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Language Link

October 1999

Previous issues

Feature Article:
Are We Wasting Our Nation's Language Resources? Heritage Languages in America

Journal Reviews:
Modern Language Journal
The Canadian Modern Language Review


News Corner

This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, National Library of Education, under contract no. ED-99-CO-0008. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI, ED, or NLE.

Feature Article

Are We Wasting Our Nation's Language Resources?
Heritage Languages in America

Kathleen Marcos, ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics

One of our national ironies is that the United States is short on the language expertise needed for national defense, international business, and local government services at the same time that unprecedented numbers of immigrants are arriving in the United States thoroughly fluent in languages other than English. As the children of these immigrants move through our educational system, their English language skills grow and improve (as they must), but their native language skills often fall by the wayside. In an ever more global economy, we cannot afford to let slip away the linguistic resources we already possess.

Among the commonly held misconceptions about language proficiency is that merely growing up in a household where a language is spoken confers lifetime proficiency in that language in all skill areas (listening, speaking, reading, and writing). In reality, language skills-including native language or mother tongue proficiency-must be developed and reinforced to be fully maintained.

Although immigrant parents are generally interested in developing and maintaining their children's native language ability, many do not have the resources to provide private classes or purchase computer- or video-based language programs. In any case, few parents have the training needed to effectively develop their children's ability to read and write in their native language. The children's experience is thus often limited to listening and speaking. Listening skills may remain strong throughout childhood, and children generally maintain native pronunciation. However, deterioration in even basic fluency may be expected over time unless parents and children continue to use their native language at home, something that becomes increasingly difficult as the children enter adolescence and prefer to use the language of their peers, which of course is English.

Parents and students who hope that traditional foreign language classes in school will help students maintain their native language skills are often disappointed. Because curricula are designed for English speakers new to the second language, heritage language students may waste many hours enduring lessons in basic listening skills, syntax, and culture that they do not need, when they could be refining their speaking abilities or developing reading and writing skills and content knowledge in the language. Few pre-K–12 schools offer courses tailored to meet the particular needs of heritage language learners, and even fewer schools have a well-articulated sequence of courses that can take learners to advanced proficiency in their native language.

What we have then is a situation in which children who speak a language other than English lose much of their proficiency in that language by the time they enter the workforce, where there is an acute need for workers who speak more than one language.


Researchers and educators are addressing new ways to reconcile our national need for language expertise with our need to develop the language expertise so many young Americans already possess. Some language groups, in particular Chinese and Korean, have established their own schools, with programs conducted after school or on weekends. Fewer in number, but significant nonetheless, are after-school programs for speakers of Armenian, Arabic, and other languages. Spanish for Spanish Speakers courses, as well as classes for native speakers of other languages, are becoming more common in K–12 and university education.

Professional development initiatives in this field are also increasing, including conferences and summer institutes for teachers. Major conferences include The National Conference on Spanish in the United States and the Annual Conference on Teaching Spanish to Native Speakers (see "Calendar of Events" section for more information). A six-week summer institute for middle and high school teachers, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, will be held at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in the summer of 2000 (see "Calendar of Events" section). In addition, sessions about heritage language learning are increasingly offered at national and regional foreign language conferences. ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) has formed a Special Interest Group on Spanish for Native Speakers ( Contact the 1999 Chair, Judith Márquez, at for more information.

Several noted experts have developed curricula specifically for Spanish-speaking language students, including those listed below.

A forthcoming handbook from the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP), entitled Spanish for Native Speakers: A Handbook for Teachers, will serve as a guide to high school and university teachers and administrators who are interested in establishing a program for native speakers of Spanish or for those teachers who are presently teaching such students. Information about purchasing the handbook or attending the related workshop is available from SNS Classroom, AATSP Office, Butler-Hancock Hall #210, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO 80639, telephone 970-351-1090, email Another important new resource for teachers and administrators interested in establishing or improving heritage language programs is Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century Including Chinese, Classical Languages, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russia, and Spanish. This document was prepared by the National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project and printed by Allen Press, Inc.

