Heritage Language Maintenance Alongside English Language Acquisition

One mechanism that can overturn many unfavorable outcomes may be the expansion of heritage terminology maintenance programs. Studies by Carl Bankston and Min Zhou, Russell Rumberger and Kathryn Larson and Wallace Lambert have shown that heritage terminology maintenance alongside English language acquisition is a significant predictor of greater cognitive flexibility when compared with English monolingual students.

Across grade levels, children who continue to develop reading and writing skills in their heritage language have been found to have higher grade point averages, higher standardized test scores in math and in English (see work by David Dolson, and Alejandro Portes and Lingxin Hao), lower drop-out rates and more positive attitudes toward high school (Kathryn Lindholm-Learly and Graciela Borsato; Wayne Thomas and Virginia Collier), higher educational expectations (see work by François Nielsen with Steven Lerner), and more ambitious plans for the future (see work by Homer García) than do their counterparts who have lost proficiency in their heritage language.

This is especially noteworthy in families that have a tradition of literacy. The results differ somewhat among children from environments of multi-generational poverty whose families have little or no formal schooling and whose parents are illiterate in the heritage language. There is a suggestion in this regard that biliteracy makes a greater contribution to education than does bilingualism.

At one point in the past, the prevailing theory was that maintaining one’s native language was detrimental to a child’s cognitive growth. Teachers were advised to tell parents that they should not speak the heritage language at home, and use only English to facilitate its development.

The belief that bilingualism is detrimental for children’s cognitive development has affected scores of children, interfered with generations of family relationships, and contributed to the considerable shortage of the nation’s pool of proficient heritage language speakers. For all that and many more reasons, Heritage language maintenance alongside English language acquisition should be a very important point to be considered in our culture.