Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Degree Name

Curriculum and Instruction

Department or School/College

School of Education

Committee Chair

Darrell Stolle

Commitee Members

Stephanie Wasta, David Erickson, Cathy Jenni, Tully Thibeau


heritage learner


University of Montana


This is a qualitative interpretive study that explores the past and present experiences of heritage learners (HLs) of Mexican descent who were studying or had recently studied advanced Spanish in institutions of higher education. All of the participants had been exposed to Spanish in the home and began their studies in elementary or middle school in the United States. The population of HLs continues to grow and a need to understand this population exists. The statistics have shown that not all HLs of Mexican descent complete their studies in institutions of higher education and the reasons for this are not understood well.

The Seidman (1998) three-tier in-depth interview approach was used to gather information from the participants. The interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed by the researcher, and reviewed multiple times. Categories, topics and themes emerged from the data and relevant quotes were segregated into separate documents. The data was organized further as patterns were studied. Several categories and themes were chosen and the data was gradually reduced. The findings include a thematic presentation of the participants' quotes and interpretive summaries for each section. In addition, the participants' profiles, which are based on demographic and self-identification surveys, are presented in the findings.

The findings give some insight into what the experience has been like for these students as Spanish speakers educated in the United States. Categories, topics, and themes that addressed the research question and which were relevant to the study were chosen. Three categories emerged and include education, language, and identity. Within these categories several topics and themes emerged. These include advising, language perceptions, connections with other Spanish speakers and culture, defining identity, insecurity, desire, uncertainty, and unawareness.

The implications include recommendations for addressing retention and recruitment. Insight into topics such as advising, placement, and reasons why HLs study the heritage language were gained. A strong desire to learn the heritage language in order to connect to and maintain the culture stood out in the findings. The participants also provided insight into their experience and identity issues. In addition, a need to provide resources for professors, advisors, and HLs was found. In sum, the study has inspired the researcher to work to improve the HL educational environment.



© Copyright 2009 Alicia Gignoux