A major effort to address curricular and other issues related to the teaching of heritage languages was launched in 1998, when the National Foreign Language Center ( and the Center for Applied Linguistics ( launched the Heritage Language Initiative. The broad aims are to encourage school systems to be more responsive to heritage communities and national language needs and to empower them to produce language-proficient citizens able to function professionally in both English and at least one other language. The initiative has also articulated these specific objectives:

  1. Initiating and supporting dialogue among policymakers and language practitioners on both the need to address heritage language development and the most effective strategies for doing so.

  2. Designing and implementing heritage language development programs in community, pre-K–12, community college, and university settings and fostering better articulation among levels and programs.

  3. Providing support (in terms of policy, expertise, and resources) for heritage community systems wherever they exist, and supporting their development where they do not.

  4. Encouraging and supporting dialogue leading to collaboration, resource sharing, and articulation between formal education systems and the nation's heritage community language schools and programs.

  5. Encouraging and supporting research (both theoretical and applied) on heritage language development and on related public policy issues.

The first major public event of the initiative will be the Heritage Languages in America conference to be held October 14-16, 1999, at California State University, Long Beach. Information about the conference, which will be facilitated by national leaders in language education, may be found at

Detailed information about publications, conferences, and Web sites of interest may be found in a forthcoming Resource Guide Online from the ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics, Resources for Teaching Spanish to Spanish Speakers. The Resource Guide will be available in final form at the end of October 1999 at

The linguistic and cultural knowledge that heritage language speakers possess is a valuable resource, both for the students themselves, as a strong base on which they can build their linguistic competence, and for the nation, as the basis for developing competent professionals with high-level language skills who can work in such areas as national defense, international business, diplomacy, social work, and academics. Preserving the language skills and cultural knowledge of heritage language students while they become fully proficient in English is an important educational priority in an increasingly global marketplace.


In the last issue of ERIC/CLL Language Link, we summarized key points from the Clinton Administration proposal for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Readers may be interested in a recent paper by former Congressman and White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta entitled Foreign Language Education: If'scandalous' in the 20th Century, What Will it Be in the 21st Century? ( The paper discusses progress (or the lack thereof) since the release in 1979 of the report of the President's Commission on Foreign Language and International Studies. Panetta discusses the role of the federal government in foreign language education and offers scenarios for improvements in foreign language education for the next century.

Journal Review
(1) Modern Language Journal
(2) The Canadian Modern Language Review

In each issue of ERIC/CLL Language Link, we feature one or more of the journals that we abstract and index for Current Index to Journals in Education (CIJE), the ERIC database's monthly index to education-related journals.

In this issue, our journal review profiles Modern Language Journal and The Canadian Modern Language Review.


Modern Language Journal (ISSN 0026-7902) is a quarterly refereed journal devoted to questions and concerns about the learning and teaching of foreign and second languages. It includes articles, research studies, editorials, reports, book reviews, and professional news and announcements pertaining to modern languages, including the teaching of English as a second language. Recent articles have included "Chicano Spanish: The Problem of the 'Underdeveloped' Code in Bilingual Repertories"; "Students' Developing Conceptions of Themselves as Language Learners"; "Learning Disabilities and Foreign Languages: A Curriculum Approach to the Design of Inclusive Courses"; and "Assessing Students' Oral Proficiency in an Outcome-Based Curriculum: Student Performance and Teacher Intuitions." MLJ is published by Blackwell Publishers for the National Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations, Inc. To subscribe, contact Blackwell Publishers, Journals Subscriptions Department (MODL), 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, or visit the MLJ homepage at


The Canadian Modern Language Review (ISSN 0008-4506)is a refereed quarterly journal in English and French with articles on issues in modern language learning. A sampling of recent titles includes "What's Wrong with Oral Grammar Correction?"; "Some Factors that Affect the Success of ESL High School Students"; "A Comparison of Children's Understanding of School in Regular English Language and French Immersion Kindergartens"; and "Towards Integrating Form-Focused Instruction in the Second Language Classroom: Some Pedagogical Possibilities." Subscriptions are available from the University of Toronto Press. Visit the journal's Web site at for more information.

