In the foreign language classroom – specifically the Spanish classroom – how do heritage speakers learn and what can instructors do to help them study language? Sara Fernández Cuenca is figuring that out in her research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Sara’s dissertation examines how explicit instruction can help heritage learners process the language and by extension how instruction can address anxieties heritage learners have in language-learning. She uses some really cool interdisciplinary tools (eye-tracking!) to gauge learners’ various skills like production and interpretation. She also discusses the specific needs of heritage speakers and how instructors can work with these students’ unique contributions to their classroom environments.
Another topic close to Sara’s heart is advocacy for mental health in graduate school. Sara shares her experiences of being an international first-generation college student and dealing with the grad school environment that glorifies “suffering in silence”. She reminds us of how important it is to reach out for help and the kinds of resources students need from their colleges and universities. Sara and the GradLings goes beyond research and touches upon some very important themes relevant to all of us who work in academia. Please take a listen to this very enlightening episode of the GradLings Podcast.