I am a Professor of Hispanic linguistics in the Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I am also a faculty affiliate in the Latin American and Latino Studies Program, the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and in the Social Justice Initiative

Since 2009 I've served as Editor of the journal Spanish in Context.


Most broadly, I am interested in the promotion of minority languages and multilingualism (see my TEDx talk), particularly via elementary schooling. My work focuses on Spanish in the United States, including factors that influence intergenerational language transmission, connections between language and identity, and heritage language education. Some of my recent research topics include:

* Language development in dual immersion schools
* Mexican and Puerto Rican Spanish in Chicago, and the language and identity of mixed “Mexi-Rican” individuals
* Teaching heritage languages, particularly Spanish in the U.S.
* Spanish use in Chicago quinceañera celebrations
* The use of “Spanglish” in commercially published greeting cards

Here is a list of my invited (non-conference) presentations and some of my current research projects.

Multilingual Chicago

We live in a time when many U.S. residents harbor "English only" sentiments -- that is, to be considered a good citizen you have to speak English and also stop speaking anything else. Multilingual Chicago is a grassroots organization I belong to that seeks to counter such linguistic hegemony by promoting linguistic diversity in our city, both that brought by immigrants and their descendants as well as by English speakers studying other languages. In 2007, Mayor Daley signed a resolution brought forth by the efforts of this group.


Institute for the Humanities fellowship

I am very pleased to have received an Institute for the Humanities fellowship during the 2013-2014 school year.  Here is a short article about me and the other fellows.


UIC Oaxaca study abroad for heritage speakers

Social Justice, Identity, and Language in Oaxaca:
Summer study abroad for heritage speakers 
July 3 - 31, 2022 

Applications are due March 11, 2022. Applications are available at the UIC Study Abroad Oaxaca website.
If you are a non-UIC student, click here for additional information.

Join us for a Zoom informational session either Thurs Feb. 3rd, 6:00-7:00 pm CST or Tues Feb. 8th, 8:00-9:00 CST


This program is for heritage Spanish speakers -- bilinguals who have been in contact with Spanish through their homes -- to complete their language requirement or begin their major/minor courses in a diverse environment. If you've been to Mexico but not to Oaxaca: IT IS DIFFERENT in its history, mountainous geography, culture including crafts and food, and its vibrant indigenous presence!

All courses respect and build on heritage speakers' varieties of Spanish, and focus critically on issues of bilingualism and social justice such as these:

* What is the history of the region of Oaxaca, and why is it the Mexican state with the 2nd largest number of individuals leaving to seek work in the United States?

* What social justice messages are currently seen around the city via the vibrant Oaxacan street art scene?

* What similarities are there related to language, identity, and social justice among U.S. Latinx Spanish speakers and speakers of the 16 different indigenous languages in Oaxaca

* What unique positionalities (such as "Ni de aquí, ni de allá") are involved when a person is seen as "Mexican" (or "Ecuadorian," "Dominican," "Puerto Rican," "Guatemalan", etc.) in the U.S., but they are seen as "American" in Latin America?


No matter what your major, this program will increase your formal written and spoken Spanish. It is especially well-suited for students majoring in Spanish, Latin American & Latinx studies, education, health sciences/medicine, urban and rural development, linguistics/bilingualism, arts and architecture, tourism, communication, law & public policy, and sociology.

Students will receive 6 or 7 UIC credit hours (depending on the coursework) upon successful completion of the program. All students take two (2) courses:

One (1) Spanish course, 5 different options:
Course descriptions at 

SPAN 114: Spanish for heritage speakers II (4 credits)
SPAN 202: Spanish grammar (3 credits)
SPAN 204: Advanced composition (3 credits)
SPAN 363: Spanish in society (3 credits)
SPAN 399: Independent study (3 credits)


ONE Mexican culture course (same for everyone). Can count as SPAN 360 or LALS 399. Consists primarily of lectures and field trips.

All syllabi can be found here, except for SPAN 399 Independent study because that content is worked out with Dr. Potowski.


All courses are taught by faculty at the Ollin Tlahtoalli Centro de Lenguas y Cultura except SPAN 363 and SPAN 399 which are taught by UIC Professor Kim Potowski

We take field trips most Saturdays to local sites of archaeological and cultural interest, including Monte Albán and visits with local communities.  

Students may complete internships in areas related to medicine, education, the law, and other areas.

Check out this excellent video made by the 2013 group!   "Like" our Facebook page!

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does the program cost?

Approximately $3,200 includes tuition, housing and food (2 meals per day), airport pickup, orientation, all Saturday trips, and cultural workshops. 

