National Heritage and Community Languages Conference

On March 7-8, 2014, I attended and presented at the National Heritage and Community Languages Conference at UCLA, hosted by the NHLRC (National Heritage Language Resource Center) there. I was able to do so in part through a grant from the BLC, combined with my usual travel support from the UC Berkeley/UCLA combined Center for Southeast Asian Studies. I make trips down to UCLA to visit and teach my distance-learning students there (5 this year) every semester; luckily, my spring semester trip coincided with the conference.

My presentation was titled The Carrot and the Stick, Crowd Control, and Trick Tests: 14 Years of Strategic Curriculum Design and Teaching in the Intermediate Heritage Khmer Language Classroom.  My paper was primarily concerned with the language learning motivations of my Khmer heritage language students (which describes over 90% of my students, and all of my distance learning students), and how I’ve developed specific strategies over the course of 14 years of teaching such students. Unfortunately, my presentation was attended by fewer than 10 people! In general, I found very little at the conference dealing with Southeast Asian languages. Overwhelmingly, the language of focus was Spanish (which probably shouldn’t be too surprising!), although papers (and whole panels) did also exist on languages including Russian, Korean, and Chinese.

By far the most interesting panel I attended was the sole panel on Vietnamese language teaching, at which I already knew all of the presenters except one. (As it is for Khmer language classes, in almost all university Vietnamese language classes on the west coast, heritage learners predominate). This panel, dealing with the various challenges in teaching Vietnamese tones, spelling, and script, was even more poorly attended than my panel! Besides the presenters, chair, and myself, exactly two others attended, both involved in the teaching of other Southeast Asian languages (Indonesian and Filipino). Nevertheless, the material presented was fascinating, and the camaraderie and ease of informal discussion was truly a joy, and something often missing from larger, more formal panels. This panel proved fruitful in another way as well, as it led to the formation of new Southeast Asian language teaching-related panels to be proposed for the upcoming Western Association of Asian Studies Conference, to be held in Phoenix in October, one of which I’ll chair and present on.