismiss.

42:50 Attending an annual workshop at the National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA.

45:52 57 million Americans speak another language other than English in the home. Learning from diversity.

47:52 Sybil’s linguistic background. Growing up a balanced bilingual and studying Romance language in college.

51:40 Teaching and making mistakes. Both you and the students learn from your mistakes. Making the teaching your own.

56:17 Signing off.

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