Heritage Language Teaching

What is a Heritage Language?

Heritage language is a term widely used for a language spoken in the home that is different from the main language spoken in the society. The term is mainly used in educational environments. Heritage Language schools are community based education centres that are set up to promote Heritage Language and cultural learning. Usually Heritage Language Programs are set up as after-school or weekend programs.

What are the expected outcomes of a Heritage Language Program?

Heritage language instruction:

  • promotes self-esteem in learners
  • enhances formation of personal and cultural identity
  • increases cultural, economic, educational and professional opportunities both in the present and in the future
  • prepares learners for living and working in cross-cultural environments; a skill especially useful in the Canadian context
  • augments the ability to adjust to new environments and ways of thinking and behaving
  • provides opportunities for students to communicate with family, bridging gaps between generations in both language and culture

What is the value of a Heritage Language Program?

Language is both the repository and transmitter of a group's culture, history, and traditions. The study of heritage languages strengthens linguistic and cultural heritage, maintains a valuable economic resource, and promotes intercultural and cross-cultural understanding in learners.

In your opinion, what are the benefits in enrolling students in heritage language programs?

How is teaching in a Heritage Language Program different from teaching in public school contexts?

There are some differences between teaching in a Heritage Language After School Program and in a Public School Context. Heritage Language teachers are given the challenge of trying to increase language skills despite seeing the students only a few times a week. However, many teachers are able to overcome this barrier as they find the students often approach their heritage classes with more seriousness than a normal class; the students will often recognize that this is specific time dedicated to improving their language skills and connecting to an identity that is very important to their family. Parents stress this importance by placing their children in this learning context and making the extra effort to get them there. Students in Heritage Language Programs often receive more homework, but this is mostly due to the nature of the programs, since the students only receive so many hours of instruction a week. The focus in class time is on communication since they are limited in their interaction opportunities, and therefore must do more written work at home.

Heritage Language Programs do not solely teach language, they put a high value on identity and culture; for many students, this serves as a bridge between generations as they come to realize just how different their parents’ or grandparents’ lives were from their own and make an effort to learn about these differences. This is often a key outcome for many parents, they want their children to have a real understanding and focus on family life and history.

What do Teachers and Parents Say?

A language teacher and researcher explains why heritage languages are important for students (SPANISH, 1:38). 


A language teacher and researcher explains why heritage languages are important for students (KOREAN, 1:17). 

A language teacher and parent explains why heritage languages are important for students (ITALIAN, 2:32). 




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