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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.

Early Language Learning Positions Workers for an Expanding Global Market

In the United States, the majority of students who learn a second language do not begin learning this language until the age of 14, or when they enter high school. However, studies have shown that there are several benefits to learning a foreign language earlier in life, and many elementary schools are offering foreign language courses, as well. Spanish is the foreign language most commonly taught at the elementary school level, followed by French, Latin and Chinese. In a market in which the demand for bilingual individuals is growing rapidly, the earlier the student can begin his or her language learning the better. Not only do students who begin learning a second language in elementary school often show improved test scores and cognitive function over those who do not, but these students are also 70% more likely to reach an intermediate level of communication than those who begin in high school. This means that the early language learner has a much higher chance of effectively using these skills in the marketplace as an adult. As more and more companies expand and do business overseas, the ability to be able to speak and interact with those who speak another language will be more important than ever. 

Those who are able to master a second language from an early age are also more likely to continue to develop their language skills throughout life. One way that they are able to do so is by developing skills needed for translation and interpretation, industries that continue to grow year after year. While simply being bilingual isn't enough for most translation and interpretation projects, those individuals who have the strong grasp of a second language from an early age are better equipped to master the art of translation or interpretation as an adult. A person who did not learn the language until later in life has to focus on both learning the language and the skills needed for translation and interpretation within a shorter time period.

In Europe, 80% of students speak a second language, but only 14% of students in the US consider themselves bilingual. When you couple results like higher test scores and cognitive function with a higher propensity for specialized language application later on, introducing a foreign language program into an elementary school level curriculum seems to make a good deal of sense, as it would allow the US to better position skilled bilingual workers in an ever-expanding global market.