Heritage Language Education in the U. S.: Research, Policies and Practice

The population among the 29 largest heritage language groups in the U. S increased at a higher rate than the total population between 1980 and 2019. The overall U. S. population grew by approximately 47 percent, while the heritage language population grew by 194 percent. Among the two largest heritage language groups, the Spanish-speaking community increased by about 31 million and the Chinese-speaking community increased by about 3 million during this period (U.S. Census Report, 2019).

Meeting the promise and nurturing the talents of the Spanish, Chinese, Native American, Alaskan, Hawaiian, Pacific Island, and additional heritage languages communities in the U. S. requires a fundamental shift in the mindset of language education. One of the challenges is changing the instructional approach for heritage languages education from a monolingual approach to a heritage language approach. While the primary goal of monolingual English-speaking students may be to acquire functional proficiency in a second language; heritage language students may want to acquire a formal proficiency in their home language in addition to developing literacy skills in academic content areas and to use in distinct social, work-related, and cultural settings.

In using adequate home language instructional approaches with heritage language learners, educators are developing valuable language resources for the benefit of society at large, for national security, and for heritage language communities socially, economically, and culturally.