What is a heritage language learner?

I regularly read about heritage language learners in North America. Who are they?

Dos this term refer to someone whose parents speak another language at home, or also someone who comes from a home where one of the parents speaks another language? What about someone whose grandparents spoke another language at home, but whose parents speak English at home? What about someone whose ancestry is, for example, Japanese, but whose parents came from Brazil and are Portuguese speaking , is the heritage Japanese or Brazilian? Just wondering.

Grammar lovers and grammar haters

There are two groups among language learners, the grammar lovers and the grammar haters. I would like to run a survey to find out which group is larger, at least among the readers of this blog. I would like your help in defining the two groups. I want to have two accurate definitions of these groups. How should I describe them. Here is a start. Remember, at this point, I do not want to know which group you belong to, I just want to know if these descriptions are accurate, if we can improve on them. The survey will come in a separate post.

Grammar lovers would say:

I love grammar, and I find it necessary to have a solid grasp of grammar in order to learn a language. I want to understand the logic of the language before I start. The many grammar terms are necessary in order to explain the intricacy of the language. Once I understand how the language works, I can learn it much faster. If I encounter a problem, I want an explanation of why this structure or word is used instead of another.

Grammar haters would say:

When I read grammar explanations my eyes glaze over. I cannot remember the explanations nor the various verb or noun endings or other details of grammar. I find most grammar terms, unhelpful and confusing and I ignore them. I prefer to get on with listening and reading, and acquiring words. Once I have some familiarity with the language, then I do not mind reviewing some grammar rules and tables, just to confirm what I have discovered, and possibly to fill in some gaps. When I encounter problems in the language, I just move on. I rarely ask why?

Our foreign languages are our own to use as we please.

Khatzumoto speaks much better Japanese then I do, Deko tells me in a comment here. I saw a video of Khatzumoto speaking Japanese. He is excellent,casual,  natural and it strikes me, as a non-native,that he is very native like. I am very impressed. I am also impressed by his commitment and contribution to language learning. He has obviously influenced and inspired many people.

My Japanese works for me. I can communicate socially and professionally. I can read and understand. I have some audio books here and one day want to do more Japanese literature and improve my vocabulary. I have not lived in Japan since 1982 and am unlikely to achieve the easy spoken Japanese level that Khatzumoto has. His Japanese suits his situation and needs. Mine is sufficient for mine.

I had two employees once, selling into the Japanese market. One spoke plodding Japanese, with a strong accent. The other was good enough to go on TV. The customers preferred the one with the plodding Japanese, not because his Japanese was plodding, but because he was better at his job and more reliable. It could just as easily have been the other way around. Who and what you are will come out, whether you speak flawlessly with no accent or not. How fluent you are is a separate issue from who you are. Khatzumoto the man is more than just the way he speaks Japanese.

Speaking languages is not like figure skating or a dog show. We do not need to be judged. We learn languages for ourselves, for our own purposes, and they belong to us. We can be satisfied with them, or we can seek to improve. It is up to us.

Language learning gets easier when we lighten up on the grammar terms

In a comment to my recent post about how the first foreign language is the hardest to learn, Randy had this to say.

“Wow, for once I actually agree with you.

Indeed, in my experience with languages, Spanish is among the absolute easiest to learn. However, as it was my first, it was also one of the most difficult, and it took the longest.

I think the introduction of new concepts is the reason why the first language is so hard — learning to think of things like “subjunctive”, and “imperfective”, and “noun gender”, and a whole array of grammatical concepts which we aren’t even aware of in English.

Now, though, I am ready to say that the number of new concepts I’ve had to learn for Russian, even as a seasoned language learner, are more than what was new to me when I first learned Spanish. By that measure, I would say that Russian “is harder”, even as much as I despise that phrase.”

 

My experience has been the opposite. In all the years of learning French at school I could never really figure out what the subjunctive and the conditional were all about, even though I got good marks. Once I just dove into reading about French history and culture, reading the French language press in Montreal,  finding people to talk to in French, I was on my way. This liberated me from the grammar focused approach to language learning that I had in school. My French improved dramatically. I studied Political Science in France and had no trouble keeping up and never worried about a grammar term.

I do not think I know one grammatical term for Chinese or Japanese. I just know that they say “this” “this way” and “that” “that way”.

 

I admit that knowing a number of Romance languages, I can just look at verb tables for Italian, or Portuguese and get the picture, although only exposure will enable me to get the endings right, but this is based on my familiarity with this family of languages.

In Russian I know the cases by whether we are doing something “to” something, or”by” something or “with” something, rather than by the names of the cases. The only one I know for sure is the genitive and I know that a lot of prepositions take the genitive.That is about it except for the curious, yet straight forward, and easy rule to learn; one of something takes the nominative, 2, 3 or 4 of something takes the genitive singular and 5 or more takes the genitive plural.I am not kidding!

Now if I could just remember the endings I would be home free, but I am improving. Certain forms of the nouns and verbs just start to seem natural because I have heard them and seen them so often in context. But by putting most of my effort into listening, reading and vocabulary acquisition, every time I leaf through my short grammar book, I identify something that I am already aware of. But I keep the grammar terms to a minimum. 

I suspect that Randy and I again disagree.