Heritage language learning

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Heritage language learning or heritage language acquisition is the act of learning a heritage language by someone from an ethnolinguistic group that traditionally speaks the language, or whose family historically spoke the language. The objective of Heritage Language learning is promote divergent bilingualism and biliteracy. According to a generally accepted definition by Valdés[1] (2000), heritage language is the language someone learns at home as a child which is a minority language in society, but because of growing up in a dominant language, the speaker seems to be more competent in the latter and feels more comfortable to communicate in that language. Polinsky & Kagan [2](2007) label it as a continuum that ranges from fluent speakers to barely speaking individuals of the home language. In some countries or cultures where they determine one's mother tongue by the ethnic group, a heritage language would be linked to native language

The heritage language learners differ from other types of language learners. Kagan & Dillon[3] (2003) provide us with distinctions among students of Russian as a native language, a heritage language or a foreign language.

Language Native Foreign Heritage
L1 or L2 (age) L1 (child) L2 (after the first language has been acquired) L1/L2?
Exposure to target language Full language community Outside of community Limited community

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Valdés, G. 2000. The teaching of heritage languages: an introduction for Slavic-teaching professionals. The learning and teaching of Slavic languages and cultures, Olga Kagan and Benjamin Rifkin (eds.), 375–403.
  2. ^ Polinsky, M. & Kagan, O. (2007) Heritage Languages: In the ‘Wild’ and in the Classroom. Language and Linguistics Compass, 1/5: 368–395, 10.1111/j.1749-818x.2007.00022.x
  3. ^ Kagan, O., & Dillon, K. (2003). A new perspective on teaching Russian: Focus on the heritage learner. Heritage Language Journal, Available: http://www.international.ucla.edu/languages/heritagelanguages/journal/article.asp?parentid=3693