A strategic partnership for the study of Portuguese in multilingual settings

Author: Patrick Rebuschat

HL2C Seminar: Phonological categorization of L2 Portuguese

Our next HL2C seminar will take place on Wednesday, October 20 from 12pm to 1pm GMT (Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London). This talk is a joint initiative with Lancaster’s SLLAT Research Group.


Gabriela Tavares (NOVA University Lisbon), Andrea Deme (Hungarian Academy of Sciences & Eötvös Loránd University), and Susana Correia (NOVA University Lisbon)


Phonological categorization of L2 Portuguese by Hungarian native speakers

How to join:

Our seminars are free to attend. Simply sign up to the HL2C Mailing List to receive the link to join us via Microsoft Teams link. You do not need a Teams account to access the talk.


Empirical observations in the classroom suggest that Hungarian learners of L2 European Portuguese (EP) have difficulties acquiring variable stress and vowel reduction – in particular the two EP reduced vowels [ɐ] and [ɨ] – since these are absent in the Hungarian phonological system [1]. These features are essential from an intelligibility perspective, since in EP stress is variable and lexically contrastive [2] and vowel reduction is found to be the main clue for stress perception in this language [3].

In this talk, we will present results of the first experiment of a larger project that seeks to develop pedagogical interventions that facilitate the acquisition of L2 Portuguese phonology. In this first step, we developed and empirically validated a forced-choice identification task to map the categorization of the EP oral vowels by Hungarian speakers in their native phonological system.

This presentation will report the results of this forced-choice identification task. Forty-six Hungarian native speakers (age range 18 to 45) took part in this experiment. One group (n=32) had no experience in learning EP; the other group (n = 14) consisted of learners of EP with approximately two semesters of language classes (n=14). A group with native Portuguese speakers with no previous contact with Hungarian (n=30) served as our baseline condition. Participants completed a forced- choice identification task that required them to identify different auditory tokens of the nine EP oral vowels, inserted in a [ɡV] context, among a set of real Hungarian words with a [ɡV]CV structure, presented orthographically in a grid.

We predicted that the ability of Hungarian native speakers to identify and discriminate contrastive EP sounds would depend on the phonetic proximity of EP vowels with Hungarian sounds [4, 5, 6]. Accordingly, we hypothesized that these speakers would categorize the unstressed vowel [ɐ] into /ɛ/, /eː/ or /ø/, and [ɨ] into /y/ or /ø/, as these are the closest L1 categories to the L2 vowels. We also expected some differences to occur after exposure to the target-language, and that these differences would be reflected in the categorization results. Results have partly confirmed the expectations, as [ɐ] was categorized into /ɛ/, but not into /eː/, and [ɨ] was categorized into /y/ and /ø/. A comparison of data in the two experimental groups suggests a learning effect for [ɨ], but not for [ɐ].

The data collected in this experiment shows overlapping situations in contrasts with [ɐ] and [ɨ]. According to the results, Hungarian speakers identify both non-native [ɐ] and [ɨ] into the single native category /ɛ/, which possibly causes discrimination difficulties [4]. As for [ɨ], considering that this segment is identified as a separated Hungarian category – /y/ or /ø/ –, discrimination of contrasts with this vowel won’t be problematic [4].

According to the above mentioned, an auditory perceptual training focused on tuning [ɐ] into a new category, separating it from /ɛ/, is expected to improve Hungarian speakers’ ability to perceive better this EP vowel. To test this hypothesis, we are currently designing a sequence of oddity discrimination tasks focused on the overlapping situations mentioned above. This perceptual training will be followed by Hungarian learners of L2 Portuguese within a 5-week timeframe.

[1] Markó A. (2017). Hangtan. In A. Imrényi, N. Kugler, M. Ladányi, A. Markó, Sz. Tátrai, & G. Tolcsvai Nagy (Eds). Nyelvtan (pp. 75–206). Budapest: Osiris Kiadó.

[2] Raposo, E., Nascimento, M. F., Mota, M. A., Segura, L., Mendes, A., & A. Andrade (Eds.) (2020). Gramática do Português. Vol. III. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.

[3] Correia, S., Butler, J., Vigário, M. & S. Frota (2015). A stress “deafness” effect in European Portuguese. Language and Speech 58(1): 48–67.