You can recognize journal abstracts in the ERIC database by their "EJ" prefix followed by a six-digit number. ERIC abstracts can be read at ERIC centers in libraries in the United States and overseas, as well as on the World Wide Web ( Subscriptions to the journals can be obtained from the publishers; individual articles from many journals are available through the following reprint services:

You may also wish to contact your local university or research library.


ERIC/CLL wishes to extend a sincere thank you to the publishers of journals and newsletters who have recently published our "call for papers," an invitation to readers to submit papers for possible inclusion in the ERIC database.

We would like to thank Multilingual Matters ( for including the announcement in the following journals:

We also thank the publishers of the following newsletters and journals:


News from ERIC/CLL

ERIC/CLL has received funding from the U. S. Department of Education to publish What Elementary Teachers Need to Know About Language, a paper by Catherine Snow and Lily Wong Fillmore. The paper will serve as the basis for institutes being held at the Department of Education's 1999 Regional Conferences on Improving America's Schools. The theme of the conferences is "The Dawning of the Education Millennium: Educational Excellence for All Children." The focus of the institutes is "Helping Limited English Proficient Students Learn to Read: What All Educators Need to Know." (See "Calendar of Events" section for more information on the conferences.)

A Global Perspective on Bilingualism and Bilingual Education, a new digest by G. Richard Tucker, will be available at our Web site in the days to come. For a print copy, send an email message to us at or call us at 1-800-276-9834.

Two or More Languages in Early Childhood, a digest by Annick De Houwer, is available at our Web site at Print copies may be obtained from ERIC/CLL at 1-800-276-9834 or

The Spring/Summer issue of the ERIC/CLL News Bulletin was published in August. This issue's feature article is "Standards-Based Assessment for ESOL Students." Full text will be available at our Web site in the weeks to come at Print copies may be obtained from ERIC/CLL at 1-800-276-9834 or

Internet Resources for Foreign Language Teachers is the latest in our Resource Guides Online series. Publications, listservs, Web sites, and conference information are detailed in the Resource Guide at

ERIC/CLL is pleased to announce that our popular brochure for parents, Why, How, and When Should My Child Learn a Second Language? has been reprinted. This is the fourth printing of the brochure, for a total of 80,000 copies. Full text of the brochure may be read at Print copies are available from ACCESS ERIC at
1-800-LET-ERIC (538-3742) or

News from NCLE

Happy Birthday to NCLE! The National Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education, an adjunct ERIC clearinghouse, celebrated its 10th anniversary on Monday, September 13. Established by Congress in 1989 under the English Literacy Grants Program of the Adult Education Act (P.L. 100-207, Sec 372), NCLE is a national adult ESL information hub that publishes reports, digests, and educational materials for ESL literacy.

Recent NCLE digests include Improving Adult English Language Learners' Speaking Skills, Reading and the Adult English Language Learner, and Using Video with Adult English Language Learners. Other publications from NCLE include textbooks to accompany two videotapes. The first, A Day in the Life of the Gonzalez Family, is a text for intermediate-level adult English language learners. The second, Learners' Lives as Curriculum: Six Journeys to Immigrant Literacy, is a text for teachers. The videos and texts are available from Delta Systems, Inc. at (800) 323-8270.

For more information on NCLE, its publications, links to other adult ESL sites, and the NIFL-ESL listserv, visit NCLE at

News from ERIC and the U.S. Department of Education

The following items appeared in ERICNews, a bimonthly electronic newsletter published by ACCESS ERIC. To subscribe, send the command SUBSCRIBE ERICNEWS FIRSTNAME LASTNAME (for example, SUBSCRIBE ERICNEWS JOHN SMITH) in the body of the message to

More information about ERIC is reported in the ERIC Users' Interchange, also published by ACCESS ERIC. Issues can be read at or you can call 1-800-LET-ERIC (538-3742) for a subscription.

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