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  • Teaching Portuguese to Spanish SpeakersA Case for Trilingualism
  • Ana M. Carvalho, Juliana Luna Freire, and Antonio J. B. da Silva

Portuguese, Spanish speakers, acquisition, transfer, teaching, reading

Portuguese is the sixth-most-spoken native language in the world, with approximately 240,000,000 speakers. It serves as one of the communication languages used by twelve international organizations (United Nations, Organization of American States, and Latin-American Free Trade Association, for example), is a mandatory language in member countries of Mercosul, and is one of the official languages of the South African Development Community (Stock 3–4). Within the United States, there is a growing demand for K–12 language programs to engage the community of Portuguese heritage speakers. According to the 2000 U.S. census, 85,000 school-age children speak Portuguese at home. As a result, more than 100 public schools currently offer Portuguese courses (Vicente and Pimenta). In postsecondary education, the 2006 Modern Language Association (MLA) report indicated that the offering of Portuguese increased 22.4% between 2002 and 2006 (Furman, Goldberg, and Lusin 20). Currently offered in 226 postsecondary institutions, it now ranks thirteenth on the list of the most-taught languages. Moreover, the National Security Education Program (NSEP) deems Portuguese a preferred language, and it is currently taught at U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force military academies.

Given the increasing prominence of Portuguese in the United States, we argue that institutions should promote the learning of Portuguese among Spanish-speaking students on their campuses. In addition, we claim that the Spanish-speaking population presents specific advantages and challenges in terms of their acquisition of Portuguese and, therefore, institutions ought to offer specific courses for these learners. Finally, we suggest that pedagogical approaches for this population should emphasize authentic readings and metalinguistic awareness. We believe that the teaching of Portuguese to Spanish speakers presents an extraordinary opportunity to help broaden our students' linguistic repertoire and form trilingual individuals, in tune with the MLA recommendations that higher education promote "speakers who have deep translingual and transcultural competence" ("New Structures" 2) and strengthen "the demand for language competence within the university" (7).

Enrollment in Portuguese classes has increased substantially since higher education institutions began offering Portuguese courses specifically geared for Spanish speakers. For example, the University of Arizona, which is attended by a large contingent of heritage speakers of Spanish, has witnessed a rapid increase in Portuguese enrollment since it started to offer and advertise Portuguese for Spanish speakers. We urge Portuguese language programs to capitalize on the linguistic similarities between Spanish and Portuguese by expanding Portuguese offerings for this population. Teaching Portuguese to Spanish speakers responds to the recent increase in the demand to teach Portuguese while maximizing the educational opportunities for the broad [End Page 70] community of Spanish speakers. By adding Portuguese to their linguistic repertoire, students have access to a broader gamut of professional, intellectual, and personal opportunities.

According to the 2006 U.S. census, there are 44.3 million Hispanics in the United States ("ACS Demographics"), of which more than 34 million reported speaking Spanish at home ("Selected Social"). Hispanic students comprised 12% of full-time college students (both undergraduate and graduate) in 2007, up from 10% in 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau ("Selected Social"). In addition to students who speak Spanish as their first language or heritage language, thousands of college students acquire Spanish as a foreign language, meaning that a significant portion of students attending postsecondary institutions have Spanish in their linguistic repertoire, an invaluable national resource. We should capitalize on these students' bilingual repertoire and build on it to develop third language (L3) proficiency. The MLA report particularly advises institutions to broaden the range of languages taught, add locally spoken languages to the curriculum, seek out heritage learners and design a curriculum that meets their needs, and encourage heritage speakers to learn additional languages ("New Structures" 8–9).

In order to cater to the Spanish-speaking population, we argue that (1) Portuguese courses for Spanish speakers should incorporate readings of authentic texts beginning at the introductory level; (2) pedagogical materials need to address both the positive and negative crosslinguistic influences between Portuguese and Spanish...


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