Airfare (sometimes as low as $550... check out https://www.kiwi.com), mandatory international health insurance ($27) and spending money are not included.

Most students do NOT pay the entire amount! There are many scholarships and other financial aid available:

For UIC students: https://studyabroad.uic.edu/students/program-costs-and-financial-aid/scholarships/
There is also a scholarship essay as part of the application, usually resulting in $200-800 per student depending on available funds.
If you are a First Gen student, you may qualify for this $2,100 scholarship! (deadline April 1, 2022)

For all students
Gillman Scholarship: March 1, 2022
Hosteling International USA: Deadline TBA

Where will I live?

All students live with a host family that lives within 15 minutes' walking distance of the school where you take classes. You have a private bedroom and eat breakfast and "comida" (the main meal of the day, served at around 1:30 or 2:00 pm) with the family. We request that no other students be in the home at the same time, but sometimes there is overlap with a student from another country. Families are very good about accommodating any dietary or allergy restrictions. Past students have formed close lasting bonds with their Oaxacan families and several have returned to visit them. You/your parents may contact the host family via telephone before your arrival to get to know them! 

What is a typical day like on this program?

Monday:        10:00-1:00 Spanish class. 1:00-4:00 free time and comida at home. 4:00-6:00 workshop or cultural activity, for example, Benito Juárez' childhood home
Tuesday:       10:00-1:00 Spanish class. 1:00-4:00 free time and comida at home. 4:00-6:00 workshop or cultural activity, for example Santo Domingo
Wednesday:  10:00-1:00 Spanish class. 1:00-4:00 free time and comida at home. 4:00-6:00 workshop or cultural activity, for example el Mercado Sánchez Pascuas
Thursday:      All day activity, for example El Jardín Etnobotánico
Friday:           10:00-1:00 Spanish class. 1:00-4:00 free time and comida at home.
Saturday:       9:00-3:00 Field trip to sites such as Monte Albán, Teotitlán del Valle, Mitla, Hierve el agua, etc.
Sunday:         FREE DAY.


Do all of the offered courses count towards a UIC Spanish major or minor?

YES, all courses count toward a Spanish major/minor (except SPAN 114, which fulfills the UIC foreign language requirement). You may contact the UIC LAS Spanish advisor Meg LaLonde (mlalonde@uic.edu) if you have any questions about this.


I understand that all students take one Spanish class from the above list of 5 options. What would I do in SPAN 399 Independent Study?

If you are eligible for SPAN 399 Independent Study, you will carry out a research project that is related to some aspect of Oaxacan culture and life. This could be at a hospital, in an elementary school, about a local indigenous language, or some other relevant topic. This is carried out with the close assistance of the program director, UIC professor Kim Potowski.

Past research topics completed by Oaxaca summer study abroad students: 
  • Indigeneity: Students will read about the 16 indigenous groups in the state of Oaxaca and interview speakers of at least two (2) of the local indegenous language groups in order to understand themes of minoritized languages, bilingualism and majority language education.
  • Access to healthcare: Only for students with some basic medical training. Students will volunteer at the local Red Cross and assist walk-in doctors and nurses with patient care. They will also complete a research project about the Mexican healthcare system and the different degrees of access afforded to members of society.
  • Women in society: Students carry out a research project on the ways in which Mexican women generally, and Oaxacan women specifically, contribute to the private and the public economies through their labor and cultural, religious, and familiar activities.


How do I apply?

The first step is to attend a required meeting called "First Steps" at the UIC Study Abroad Office. Go to https://studyabroad.uic.edu/first-steps/ for the schedule. If you are a non-UIC student, click here for additional information.

Applications are due March 11, 2022. Applications are available at the UIC Study Abroad Oaxaca website
Join us for a Zoom informational session either Thurs Feb. 3rd, 6:00-7:00 pm CST or Tues Feb. 8th, 8:00-9:00 CST

Can I talk to a student who already went on this program, and/or with their parents?

Of course! In addition to emailing the program director, Professor Potowski (kimpotow@uic.edu) with any questions, you can email the following students and they will be happy to answer your questions. They can also put your parents in touch with their parents.

sara iz  Sara Izquierdo, sizqui2_at_uic.edu

mayraMayra Huerta, mayrahu1122_at_gmail.com

AnnabelAnnabel Torres, torresannabel343_at_gmail.com  --> Her mom's email is magodelrey_at_yahoo.com 

belemBelem Medina, belmed91_at_gmail.com

maritzaMaritza Castillo, maritza_silverio_at_yahoo.com