Today we’re talking about heritage speakers. You may be asking yourself, ‘what is a heritage speaker’, and in short, it refers to a person who had learned a language as a child, but then lost it later in life.
A heritage speaker can also be one whose family has historically spoken the language. Because of the heritage, the speaker is more easily predisposed to learning the language and may have a much easier time in actually learning it over their peers. The advantages of being a heritage speaker are many, but there are also some disadvantages.
Some disadvantages could be an assumption that the heritage speaker knows a particular language when in reality they don’t comprehend the conversation occurring around them, or the misunderstanding a cultural reference because they didn’t grow up in it.
In addition to the basic definition above, Guadalupe Valdés, a professor at Stanford University, has created her own version of what a heritage speaker is. Unlike the disadvantages of not understanding a culture, the heritage speaker has more opportunities for learning language and should not be a cause for stress.
“For those individuals interested in strengthening endangered indigenous languages or maintaining immigrant languages that are not normally taught in school, heritage language refers to a language with which individuals have a personal connection. It is the historical and personal connection to the language that is salient and not the actual proficiency of individual speakers.” Valdés wrote in her article.
The article goes on to state that “the term heritage language student has a different meaning than it does for those concerned with endangered indigenous languages or immigrant languages that are not regularly taught in school.”
According to Valdés, the term heritage speaker is a relatively new concept and was coined in the Standards for Foreign Language Learning.