The Heritage Speaker: Developing Writing Skills

Joan Chevalier, Brandeis University

Several American universities have experienced a marked increase in the number of heritage speakers enrolling in Russian language courses. This new generation of Russian language learners have specific needs that are entirely different from those of L2 learners. Recent studies by Kagan and Bermel (MS) and by Polonsky (MS) have identified the linguistic features characterizing the progressive stages of language attrition in heritage speakers. Features of heritage speakers’ written language vary according to the level of L1 attrition, from confusion of stylistic norms and inadequate knowledge of orthographic rules, to lack of familiarity with the grammar system, regular interference of English, and a limited lexicon. This paper presents an overview of materials and methods used successfully in Russian language courses at Brandeis University designed specifically for heritage speakers with a minimal level of formal education in Russian. The courses focused primarily on the development of reading and writing skills. The course material was selected to address specific problems with orthography, punctuation, stylistics, and grammar that have been documented by my own analyses of heritage speakers’ writing and by Kagan and Bermel (MS). The paper describes a systematic approach integrating material used to develop writing skills in L1 students with reading and writing assignments designed to develop proficiency with a wide array of stylistic genres.

Cited Literature

Kagan, Olga and Neil Bermel. “The Maintenance of Written Russian in Heritage Speakers.” Forthcoming in The Learning and Teaching of Slavic Languages and Cultures: Toward the 21st Century. Ed. Olga Kagan and Benjamin Rifkin. Bloomington, IN: Slavica, 2000.

Polonsky, Maria. “Russian in the US: An Endangered Language.” Forthcoming in Russian in Contact with Other Languages. Ed. E. Golovko. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.