Updated: Jul 21
By Amy Nguyen
Amy Nguyen wrote this research paper as part of a writing course she took with Eduling International. Students in the class drew their language portraits, wrote their heritage language learning history, and completed journals on the same topic. They then analyzed these self-generated data to arrive at deeper understanding of their experience.
Heritage language (HL) is a complex matter. Many heritage language speakers can easily forget it over time. In the US context, a heritage language is a language other than English that comes from a family or community of origin. As students go through school, their heritage language declines with age (Cho, Shin, and Krashen, n.d.). Having motivation plays an important role in HL or second language (L2) learning. Motivation is divided into four types: integrative motivation, instrumental motivation, intrinsic motivation, and extrinsic motivation (Ozgur & Griffiths, 2013). Apart from the importance of motivation, learning a heritage language is similar to learning a second language in many ways.
As I learned about L2 learning and heritage language, I created portraits and journals about my learning learning experience. I found out that I was successful in learning both languages. My language portrait shows that I am fluent in both Vietnamese and English. The American flag shows that I was born and raised in America, while the Vietnamese flag shows that I am of Vietnamese ethnicity. The blue and red paint strokes behind the flags show that I speak both Vietnamese and English fluently. The icon that shows people holding hands represents a connection between my friends and family. Since I speak to them in both of those languages, I feel connected because I know they understand me. The thought bubble above my portrait shows my curiosity for learning new things such as culture and religion.
When I was young, my parents made me go to a Vietnamese school to learn the language. I believe that I have instrumental motivation when I'm faced with learning my heritage language. L2 learners with an instrumental motivation learn new languages for reasons such as getting a better job, higher pay, communicating with their family, or even making friends who share the same language (Gardner & MacIntyre, 2008). My motivation has helped me improve in both Vietnamese and English because I know it will help me in the future.
I studied both English and Vietnamese when I went to middle school for the sake of good grades, good education, and more knowledge of both languages. I was making significant improvements until the pandemic came and I could not interact with my classmates and teachers. I slowly lost motivation in learning Vietnamese and English. Motivation can play a big part in L2 learning. Without motivation, L2 learners will not be as engaged and will not reach higher achievements than those who have great motivation in learning (Ushioda, 2008). I realized that if I lost the motivation in studying English and Vietnamese, I lost many opportunities I could get in the future, such as better job applications and communication. I regained my motivation and became more motivated than ever just to improve and become one of the best in the grade. During 8th grade, I had all As in my class and I made significant improvements in all subjects. My motivation for English and Vietnamese grew, and I made more progress over time.
I can describe my L2 learning experience as tough, but as I grew, I achieved my goal in both Vietnamese and English. If I wasn't as motivated, I wouldn't have made much of an improvement in both languages. I am glad I can now use both languages fluently to communicate with the people around me and form closer connections with them.
Cho, B., Shin, F., & Krashen, F. (2004). What Do We Know about Heritage Languages? What Do We Need to Learn About Them?
Gardner, R. C., & MacIntyre P. D. (2008). An Instrumental Motivation In Language Study. Cambridge University Press.
Ozgur, B & Griffiths, C. (2013). Second language motivation. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 70, 1109-1114.
Ushioda, E. (2008). Motivation and Good Language Learners. Lessons from Good Language Learners. Cambridge University Press.