Heritage Language Development

The NFLC is dedicated to promoting the importance of heritage communities for the nation's language capacity. As an active partner in the Heritage Language Alliance, and the National Heritage Database, NFLC continues to advocate educational policies that develop the full spectrum of language capabilities in members of heritage (minority language) communities in the US.

The more than 150 different non-indigenous and First Peoples' languages used in the United States are both a cultural treasure and a natural language resource. Indeed these "heritage" languages constitute a valuable element as the Unites States is increasingly recognizing the importance of fluency in more than one language. Even in the face of this recognition, however, heritage languages have frequently been overlooked in second language acquisition educational programs.

Since its early years, the NFLC has consistently highlighted the importance of heritage languages. The Mellon Foundation-funded Language Mission Project provided an opportunity in 1998 to promote the “heritage mission” in college and university language programs. In that context, NFLC convened an informal meeting of interested university faculty and administrators (January, 1998) that led to a heritage symposium at the University of Washington, and to a position paper authored by Richard D. Brecht and Catherine W. Ingold entitled, "Tapping a National Resource: Heritage Languages in the United States" (July, 1998). Subsequently, NFLC

  • Joined with the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in launching a Heritage Languages Initiative (HLI) to help the US education system recognize and develop heritage language resources as part of a larger effort to produce a broader cadre of citizens who can function professionally in English and other languages
  • Convened a heritage language symposium, hosted by the University of Washington, Seattle (September, 1998)
  • Sponsored a national conference on heritage languages in America with the assistance of California State University, Long Beach (October 1999)
  • Established a listserv, heritage-list@Majordomo.umd.edu, with over 350 subscribers (February, 2000)
  • Conducted an invitational research symposium at the University of California, Los Angeles (September, 2000)

The Heritage Languages Initiative has five objectives:

  1. Initiate and support dialogue among policy makers and language practitioners about the need to address heritage language development, as well as effective strategies for achieving enhanced development of heritage languages
  2. Promote the design and implementation of heritage language development programming at all levels – from early childhood through high school, in community colleges, and college and university settings – and foster better articulation among those settings
  3. Provide support in terms of policy, expertise, and resources for community based language programs wherever they exist, and support their development where they do not
  4. Encourage and support dialogue leading to collaboration, resource sharing, and articulation between formal education systems and the nation's heritage community language schools and programs
  5. Encourage and support research, both theoretical and applied, on heritage language development and on related public policy issues

Task Force on the Heritage Languages in Maryland

In 2009, in response to legislation sponsored by Maryland Sen. Rosapepe and Congresswoman Pena-Melnyk, NFLC Director Catherine Ingold chaired a multi-sector Task Force on the Preservation of Heritage Language Skills in Maryland to develop recommendations on strategies to promote and retain these languages.

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