Episode 168

Why Heritage Learners Aren't Normal Language Learners


January 27th, 2020

1 hr 16 mins 22 secs

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About this Episode

Do you know someone who grew up speaking a language at home as a child, but never fully developed it because their environment wasn't able to support it?

This community of speakers who grow up with a different dominant language is called heritage language speakers. They are often found in immigrant communities. In fact, here in the UK there are many thousands of them all over the country.

In this episode, I spoke to academics Petros Karatsareas and Katie Harrison who study heritage and community languages here in the UK.

We talked about

  • the conditions that create non-mainstream language environments
  • the identities of learning these languages as a migrant
  • why heritage learners exist in their own category of language learner
  • complementary schools providing extra language education often on Saturdays and evenings.

These schools are volunteer-run and bridge the gap that often exists between the heritage language and the mainstream education a child receives.

We also talked about what is different when you approach learning your own heritage languages as an adult. Do you need to know grammar? What about reading and writing? Where can you even go to learn a language in this unique situation? There are some heritage language programmes at universities in the USA, but Petros and Katie emphasized how much more needs to be done.

I came away from this interview hugely encouraged and inspired by the efforts of complementary schools here in the UK, and will do what I can to bring you a field trip recording in the next year.

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