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2.3: Can-Do statements for Critical Metalinguistic Awareness

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    Claudia Holguín Mendoza, University of California Riverside (

    Robert L Davis, University of Oregon (

    Con especial agradecimiento al Spanish Heritage Language Working Team en la Universidad de Oregón, muy en particular a Heather Quarles, y a Munia Cabal Jiménez de la Western Illinois University.

    “To acquire literacy is more than to psychologically and mechanically dominate reading and writing techniques. It is to dominate these techniques in terms of consciousness…. Acquiring literacy does not involve memorizing sentences, words, or syllables—lifeless objects unconnected to an existential universe—but rather an attitude of creation and re-creation, a self transformation producing a stance of intervention in one’s context…. This teaching cannot be done from top down, but only from the inside out…”. (p. 48)

    Freire, Paulo (1973) Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Continuum.

    Intro: What is CSLL?

    “Within the field of Spanish Heritage language education, some experts have argued that language awareness can help learners avoid stigmatized forms in formal contexts (Gutiérrez, 1997)[1].

    In contrast, however, critical approaches to language awareness require that careful attention be paid to the social and political aspects of language and language variation (Leeman 2005, 2012)[2,3]. Critical metalinguistic awareness demands particular attention be paid to power and social dynamics that affect speakers of Spanish in the U.S. (Zentella, 2002)[4]. According to Leeman (2005)[2], Critical Language Awareness requires educators and students to “explore [language’s] sociopolitical implications in the production of knowledge, culture, and identities” (35). Leeman also underscores the importance of an intentional commitment to social justice...

    We achieve critical metalinguistic awareness and sociopragmatic competence when we become conscious of the choices we make in our uses of linguistic forms in particular social contexts and when we understand the ideological underpinnings of our own language use as well as that of our interlocutors. The ability to identify and to analyze language ideologies anchored in exclusionary or elitist discourses and social practices is at the center of the Spanish as a HL curriculum we have developed.”

    (Holguín Mendoza, 2018: 2-12[5])

    Underlying principles

    Critical Sociocultural Linguistic Literacy (CSLL)[6][7] evolved from a more general Critical Pedagogical approach of Critical Language Awareness (CLA) by incorporating a strong component in sociopragmatic and stylistic language variation as well as a solid component of critical multiliteracies fostered by numerous connections and activities across campus and in the community. This pedagogical approach builds on the notions of CLA (Fairclough, 1995)[8], Classroom Based Dialect Awareness (Martínez, 2003)[9], sociolinguistics for translingual capabilities (see Leeman & Serafini, 2016; Martínez, 2016)[10], and the current developments on a raciolinguistics approach (e.g. Rosa, 2019)[11]. CSLL demands that we examine identity construction as sociocultural phenomena that emerge through speakers’ interrelations which are mediated in turn through local discourse contexts (Bucholtz & Hall, 2008)[12].

    The assessment of CSLL assumes the underlying principles below:

    Language is an important means of expressing cultural practices. Members of a speech community share patterns of social interactions and behaviors, the knowledge of “what to do when, and where” [12]. These practices are often revealed through language.

    Cultural products provide evidence of linguistic ideologies. Objects, artifacts, media, and other tangible or intangible creations of a group [12] embed beliefs, attitudes, and social dynamics.

    All communities are multi-faceted. Even so-called “monolingual communities” are actually quite diverse; members perform identities through an intersection of many elements (race, gender, sexuality, ethnic affiliation, cultural capital, etc.). Communities in which more than one language is used (multi-lingual), that contain populations with different cultural or ethnic backgrounds (multi-ethnic), that include persons across the gender spectrum, or with other identifiable characteristics that make them heterogeneous, have the potential for especially rich variation in language choice and usage.

    Language conveys denotative, connotative, and social meaning. The context of an utterance determines its meaning and positions the speaker and interlocutors in the social landscape. Social meaning can be conveyed through the use of specific linguistic features (vowel quality, vocabulary choice, regional accent, etc.), or choice of language (L1, L2, code-switching, etc.).

    Stylistic variation is present in the linguistic practices of all individuals. Fluid, dynamic linguistic production communicates different social meanings according to the social context of the utterance. A style is usually performed through a conglomerate of several linguistic features (and aesthetic elements as well).

    How can we assess CSLL?

    The main Can-Dos (in bold in the table below)[13] describe four areas of global ability associated with CMA. The individual Can-Dos below each global statement represent discrete abilities that can be demonstrated by carrying out the activities in the ELS initiative.



    Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 4.31.00 PM.png

    I do not yet have awareness / ability in this area.

    Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 4.31.44 PM.png

    I have only minimal awareness / ability in this area.

    Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 4.32.13 PM.png

    I can demonstrate this awareness / ability with support, but I am not yet consistent across contexts.

    Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 4.32.32 PM.png

    I can demonstrate this awareness / ability consistently, in different contexts.


    I can identify implicit language ideologies in cultural products and practices.


    I can identify attitudes towards language and their underlying ideologies, as represented in popular culture. [ELS 02]


    I can describe possible impacts of language codification as a cultural practice on speakers of a language. [ELS01]


    I can identify language uses signaling intersections of socially constructed meanings of race, class, gender, sexuality, indigeneity, and ability, in the context of U.S. culture(s). [ELS05] [ELS08]



    I can articulate the historical events and contexts that have created the multi-faceted nature of linguistic communities.


    I can explain how contact with other languages can contribute to language variation. [ELS05]


    I can describe the connections between cultural products and their historical context. [ELS08]


    I can outline the process of codification of standard languages. [ELS01] [ELS07]


    I can cite examples of the arbitrary nature of writing systems. [ELS01] [ELS07]


    I can describe historical events that have led to the racialization[14] of languages, particularly in the context of the U.S. [ELS05]


    I can describe complex social dynamics and power structures in linguistic communities.


    I can explain the difference between prescriptive and descriptive approaches to analyzing language. [ELS05]


    I can explain the social meaning of specific linguistic behaviors. [ELS05]


    I can describe how language is used to create and maintain structures of power in society. [ELS04]


    I can identify the role that language plays in how we articulate questions of equity and inclusion in society. [ELS05] [ELS08]



    I can recognize the social meanings expressed through different styles.


    I can describe and give examples of the ways in which language varies in different styles. [ELS05]


    I can explain the role of accent and pronunciation in the second-language learning process. [ELS02]


    I can identify the social meaning of language forms (e.g. group solidarity) in cultural products (like the corrido). [ELS08]


    I can modify my speech style to convey varying social meanings. [ELS03]


    I can identify and distinguish the elements that make up different styles (body language, aesthetic details like clothing/make-up, intonation, lexical choices, etc.). [ELS03]



    [1] Gutiérrez, J. (1997). Teaching Spanish as a heritage language: a case for language awareness. ADFL Bulletin 29(1), 33-36.

    [2] Leeman, J. (2005). Engaging Critical Pedagogy: Foreign Language Annals, (38)1, 35-45.

    [3] Leeman, J. (2012). Investigating language ideologies in Spanish as a heritage language. In Fairclough, M. & Beaudrice, S., Spanish as a heritage language in the United States: The state of the field. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 43-59.

    [4] Zentella, A. (2002). Latin@ languages and identities. In Suárez-Orozco, M., Páez, Mariela, & David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. Latinos: Remaking America. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 321-338.

    [5] Holguín Mendoza, C. (2018). Critical Language Awareness (CLA) for Spanish Heritage Language Programs: Implementing a Complete Curriculum. International Multilingual Research Journal 12(2), 65-79. DOI: 10.1080/19313152.2017.1401445.

    [6] Holguín Mendoza, Claudia, & Taylor, Analisa. In press. Spanish Heritage Language Learners Abroad: Inclusive Pedagogies for Critical Sociocultural Linguistic Literacy. Submitted to the edited volume Heritage Speakers of Spanish in Study Abroad, edited by Tracy Quan, Rebecca Pozzi, and Chesea.

    [7] Holguín Mendoza, Claudia, Davis, Robert L., & Weise, Julie. 2018. La pedagogía crítica y las ciencias sociales: Estrategias para empoderar a los estudiantes de español como lengua de herencia y de L2. Hispania, 101(3), 368-380.

    [8] Fairclough, Norman. 1995. Critical discourse analysis: The critical study of language. London, UK/New York, NY: Longman.

    [9] Martínez, Glen 2003. Classroom based dialect awareness in heritage language instruction: A critical applied linguistic approach. Heritage Language Journal, 1(1): 1–14.

    [10] Leeman, Jennifer, & Serafini, Ellen J. 2016. Sociolinguistics and heritage language education: A model for promoting critical translingual competence. In Spanish as a heritage language in the United States: the state of the field, edited by Fairclough, Marta and Sara Beaudrie, 56-79. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

    [11] Rosa, Jonathan. 2019. Looking like a Language, Sounding like a Race: Raciolinguistics Ideologies and the Learning of Latinidad. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    [12] Bucholtz, M. & Hall, K. (2008). All of the Above: New Coalitions in Sociocultural Linguistics. Journal of Sociolinguistics. 12, 401-431.

    [13] National Standards for Foreign Language Education Project. (1999). Standards for foreign language learning in the 21st century. Lawrence, KS: Allen Press.

    [14] Samy, A., Rickford, J., Ball, A. (2016). Raciolinguistics: How Language Shapes our Ideas about Race. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.

    2.3: Can-Do statements for Critical Metalinguistic Awareness is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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