Factors in Language Development

What are some other factors that influence heritage language development? 

Learning a heritage language is a complex process, and there are many different factors contributing to the varying degrees of proficiency demonstrated in heritage language populations.

Some of the additional factors that play a role in heritage language development include:


  • HLLs exposed to the heritage language earlier in life often demonstrate higher proficiency levels (Flores, 2015; Montrul, 2010)

Degree of exposure 

  • HLLs who use the heritage language more frequently often demonstrate increased proficiency and bilingualism in the majority and heritage languages (Flores, 2015)

Type of exposure 

  • HLLs who learn the heritage language in a naturalistic setting often demonstrate increased aural processing skills and native-like pronunciation (Montrul, 2010)

Parental attitudes 

  • Positive parental attitudes are beneficial to the language development of young HLLs and often lead to higher proficiency levels (Makarova et al., 2019)
  • However, despite positive attitudes towards HL maintenance, expectations that HLLs should strive towards a pure, monolingual-like variety of the language can lead to language insecurity and avoidance (Tseng, 2020)

Personal motivations 

  • Adult HLLs who strongly identify with the heritage culture can have higher proficiency levels (Malone et al., 2014)
  • Perceived language attrition can be a powerful motivator for wanting to reconnect with the L1 community and with one’s own heritage identity (Venturin, 2019)

One way to learn more about your HL students’ background in and experience with the language is to administer a survey or questionnaire at the beginning of the course. You can ask students to tell you more information about how and when they have been exposed to the language, as well as their familial, cultural, and personal relationships with the language and/or culture. If you work with young learners who may not be able to provide this information, you can always reach out to their families to assist with this task.

By understanding your students’ backgrounds, you will have a better sense of your students’ expected proficiency profiles, which will help in developing curriculum, planning for assessment, and creating opportunities for differentiated instruction to support all types of learners.