[4] Best, C. T. (1995). A direct-realist view of cross-language perception. In W. Strange (Ed.). Speech perception and linguistic experience: Issues in cross-language research (pp. 171–204). Baltimore: York Press.

[5] Flege, J. E. (2003). Assessing constraints on second-language segmental production and perception. In N. O. Schiller & A. S. Meyer (Eds.). Phonetics and Phonology in Language Comprehension and Production: Differences and Similarities (pp. 319–355). Berlin: De Gruyter.

[6] Escudero, P. (2015). Linguistic Perception and Second Language Acquisition: Explaining the Attainment of Optimal Phonological Categorization. [Doctoral dissertation, Utrecht University, LOT Dissertation Series 113]. Repository: http://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/7349.

HL2C Seminar: Evaluating heritage speakers’ proficiency

We are delighted to kick off our HL2C Seminar Series for 2021-2022 on Thursday, September 30 from 3pm to 4pm GMT (Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London).


Luiz Amaral (UMass Amherst), Alexandre Alves dos Santos (UMass Amherst), Flávia Cunha (Mt. Holyoke College), Thaís de Sá (UFMG), and Ricardo de Souza (UFMG)


Evaluating Heritage Speakers’ Proficiency: Oral Proficiency Rubrics and a Vocabulary Test for Portuguese as a Heritage Language

How to join:

Our seminars are free to attend. Simply sign up to the HL2C Mailing List to receive the link to join us via Microsoft Teams link. You do not need a Teams account to access the talk.


Despite the increasing interest in heritage language (HL) acquisition and education, the area of HL assessment remains one of the least explored in the field. Several controversial issues seem to impact projects whose goals are to assess the language proficiency of HL speakers (HS). Some arise primarily from the reuse and/or adaptation of assessment tools originally created for L1 or L2 speakers (Kagan and Dillan, 2008; Draper and Hicks, 2000; Valdes, 1989). Others come from the perceived gap in the development of HL modalities, i.e., written proficiency might in some instances lag oral proficiency (Gatti and Grave, 2020). Some studies have explored and, in some cases, challenged these paradigms (Kagan and Friedman, 2003; Martin et.al., 2013), but there is still much to be done to understand the linguistic development of HS and to create the assessment tools needed by language programs.

With these needs in mind, our research group started a series of projects to study HL assessment looking into different language modalities and properties. In this presentation we describe two of our latest projects on (i) the creation of oral proficiency rubrics, and (ii) the development a computer-based vocabulary language test. The goal of the first effort is to compare two rubrics to evaluate oral production by HS. The first rubric is exclusively functional and evaluates how well participants performed each of the communicative tasks proposed. The second rubric in more comprehensive, including descriptors for vocabulary, grammatical accuracy, pronunciation, and communicative competence. We used the two rubrics to assess the production of 20 HS that participated in an oral interview based on different everyday topics. We show the results obtained by using these two different sets of criteria and discuss the implications for each one. The second project is centered on the development of a computer-based VLT for Portuguese as L2 and HL – Teste de Verificação Lexical do Português Brasileiro (TVLPB). This project is a collaboration with colleagues from the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil. After explaining how the test was created, we compare the vocabulary test scores with the scores from the oral interview from the same group of participants cited above. This is a first attempt to validate the TVLPB and see how vocabulary measures compare to other types of language assessment tools in heritage populations.

HLAW Conference 2022

We are pleased to announce the International Conference on Heritage Languages Around the World (HLAW), which will take place at the University of Lisbon in May 2022. The conference is co-organized by Consortium members Ana Lúcia Santos (ULisboa), Cristina Flores (UMinho), Luiz Amaral (UMass Amherst) and Hugo Cardoso (ULisboa) and by their respective institutions, Centro de Linguística da Universidade de Lisboa, Centro de Estudos Humanísticos da Universidade do Minho, the Portuguese Program and the Heritage Language Research Group at UMass Amherst.

For more information, please visit the conference website.


HL2C Seminars 2021-2022

It’s a pleasure to share the program of this year’s HL2C seminar series with you. We might still not be able to travel as easily as before, but in the meantime, we can meet digitally on a regular basis. 

