Stages of Awareness in Heritage Language Learning: Pedagogical Strategies and Solutions

Anna Geisherik, State University of New York- Stony Brook

The paper will begin by mentioning typical written syntactic errors of Russian heritage learners. These errors can be roughly categorized into several types according to their source, i.e. the reason why they might emerge in heritage speaker interlanguage. The sources include influence of colloquial speech on the written language, transfer of spoken word order and intonation on written speech, transfer from English and some others, all of which will be discussed in the paper. The paper then offers some strategies for dealing with these errors at their source and solutions how to implement these strategies in teaching.

One of the biggest questions in Second/Foreign Language Acquisition is how much should we as instructors rely on learners’ internal resources (intuition) as opposed to how much direct instruction should be employed. While there are many theories suggesting that genuine learning happens subconsciously (Krashen 1981, 1985) current research leans strongly toward the idea that awareness is “the necessary and sufficient condition for converting input into intake” (Schmidt 1990: 129). Schmidt (1990) argues that it is important to understand the role of the conscious and the unconscious in the process of second language learning. He distinguishes between three crucial levels of awareness in processing information: perception, noticing and understanding. When it comes to language learning, both implicit/incidental learning and awareness/intention seem to be necessary components of internalizing the input. Hence, in the instructional process it is important to take into account both sides of this complex issue. I suggest three stages of engagement of heritage learners which cover both conscious and unconscious ways of processing the material: exposure, identification and direct instruction.

In the paper I will discuss these stages in detail. I will illustrate each stage with examples of the types of written heritage learner errors that are improved and/or eliminated at that learning stage. Additionally, I will provide practical strategies (i.e. types of exercises and activities) that will help instructors to implement these stages in practice.


Krashen, Stephen D. 1981. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Krashen, Stephen D. 1985. The Input Hypothesis: Issues and Implications. New York: Longman Press.

Schmidt, Richard. 1990. The Role of Consciousness in Second Language Learning. Applied Linguistics, 11: 129-158.

Schmidt, R. 1993. Awareness and Second Language Acquisition. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 13: 206-226.