From February 16-17, 2018, I attended and presented at the Third International Conference on Heritage/Community Languages in UCLA. I presented a paper called “More than Tourists: Using Critical Pedagogy to Teach Filipino Heritage Learners.” This paper explored what it means to teach Filipino at UC Berkeley within the framework of critical pedagogy, and how this empowers the students and enriches their language learning experience. In this panel, I presented the general profile of a Filipino heritage learner at UC Berkeley. They are students who are usually 1st to 3rd generation immigrants, and are from diverse economic backgrounds. Given the Philippines’ long, complex colonial past and the country’s socio-economic present realities, learning Filipino/Tagalog while inquiring into the political and historical implications of such means that as language teachers, we need to go beyond the simple communicative approaches to teaching language. In the same panel, I offered complementary activities that we’ve done in class, such as the Poem-Play performances and the annual Filipino journal (with participation across all levels and classes). The themes of these projects range from labor to immigration to environment to Filipino cultural values of “bayanihan” or “hiya.” These projects allow students to practice their linguistic skills while being in collaboration with other students and inquiring into the broader issues most relevant to Filipinos and Filipino-Americans.
The majority of the participants in the conference were teachers of Spanish and Chinese. However, I appreciated that some panels also focused on critical pedagogy, and I was able to draw parallels between teaching Spanish and teaching Filipino within this theoretical framework. What stood out most was the point echoed in these panels that language is not neutral and therefore language teaching is never a “neutral” activity, and that how we curate our classroom activities always has an impact on our students’ consciousness and eventual participation in their communities. One of the most powerful points raised in the panel Critical Stances in Heritage Language Teaching is how Spanish teachers grapple with accent and diction, and how these are markers of a student’s socio-economic origins, and thus must be taught consciously as such.
Other topics covered in the conference included the use of technology as well as the issues now facing heritage language teachers and departments and the next steps to ensure that the gains of the community continue and can be sustained into the future. The pre-conference workshop that I also attended focused on Project-Based Learning strategies. The projects explored in the workshop were those that respond to real world issues, such as medical glossaries and scripts, translation of service documents—projects that can bridge heritage learners to their communities.