The Sabine Ulibarrí
Spanish as a Heritage Language - SHL



All UNM students who choose Spanish to fulfill their language requirement are required to take a Spanish Placement Evaluation for placement at the appropriate level. This evaluation is administered in the Language Learning Center located in 124 Ortega Hall. Students will need to meet this requirement by last day of the second week of classes.

Placement Exam schedule

Damián Vergara Wilson - Program Coordinator
Ortega Hall 417 (505) 505-277-4329 damianvw@unm.edu

Spanish as a Heritage Language (SHL) Learners

The field of teaching Spanish as a heritage language is growing in the United States. Many Spanish departments, especially in the Southwest, currently have programs to accommodate SHL students. Accordingly, there are many different descriptions used to designate SHL students. In the Sabine Ulibarrí Spanish as a Heritage Language (SUSHL) Program, we adopt a very inclusive definition in order to recognize the linguistic diversity found among our students.

SHL learners are ones who have a cultural connection to the Spanish language. The connection to the language may come through community, family, or cultural heritage. Not all SHL learners are proficient in their heritage language. It is common to find students placed in the beginning levels that understand very little, or no, spoken Spanish. However, their cultural connection serves as a motivating factor in the classroom. Likewise, it is common for students placed in the upper levels to be fully bilingual. Despite this contrast, the majority of students are somewhere in the middle; they have been exposed to Spanish while growing up and are in the process of polishing skills that they already possess.

It is important to state that one of our primary goals is to help our students develop an appreciation of their heritage language. The Spanish that they bring with them is promoted as a valuable resource. The Spanish of their communities is honored as a venerable variety of the language. We go so far as to propose that the Spanish that has been preserved in New Mexico should be considered a national treasure for its uniqueness and its perseverance.

If you have questions or doubts about whether you are a heritage learner of Spanish, please contact the program Coordinator, Damián Vergara Wilson, Ph.D.: damianvw@unm.edu.

All students enrolling in this program for the first time must take the Placement Exam for the SHL program. This evaluation is administered in the Language Learning Center located in 124 Ortega Hall. Students must meet this requirement by last day of the second week of classes.

Why is there a need for a separate language track for heritage learners?

First and foremost, in traditional programs, Spanish is taught as a foreign language. This orientation alienates heritage students for whom it is not a foreign language, but a heritage language. In the Sabine Ulibarrí Spanish as a Heritage Language Program, we recognize that the cultural connection to the language serves as a powerful motivating factor. Because of this, we design classes from the point of view that language learning must take place in a context in which the students' culture is honored and explored. We view the students as cultural resources who must look to their own communities for inspiration and for learning opportunities. For many students, the simple act of being in a class in which the other students share many of the same linguistic histories and cultural practices is a transformational experience.

What are the differences and similarities between the Spanish as a Heritage Language (SHL) Program
and the Spanish as a Second Language (SLL) Program?

Both programs are designed to prepare students of Spanish for upper division courses by providing learners with the opportunity to develop speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills. Each program has four levels that are similar to one another as far as materials and concepts covered; no program moves faster, or is more advanced than the other. Neither program is inherently superior to the other. They are simply cater to the educational needs of different types of learners.

The main difference is found in the approach. In SHL classes, students come together to learn about a language to which they have a cultural connection. Often, they are able to share experiences, cultural background, and linguistic knowledge with one another. In SSL classes, students come together to learn about a language to which they might not have a cultural connection. These students share in the experience of learning about cultures different from their own and in learning its language.