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Volume 22, No. 2 Spring/Summer 1999

Heritage Languages in America: Invitation to an Inaugural Conference

The increasing number of children who enter U.S. schools from homes where languages other than English are spoken and the overdue recognition that bilingualism is a valuable national resource have helped generate interest in the field of heritage language instruction, or the teaching of heritage languages as academic subjects. Heritage language students are "students who speak a language other than English as their first language, either because they were born in another country or because their families speak another language at home" (Campbell, 1996). The United States has an unprecedented need for individuals with highly developed competencies in other languages in addition to English. However, we have placed little value on the largely untapped linguistic resource of heritage language speakers.

To encourage maintenance and development of heritage languages and to help the formal education system incorporate heritage language development in its program planning, the following are crucially needed:

Information on heritage languages as a national resource, including ways that other nations have developed and utilized their heritage languages; on the heritage communities in the United States and their social and cultural institutions; and on heritage languages in the official education system (existing programs, curricula, materials, and instructional practices; the number and language profiles of heritage students at all levels).

Research that focuses on heritage language development as a linguistic, social, and cultural phenomenon; on best practices in the design of programs and curricula; on characteristics of effective teaching strategies, learning resources, and assessment instruments; and on public policies in this and other nations and their implications for national language capacity, heritage communities, and multilingual individuals.

A national infrastructure to develop collaboration, resource sharing, and articulation among the various institutions, organizations, and constituencies with a role in heritage language policy and programming.

The Heritage Language Initiative

Against the backdrop of increasing interest and need, the National Foreign Language Center and the Center for Applied Linguistics launched the Heritage Language Initiative with the aim of building an education system more responsive to heritage communities and national language needs and capable of producing a broad cadre of citizens able to function professionally in both English and another language. The objectives of this initiative are to orchestrate the following activities:

Inaugural Conference

As a step toward encouraging participation in and awareness of heritage language issues, California State University at Long Beach (CSULB), the National Foreign Language Center (NFLC), and the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) have organized a national conferencethe inaugural conference of the Heritage Language Initiative. The Heritage Languages in America conference will be held October 14­16, 1999, in Long Beach, California. Representatives from heritage language communities and schools, pre-K­12 heritage language educators, college and university faculty, researchers, and organizations and businesses that employ professional staff with language expertise will participate in the conference, as will distinguished researchers Russell Campbell, Lily Wong Fillmore, Joshua Fishman, Mary McGroarty, Cecilia Pino, Ana Roca, Fabián Samaniego, Guadalupe Valdés, and Aída Walqui.

Participants will have the opportunity to help shape the development of the heritage language field by articulating a national agenda on the preservation and cultivation of heritage languages as rich national resources.This work will be facilitated by task forces that will be established at the conference to address issues that include articulation across programs, teacher preparation, materials development, instructional strategies, assessment, and public advocacy.

Additional information about the Heritage Languages in America conference (conference program, registration form, information about the Heritage Language Initiative, and other resources) may be found at CAL's Web site: A conference registration form is provided on the following page. We invite you to attend!

To receive a conference brochure and registration form by mail, contact Lara Atella at or by telephone at 202-667-8100.


Campbell, R.(1996). New learners and new challenges. In R.C. Lafayette (Ed.), National standards: A catalyst for reform (pp. 97-117). Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook.

Heritage Language Materials Available From ERIC/CLL

News Bulletin


Resource Guide Online

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