Heritage language learning

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Heritage language learning or heritage language acquisition is the act of learning a language by someone from an ethnolinguistic group that traditionally speaks the language, or whose family historically spoke the language. 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