Our program: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/heritage-language/seminars/ 

The program for 2021/2022 is not finalized yet, but we are excited about how it is taking shape. As you will see, there will be a mix between internal (HL2C) and external speakers, early-career and more senior researchers. The sessions will cover a wide range of themes (second and heritage language acquisition and teaching, bilingualism, etc.), different languages and populations of interest, and a variety of approaches (quantitative and qualitative), fully reflecting the broad interests of the HL2C member institutions. While most talks focus on research, we are also inviting other stakeholders (policy makers, non-profits, etc.) to do presentations. 

How to attend: All talks will take place via Microsoft Teams. We will circulate the link via the HL2C mailing list one week before the talk and send a reminder one day before the talk. To join the mailing list, please click here.

Talks will be delivered in English. The sessions should last one hour – about 40 minutes of talk, followed by 10 minutes of discussion. Some of the talks will be recorded and made available for viewing via the mailing list.

Official launch of the Consortium

The Heritage Language 2 Consortium was formally established on December 19, 2017.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed at a ceremony in Lisbon to officially launch the Consortium. The launch event featured statements by the Secretary of State for the Portuguese Communities, Dr José Luís Carneiro, by the Secretary of State for Education, Professor João Costa, by the President of the Camões Institute, Ambassador Luís Faro Ramos, and by the Consortium’s Director, Professor Patrick Rebuschat, Lancaster University.

The new Heritage Language 2 Consortium gives researchers from many disciplines – linguistics, education, psychology, and computer science – access to more than  130,000 learners worldwide to investigate language development from many different aspects. Ten departments and research units across the Consortium partners will play a central role.

The Consortium Director, Professor Patrick Rebuschat, said: “This strategic partnership provides us with a unique opportunity – no other country maintains such a significant heritage language network overseas, and we will have privileged access to substantial, yet completely unexplored data.

“The Consortium is a major international initiative which uses Portuguese as a ‘test case’. The insights gained from this project will be applicable to other languages, of course. Our research will help us understand how children and adults learn new languages and identify those factors that make some of us particularly good language learners. We can then use these insights to improve language teaching.

“The Consortium will also organize impact and outreach initiatives to engage with parents, teachers, and policy makers across Europe.”

The idea for the partnership was born earlier this year when the Portuguese Secretary of State for Education, Professor João Costa, visited Lancaster University to deliver a keynote at a conference organized by Professor Rebuschat.

The event focused on bilingualism and heritage language education across Europe.

It brought together policy makers from the Portuguese Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education, leading academics, journalists, school teachers and parents to discuss current trends and challenges in heritage language research and education.

We look forward to begin working on this exciting and important initiative.

Caption: A Memorandum of Understanding was signed at a ceremony in Lisbon to officially launch the Consortium. From left to right: Ambassador Luís Faro Ramos, President of the Camões Institute; Dr José Luís Carneiro, Secretary of State for Portuguese Communities; Professor João Costa, Portuguese Secretary of State for Education; Professor Susana Trovão, NOVA University Lisbon; Dr Patrick Rebuschat, Lancaster University; Professor Maria de Fátima Marinho, University of Porto; Professor Detmar Meurers, Tübingen University; Professor Paulo Farmhouse Alberto, University of Lisbon; Professor Cristina Flores, University of Minho.

Lisbon symposium

Heritage language learning and education: Cross-disciplinary perspectives

Faculdade de Letras, University of Lisbon, December 18, 2017

The Consortium held its inaugural event on Monday, December 18, at the Faculdade de Letras, University of Lisbon. The symposium provided a snapshot of the exciting work conducted by some of our members in the domain of heritage and second language learning. Studies covered a range of approaches (experimental, computational, and corpus-based), all of which are essential to move forward our understanding of heritage language learning. Thanks again to Ana Lúcia Santos for organizing the event and to CLUL for hosting us.

You can download the program, including abstracts, by clicking on this link.


Welcome to our website!

The website of our Heritage Language Consortium is now online! On this site, you will find information on our partners, research projects and events. Some of the sections are still under construction but we aim to have the most important information online in the coming weeks. Most of the pages are available in both Portuguese and English.