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What exactly is a heritage language speaker?

Heritage language speakers are those whose home or ancestral language is a language other than English, including Native Americans, immigrants, and those born in the U.S. whose family speaks a language other than English.

For example, the founders of this website speak in Russian at home, and they live in Minnesota.  Their heritage language is Russian.  They are raising their children bilingually, since their children also know English, which is the dominant language (or majority language) of their location.  The children go to a typical English-speaking school, and the family works intentionally to nurture their oral and written skills in Russian at home.

Another example:  A German executive has been sent to work for a large corporation in Minneapolis for 2-3 years, and his/her spouse and children also come.   Naturally, English is important for their stay here, but it is also critical that the children maintain their German (the heritage language), as they are planning to return to that country within a few years.

Why should a heritage language speaker bother teaching their children that language, if now they live in the U.S.?  Isn’t it more important for the children to speak English now?

Consider the thousands of immigrant families in Minnesota who speak dozens of languages other than English.  We are saddened by stories of language loss among immigrant families, when children of such families are no longer able to communicate with their grandparents.  

Supporting the use of the heritage language in the home is important.  Research shows us that the stronger a child’s first or home language is, the more easily that child will acquire the language of school.    Beyond the academic benefits of strong home language ability, children who maintain this heritage language have added personal, social, cognitive, and cultural benefits as well.  Further reading on this topic can be found below.

Maintaining a heritage language in the home is no small task!  Parents must act intentionally to establish a pattern for language use that is a comfortable and productive fit for their families.  When children begin to read and write, many families look to Saturday schools or other classes to help gain literacy in the home language.  For preschool and school aged children, there are a number of community-based organizations that work to support specific language groups.  To find a heritage language school, go to our Directory of Services by Language and click on your language.


‘Mama, would you please speak English!’

CNN-In America, February 28, 2012

An interesting blog from a journalist who is also a bilingual parent.


Classes turn bilingual students into biliterate ones

An article about heritage Spanish speakers in a Houston middle school
Tuesday, January 31, 2012


First Speakers: Restoring the Ojibwe Language

A language is lost every fourteen days. One of those endangered tongues is Minnesota’s own Ojibwe language. Now a new generation of Ojibwe scholars and educators are racing against time to save the language. Working with the remaining fluent-speaking Ojibwe elders, they hope to pass the language on to the next generation. But can this language be saved?  Told by Ojibwe elders, scholars, writers, historians and teachers, this tpt original production is filled with hope for the future.


Our TOP PICK for learning more about Heritage Languages
is through the Center for Applied Linguistics, the Alliance for the Advancement of Heritage Languages

Click HERE for some tips we recommend from our own (ongoing) experiences with bilingual parenting.


Here are some resources we recommend to learn more about heritage languages:

A Short Guide to Raising Children Bilingually
By Fred Genesee, McGill University

Center for Applied Linguistics, Heritage Language Division
A comprehensive resource center for this specific area of language learning and teaching.  Includes articles, links, announcements, and even pages specifically for language groups, i.e., “Teaching Spanish to Native Spanish Speakers.”

Heritage Language Resource Center

Raising Bilingual Children: Common Parental Concerns and Current Research
Kendall King and Lyn Fogle, Georgetown University - in Spanish
Download a PDF of this digest.Adobe PDF icon

Tapping a National Resource: Heritage Languages in the United States
Online article with basic information about Heritage Languages from the Center for Applied Linguistics, May 2002
Download a PDF of this digest.Adobe PDF icon

Bilingual Edge Book CoverThe Bilingual Edge
The book provides a wealth of information for parents interested in providing their children with the benefits of learning more than one language. Learn more at


The Heritage Languages Journal
An online academic journal,  established in 2002, to provide a forum for scholars to publish the results of their research and to advance knowledge about educating heritage speakers. HLJ is published jointly by the Center for World Languages of UCLA and the UC Consortium for Language Learning and Teaching.


Other Publications

The Billingual Family Newsletter
A publication from Multilingual-Matters
This quarterly publication is designed to help all those families who, for various reasons, are in a situation where they can give their children (and themselves) the advantages of being bi- or multi-lingual. The newsletter publishes short informative articles on current thoughts on language learning, bilingualism, biculturalism, mother tongue, schools, etc. It also publishes descriptions of how particular families have managed in their particular situations, problems encountered and how these were overcome. Readership includes mixed marriage families; expatriate families in embassies, schools, contract work etc.; immigrant families; students of language learning; researchers in field of bilingualism.



Bilingual/Bicultural Family Network

Bilingual Families Webpage

Multilingual Children’s Association

Multilingual Living is “more than a one-stop-shop for information about raising children in more than one language and culture. Yes, you will get the TOOLS of raising multilingual children. But Multilingual Living will primarily focus on what is means to LIVE Multilingualism

Multilingual Matters

International Children’s Digital Library:

The ICDL Foundation's goal is to build a collection of books that represents outstanding historical and contemporary books from throughout the world.  Ultimately, the Foundation aspires to have every culture and language represented so that every child can know and appreciate the riches of children's literature from the world community.


Public Libraries

Minnesota’s public libraries offer many wonderful resources for heritage language families.  While services vary widely by location, many libraries offer collections of adult and children’s books in various languages, children’s storytimes, homework help, computer classes, and other services in common heritage languages like Spanish, Hmong, Somali, and Vietnamese.

In Hennepin County, collections of books in 18 languages are clustered in various locations.  Find them at this link:

Hennepin County Libraries also offer World Language Storytimes  for families with young children.  Several different library systems offer bilingual Spanish/English storytimes, and some offer other languages as well. 

Hennepin County’s storytimes in Hmong, Spanish, Somali, and Vietnamese can be found here:

A variety of service are available for new immigrants, including English classes, English conversation circles, and computer classes in Somali, Spanish, and Hmong.  First language book clubs are also held at various libraries.  Here are links to a few of the library systems in Minnesota; these are in the Twin Cities area:
Hennepin County:
Ramsey County:
St. Paul:
Anoka County:
Dakota County:
Carver County:

To find a public library near you, search this directory by city name: