17 FALL SPEAKER SERIES A functional theory of language for the teaching of Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States - María Cecilia Colombi

Event Date: 
09/14/2017 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
New Cabell 236 (Tentative)

A functional theory of language for the teaching of Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States

María Cecilia Colombi




Spanish heritage language speakers constitute a unique cultural and linguistic resource in the United States and, more particularly in California, where the Latino population became the majority minority in March 2014 (Pew Hispanic Center, 2014).  Spanish heritage speakers provide an example of a heterogeneous group of learners, both linguistically and culturally. Several studies on bilingualism (García, 2009; Grosjean, 2010; Hornberger, 2008) underline the importance of schooling to develop advanced bi-literacy in the heritage language. Heritage speakers’ use of Spanish usually revolves around the home or community domains. As a result of having developed their linguistic registers in informal contexts they have not used Spanish in situations where this particular type of language is utilized to construct knowledge or negotiate membership in an academic or professional community. In light of this fact, they are subsequently less prepared to meet the linguistic and literacy demands of these settings. In order to become legitimate participants then, they not only need to expand their control over a range of oral and written academic registers but, just as importantly, need to negotiate, construct, and index new identities as members of the professional community (Achugar and Colombi 2008; Colombi 2015; Hasan 2002, 2005).


This presentation examines the potential of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) in a curriculum for Spanish second language learners/heritage speakers, with particular emphasis on the meaning-making of language in the construal of discourse (Halliday 1978, 1985, 2004, Halliday and Matthiessen, 2000, 2014). Following SFL pedagogy, descriptive language teaching refers to ways of treating language in functional terms; productive language teaching involves students in using the resource of their language in powerful ways in light of the demands of particular social contexts. This study describes pedagogical practices in a university curriculum for Spanish heritage speakers that stress the relationship between the bilingual continuum and its connection with the social and situational context. They argue for explicit instruction of dialect and register theory as a way of promoting students’ language awareness and academic literacy. Furthermore, SFL with its explicit focus on language allows for the development of advanced literacy in a heritage language  and highlights the dialectical relationship between language and culture. 



María Cecilia Colombi (Ph.D. University of California, Santa Barbara) is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California, Davis.

She is a Fulbright Specialist for Applied Linguistics/ TESOL-Second Language Education


Her research areas include: systemic functional linguistics, educational linguistics, sociolinguistics of Spanish in the United States and second/heritage language development. She focuses on the literacy practices of heritage speakers of Spanish to develop advanced biliteracy in Spanish and English in the United States. She is currently working on a pedagogical introduction to systemic functional grammar of Spanish.


Recent Publications

  • (2015) “Academic and cultural literacy for heritage speakers of Spanish: A case of Latin@ students in California. Linguistics and Education, Vol 32 (5-15
  • (2013) Alfabetización avanzada en español en los Estados Unidos en el siglo XXI, co-authored with Dalia Magaña. In Domnita Dumitrescu, (ed), El Español en los Estados Unidos: E Pluribus Unum? Enfoques multidisciplinarios. Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española.
  • (2013) La enseñanza del español para hispanohablantes: Un programa universitario, co-authored with Robert J. Blake. In Domnita Dumitrescu,
(ed), El Español en los Estados Unidos: E Pluribus Unum? Enfoques multidisciplinarios. Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española.
  • (2012) Advanced Biliteracy Development in Spanish as a Heritage Language, co-authored with Joseph Harrington. In Sara Beaudrie and Marta Faircloug, (eds.), Spanish as a Heritage Language in the US.  Georgetown University Press, Washington, D.C.
  • (2012) Multilingual California: Spanish in the Market. In Wendy L. Bowcher, (ed), Multimodal Texts from Around the World: Cultural and Linguistic Insights.  Palgrave, England.
  • (2009) A Systemic Functional Approach to teaching Spanish for Heritage Speakers in the United States, Linguistics and Education, Vol 20, N.1 
  • (2009) ¿Quién es Huntington: un predicador paranóico o un visionario?: Recepción de la prensa del libro,”Who are we? The Challenges to America’s National Identity. In Manel Lacorte and Jennifer Leeman, (eds), El Español en Estados Unidos y otros contextos de contacto. Sociolingüística, ideología y pedagogía /Spanish in the United States and other contact environments. Sociolinguistics, ideology and pedagogy. Iberoamericana Editorial Vervuert.
  • (2008) Systemic Functional Linguistic explorations into the longitudinal study of advanced capacities: The case of Spanish Heritage Language Learners, co-authored with Mariana Achugar.  In Lourdes Ortega and Heidi Byrnes, (eds), The Longitudinal Study of Advanced Second Language Capacities. LEA (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates), Mahwah, New Jersey.



  • (2014) CLAE:El lenguaje académico en México y los Estados Unidos: un análsis sistémico funcional Co-coordinated with Natalia IgnatievaUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de México: Mexico, D.F.
  • (2007) Palabra abierta. Co-authored with Jill Pellettieri and Mabel Rodríguez. 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
  • (2002) Developing Advanced Literacy in First and Second Language. Co-edited with Mary J. Schleppegrell. LEA (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates), Mahwah, New Jersey.
  • (2003) Mi lengua: Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States, Research and Practice. Co-edited with Ana Roca. Georgetown University Press, Washington, D.C..
  • (1997) La enseñanza del español a hispanohablantes: praxis y teoría. Co-edited with Francisco X. Alarcón. D.C. Heath, Lexington, Massachusetts.
  • (1994) Telesituaciones. (Instructor and Student’s editions), (Accompanies Video No. 2 under Videos.), D.C. Heath, Lexington, Massachusetts.
  • (1990) Los refranes en el Quijote: texto y contexto. Scripta Humanistica, Potomac, Maryland.