Research strand 2: instructed pragmatics in SA
Teaching Spanish pragmatics in SA has the potential to raise SHSs’ awareness about how languages and dialects can vary pragmatically, provide them with information about pragmatic features that are infrequent in everyday life, present a broader picture of pragmatic norms in the hostcommunity than each individual's experiences permit, and offer insights into the meanings that local people attribute to various linguistic behaviors. A small but growing body of studies indicates that pragmatics instruction can be beneficial in supporting L2 speakers in their learning of pragmatics in SA (e.g., Pérez Vidal & Shively, 2019), but the question remains whether the same is true for SHSs. A further question that research can address concerns the instructional needs of SHSs, which may be different from those of L2 learners. How to effectively deliver pragmatics instruction and how to differentiate instruction for mixed groups of L2 learners and SHSs or for groups of SHSs with diverse linguistic, cultural, and educational backgrounds (e.g., Beaudrie & Fairclough, 2012) are additional issues that deserve attention from researchers.
In designing a study that investigates pragmatics instruction in SA, researchers would do well to begin with a needs assessment of SHSs, to determine areas of pragmatics already mastered. A needs assessment can involve testing SHSs’ pragmatic knowledge and skills prior to SA, as well as asking students, instructors, and SA program administrators about SHSs’ needs (see, e.g., Morris, 2017). Reviewing previous research on the pragmatic norms of different varieties of Spanish can also point to areas where pragmatic variation is likely to result in miscommunication (e.g., Márquez Reiter & Placencia, 2005), which can be targeted in instruction. In terms of designing pragmatics-focused pedagogical interventions for SHSs, the backward design process of identifying learning objectives, creating assessments, and then planning learning activities may be a useful approach (e.g., Shively, 2020). Finally, including a control group of SHSs who participate in SA but do not receive the pragmatics intervention is advantageous because it allows researchers to tease apart the role of instruction from incidental learning in SA.
Research strand 3: IC and pragmatic development
Researchers have only begun to explore the relationship between IC and pragmatic development with L2 students in SA (e.g., Taguchi, Xiao, & Li, 2016; see also, Taguchi & Collentine, 2018), and no work in this area has been conducted with SHSs. It may be particularly insightful to examine this issue by working with SHSs because this group of SA students may be more likely - although certainly not guaranteed - to begin their sojourn abroad with greater IC than many L2 learners due to many SHSs’ position as members of racial/ethnic minorities in US society and/or as people with transnational experiences as a result of migration and ties to two or more cultures (e.g., Doerr, 2018). Research questions that address this strand include; What is the relationship between the development of intercultural and pragmatic competence during SA? Does IC facilitate the learning of pragmatics (or vice versa), and if so, in what ways?
IC has been defined in various ways that relate to attitudes toward other cultures and the necessary knowledge and skills to take different perspectives,
Spanish heritage pragmatics abroad 111 identify potential misunderstandings, and interact effectively across cultures. Hammer (2013, p. 26), for instance, describes IC as “the capability to shift cultural perspective and appropriately adapt behavior to cultural difference and commonalities”. Byram (1997) outlines his framework for IC, which includes culture-specific and culture-general knowledge, skills to interpret meanings and to discover new information about other cultures, and attitudes involving openness and curiosity.2 Having intercultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes may facilitate the learning of pragmatics directly, or the relationship may be indirect in that students with greater IC may be more interested and/or successful in developing relationships with local people in SA. This in turn may lead to greater social contact and increased learning opportunities (e.g., Taguchi et al., 2016). It is also possible that the reverse is true - that is, that learning about pragmatics can help students increase their IC.
The IC theory chosen will determine measurement, since quantitative instruments have been developed in accordance with theoretical constructs. For instance, the Intercultural Competence Assessment (2004) measures IC in relation to Byram's framework, while the Intercultural Development Inventory (Hammer, Bennett, & Wiseman, 2003) is based on Bennett’s model. Questionnaires such as these can be employed in conjunction with assessments that target receptive or productive pragmatic skills in cross-cultural contexts. Taguchi and Collentine (2018) recommend multiple data collection points during SA for instruments that target both linguistic competence and IC, in order to observe whether the two competencies develop separately or in conjunction. Qualitative methods (e.g., interviews, journals) can also provide in-depth insights into students’ experiences and perceptions in relation to the development of IC and how that may intersect with pragmatic development (e.g., Edmonds, 2010).
Research strand 4: long-term impact of SA
As Kinginger (2019) points out, little is known about the long-term impact of SA. Although several large-scale studies have gathered data from former SA students years after their time abroad, the results do not focus on language (e.g., Paige, Fry, Stallman, Josie, & Jon, 2009). Key questions include: What are the long-term effects of SA for SHSs in terms of Spanish pragmatic competence? How does what SHSs learn about pragmatics in SA impact their identity, life goals, and interpersonal relationships at home and abroad? Future research on this topic can contribute to understanding not only the short-term achievements that arise from SA but also the impact on SHSs long after they return home. Data can be gathered using methods such as questionnaires and life history interviews, as suggested by Kinginger (2019).
An example of a life history narrative that speaks to the long-term impact of living abroad comes from the radio show Radio Ambulante, whose host, Daniel Alarcon, is a US-based SHS. Alarcon began the March 12, 2019,
episode with audio recordings in which his young son León was speaking to his little brother in Spanish. Alarcón had recently implemented a Spanish-only rule to encourage León not to lose his heritage language, and was delighted that León was speaking Spanish rather than English. The story then turned to Alarcon’s own history with Spanish. He described speaking Spanish at home while growing up, but indicated that by young adulthood his Spanish skills were diminishing. A very specific experience - having to do with pragmatics - compelled him to go abroad to improve his Spanish, as he recounted (my translation):
[Some Spanish-speaking friends] brought me a gift. 1 don’t remember what it was, but what 1 said to them when I accepted that gift I’ve never forgotten.
1 wanted to say “Thanks so much! You shouldn't have gone to the trouble!” But I said, “I appreciate it a lot although I don't go to the trouble!” They gave me a perplexed look and 1 blushed. I knew 1 had said something wrong, but I didn’t know how to fix it because I didn't have the words. ... From that moment, 1 decided I had to start seriously studying Spanish so as not to have to go through another embarrassing moment like that one.
That experience of pragmatic failure in showing gratitude, as Alarcón told it, was the impetus for him to decide to spend a year improving his Spanish in Peru, his family’s country of origin (my translation):
1 went to Lima and quickly realized several things. First, the slang I used was my father’s, in other words, from the 1960s in Arequipa...and second, 1 didn’t know any formal Spanish...! had the feeling 1 was constantly making a bad impression on others. It was a feeling of helplessness, of not having the tools necessary to demonstrate that I wasn’t an idiot. But due to pure stubbornness I didn’t give up. I swallowed my humiliation and continued on...and well, by the end of that year, 1 spoke like just another guy from Lima. 1 felt really proud.
In the episode, Alarcón pointed to his time in Peru as helping him develop his own Spanish skills, which in turn were crucial in his desire and ability to pass Spanish on to the next generation of his family. Although Alarcón apparently did not participate in a formal SA program in Peru, his story suggests a possible long-term impact of language learning abroad: maintenance of Spanish as a minority language in the US.