Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Results of the National Heritage Language Survey: Implications for Teaching, Curriculum Design, and Professional Development

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Results of the National Heritage Language Survey: Implications for Teaching, Curriculum Design, and Professional Development

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article reports on a survey of heritage language learners (HLLs) across different heritage languages (HLs) and geographic regions in the United States. A general profile of HLLs emerges as a student who (1) acquired English in early childhood, after acquiring the HL; (2) has limited exposure to the HL outside the home; (3) has relatively strong aural and oral skills but limited literacy skills; (4) has positive HL attitudes and experiences; and (5) studies the HL mainly to connect with communities of speakers in the United States and to gain insights into his or her roots.We argue that a community-based curriculum represents an effective way to harness the wealth of knowledge and experiences that HLLs bring to the classroom and to respond to their goals for their HL.

Key words: community-based curriculum, heritage language (HL), heritage language attitudes, heritage language learners (HLL), motivations


A comparison of the U.S. Census Bureau data of the censuses of 1990 and 2000 as well as the Community Estimates of 2007 and 2008 reveals that this country has been experiencing an unprecedented increase in immigration, which results in an increase of speakers of languages other than English and correspondingly larger enrollments of ''heritage speakers'' of these languages in classes of world languages. For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey 1 figures of 2008, several languages posted significant increases in speakers in the past 20 years. Spanish (34,559,894), Chinese (2,465,761), Tagalog (1,488,385), Vietnamese (1,332,633), Korean (1,051,641), and Russian (864,069) are among these languages (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009, n.p.). This creates a steady stream of students who speak a language other than English at home and enroll in classes of world languages to gain literacy and improve or maintain their home languages. Instructors have been concerned with teaching these students who, as we show, may require a different curriculum because of their specific proficiencies.

This article reports on a national survey of heritage language learners (HLLs) that aims to inform the design of curricula, materials, and professional development projects in the area of heritage language (HL) teaching.1 The survey offers an unprecedented look at the linguistic profiles, goals, and attitudes of college-level HLLs across different languages and geographic regions in the United States.2 The ever-growing presence of HLLs in foreign language departments has created an unprecedented need for this kind of information as well as for clarity regarding basic terms and issues surrounding HL teaching.

Wiley (2001) explained the importance of the label ''heritage language learner'':

The labels and definitions that we apply to heritage language learners are important, because they help to shape the status of the learners and the languages they are learning. Deciding on what types of learners should be included under the heritage language label raises a number of issues related to identity and inclusion and exclusion. . . . Some learners, with a desire to establish a connection with a past language, might not be speakers of that language yet. (p. 35)

The labels applied to the learners and languages that fall under the domain of ''heritage language teaching'' vary considerably, depending on the importance assigned to learners' ability to speak the HL. Fishman (2001, p. 81) defined HLs ''as those that (a) are LOTEs (languages other than English) and that (b) have a particular family relevance to the learners.'' Van Deusen- Scholl (2003, p. 222) used the term ''learners with a heritage motivation'' in reference to those ''raised with a strong cultural connection to a particular language through family interaction.'' Hornberger and Wang (2008, p. 27) definedHLLs as ''individuals who have familial or ancestral ties to a particular language that is not English and who exert their agency in determining whether or not they are HLLs (heritage language learners) of that HL (heritage language) and HC (heritage community). …

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