Differentiating Heritage and Foreign Language Learners of Spanish: Needs, Perceptions, and Expectations

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

World Languages

Publication Date



Research on heritage language (HL) development and education has characterized the unique linguistic, sociocultural, and affective profiles of heritage-language (HL) students, yet foreign-language (FL) education has only begun to understand HL students in relation to non-heritage students (Carreira & Kagan, 2011; Felix, 2008). To deepen our understanding of the unique characteristics of HL and FL populations, this investigation examines: (1) how HL learners’ language learning goals, perceptions of language proficiency and learning needs, and habits of language use distinguish them from those of their English-speaking FL counterparts, and (2) how FL and HL students’ perceptions of (and attitudes toward) Spanish implicitly or explicitly reflect attitudes expressed in the classroom and elsewhere. This mixed-methods study explores and compares the perceptions and experiences of 109 university-level HL students and 138 FL students as reported in survey responses and ethnographic interviews. Socio-affective variables distinguishing HL and FL groups include attitudes toward Spanish, judgments of linguistic norms, learners’ efforts to achieve legitimacy as users of Spanish, and obstacles to interaction, including anxiety and social inhibition. Quantitative and qualitative analyses depict participants’ self-images as fragile users of Spanish, with many characterizations paralleling instructor and peer perceptions.


This article was originally published in Applied Language Learning. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.


Applied Language Learning