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How to Help Students Avoid Heritage Language Loss

For students who have immigrated to the United States or who come from families who do not speak English as the primary language at home, learning to speak English fluently is one of the most important things he or she can do to ensure proper communication and education in the classroom. Over time, as children assimilate more into the English-dominated world, both in the classroom and with their peers, they may begin to lose some of their heritage language due to lack of practice outside the home. This may even result in English becoming the primary language at home, at least among the children in the family, and cause potential communication issues and barriers if students do experience this language loss.

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Since strong student-parent communication is vital for a student’s success in school, we’ve compiled a few ways your school can aid LEP (limited English proficient) students and parents when it comes to language loss.

1. Offer bilingual education opportunities where possible/appropriate. If the school system has the ability to offer dual-language courses for these students, it will help encourage the use of their primary language outside of the home. Older students who are able to choose elective type classes may also benefit from a Spanish (or whichever language is dominant in your area) for heritage speakers class, with a focus on preserving the language skills they already have instead of learning a new language from scratch.

2. Work with parents to inform them about the potential of language loss and ways they can encourage the use of the primary language both at home and in the community. Parents may assume that using English in the home will benefit the child by speeding up the process of learning English in general. However, this can increase the language loss of their heritage language, as the child will no longer have an outlet for using this language if it is not spoken on a regular basis at home.

3. Provide information in the parents’ primary language. Research language groups and activities in the community that may afford the child an opportunity to use his/her heritage language outside of school or the home and compile a list of these options on a professionally translated handout.

4. Offer a professional interpreter for parent-teacher conferences so that parents feel comfortable discussing any issues, or celebrating their child’s accomplishments, with you. This also allows students to see their heritage language being used in a setting outside the home, showcasing its importance to the school, as well.

If these students see that your school places a level of importance on their heritage languages, it increases the likelihood that they will want to continue speaking it inside and outside the home. This not only helps aid in student-parent communication, it also shows parents you are invested in not only teaching their child, but in preserving an important part of their culture as well.