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Heritage Speakers: Helping Young Latinos Learn Spanish

Your child is learning English and forgetting Spanish or does not speak Spanish at all. She does not want to speak Spanish and answers you in English. What should you do to convince her to learn her home language?

Latino parents in the United States experience these predicaments every day. According to Seida Perez, a Cuban-American who grew up in the U.S. from Wesley Chapel, Florida, Spanish was very difficult for her while growing up because English was the primary language in her school.

Seida Perez

“As a child, I wanted to concentrate in English,” Perez says, “because it was harder for me coming here with no English at all. I learned Spanish because my parents were persistent in teaching me Spanish. My Spanish is not as formal; I have the ability to speak and read it, but I don’t know how to write it. I miss accents and appropriate spelling.”

“Heritage speaker” is the term used in education today to refer to a Latino child born or having moved to the an early age. He may have deficiencies in the Spanish language; for example, he may be lacking vocabulary when he speaks, not able to write it, or he may not speak Spanish at all.

One of the problems Latino students have faced across U.S.high schools and colleges is having been placed in Spanish as a foreign language classes. These classes are for non-native speakers of Spanish who may have absolutely no knowledge of the language. The Latino student may use the class as an easy class to improve her grade, but she is not learning and may be wasting her time.

In addition, Spanish teachers across the U.S tend to be primarily non-native speakers of Spanish making it more difficult for a Latino student to connect with them. Author H. D. Brown suggests that empathy contributes to the success of language learners. If a student cannot connect with his teachers, the learning process becomes intolerable, and he may end up dropping his classes.

Today, you can enroll your child in heritage language classes in colleges across the U.S. These classes better suit the needs of a Latino student who wants to re-learn Spanish, improve his language skills, or learn how to write in Spanish.

According to Perez, “it is very important to know another language because it opens opportunities in the workplace, opens the door to another culture, and it makes it easier to learn additional romance languages. Learning the language is also a way of exposing your child to your culture.”

Tips for Parents

These are ways to encourage your child to learn Spanish:

  • "Make time to spend with your child to practice the languageAll you need is to practice two or three times per week, and it also preserves your bond with your child
  • Maintain a positive outlook on your child’s learning outcome. Making fun of his mistakes slows down the process.
  • Make learning the language fun. If your child enjoys himself while he is learning, he will want to know more.
  • Get relatives involved in the learning process. Relatives, especially the ones he admires, will influence his learning.
  • Join Spanish language Meetup groups in your area and bring your child to the meetings. By meeting other people who want to learn and practice the language, your child may develop enthusiasm for the language. If there aren’t groups in your area, create your own.
  • Have your college-age child take heritage language classes in college

    Suggested Resources

de Graffenried, Starr Weems (Aug. 31, 2007).

Franchino, Vicky (January 2004). Spanish Americans (Our cultural heritage. Child’s World. (9 - 12 grade reading level)

Marsh, Carole (August 1, 2006). Hispanic Heritage Coloring Book (Bilingual – English and Spanish) (English and Spanish Edition) Gallopade International.

Radomile J. (November 2003). Heritage Hispanic-American Style, Vincero Enterprises.

>Roca, Ana. (April 17, 2003). Mi lengua: Spanish as a heritage language in the research and practice">Washington;DC Georgetown University P.

The Spanish Meetup site:


José A. Carmona has been teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) and Spanish and managing ESL and Modern Language departments for over 24 years. He has two Master’s degrees from Columbia University/Teachers College in teaching Spanish and bilingual education and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Latin American Literature and Education from Drew University. Currently, José is the president of Global Educational Institute, Inc., an ESL and language institute where 10 languages are offered.  For more information, visit

Comments (1)Add Comment
learning spanish sydney
written by rushell fox, December 16, 2011
Learning and being able to communicate Spanish to other people takes time. If you are having limited time to learn Spanish, then you can also take lesson online. There are many courses to learn Spanish on internet at home.

learning spanish sydney

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