Heritage Language Maintenance
Teachers of English and teachers in bilingual programs should become familiar with what affects student’s language maintenance and the factors that contribute to the maintenance of that heritage language. Minority-language parents will also find this article interesting, especially if they desire for their children to retain their home language. In this paper I will define heritage language, discuss trends and parental opinions pertaining to heritage language, and conclude with the importance of heritage language maintenance and the factors that affect its preservation.
Defining Heritage Language and Maintenance Heritage Language Heritage language is the language used by parents or the language that was used in the past by one’s ancestors. This language (also called home language) usually has a strong personal connection or is spoken at home (Valdes, 2001; Anderson-Mejias, 2002; Urzua & Gomez, 2008). A heritage language helps students connect to their culture, even while they live in a different, more dominant culture (Anderson-Mejias; Guardado, 2002; Urzua & Gomez).
For example, although Spanish is widely spoken around the world, it is a heritage language in the United States because it is a non-English language (Suarez, 2002; Valdes). However, students do not have to speak the familial language for it to be considered a heritage language. Valdes mentions that even monolingual English speakers can have a heritage language if some important personal connection is noted. For example, Norwegian would be a heritage language to an English monolingual with grandparents that immigrated to the United States from Norway. These monolinguals, too, could become heritage language learning candidates.
Heritage Language Learner The term heritage language learner refers to individuals that have been exposed to a language other than the one used in the dominant society where they live (Valdes, 2001; Suarez, 2002). Language Maintenance Language maintenance is a process that occurs after a language has been transmitted or passed on to a child by their family. It deals with the continued development of the language that has been transmitted (Nesteruk, 2010). Unfortunately, current research shows that there is an overall decline in heritage language maintenance. Heritage Language Retention Trends In the year 2000, approximately 9. % of students in kindergarten to twelfth grade were limited English proficient (LEP); a number that has increased each year (Suarez, 2002). Current research shows that the majority of students who live in the United States become English-dominant or English monolingual by the time they reach adolescence (Nesteruk, 2010; Seong & Sarkar, 2007). A language trend seems to occur the longer a family unit lives in the United States. First generation immigrants tend to speak some English, but prefer to use their heritage language in the home. Second generation immigrants are inclined to use English in school and with their friends.