NHLRC Holds 2nd Conference on Heritage/Community Languages
from left: Maria Carreira, Diego Pascual y Cabo, Genevieve Leung, Netta Avinieri, Maria Polinsky, and Olga Kagan. Photo: Erin Orias.

NHLRC Holds 2nd Conference on Heritage/Community Languages

A pre-conference workshop, variety of presentations and plenaries, and awards to young scholars show the growth of heritage language studies as an academic field.

The Second International Conference on Heritage/Community Languages  was held on March 7-8, 2014. Organized by the National Heritage Language Resource Center (NHLRC) at UCLA, the conference was attended by 325 people from 13 countries representing over 70 heritage languages. The conference’s 40 panels offered presentations on research findings, the teaching of heritage languages, practices and perspectives on heritage language teaching and community language schools, and the role of home and community in the transmission of these languages.

In her opening remarks, NHLRC director Olga Kagan stressed the collaborative nature of the field’s development, pointing out that the first U.S. national conference on heritage languages was held in Long Beach in 1999. That early work has informed all that has followed, with the result that heritage language studies have been placed “on the map of scholarship and praxis” in the U.S. According to recent U.S. Census figures, over 20% of United States residents speak a language other than English at home.  

A heritage speaker is exposed to a language spoken at home but is educated primarily in English. Although these speakers typically are deficient in formal knowledge of their heritage language, their lifelong exposure gives them substantial skills and they can reach high proficiency with the right kind of instruction. NHLRC was established in 2006 with funding from the U.S. Department of Education for the purpose of establishing a research base, as well as developing principles and practices for teacher education, instructional materials, and curriculum development for the new field. According to recent U.S. Census Bureau figures, over 20% of U.S. residents speak another language at home.

In addition to the panels, the conference featured three plenary talks on issues related to multilingualism. The first plenary, by  Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences, discussed the challenges to education presented by the last 20 years of global migration. These challenges converge in the areas of economics and family cohesion. The practice of sending remittances to support family members in other countries, whch total over $350 billion, more than twice the total of all foreign aid “puts the ethics of migration as a family system at the center of the story.” 

Elana Shomany (Tel Aviv University), showed examples of the “linguistic landscape” resulting from public signs in a variety of languages and what they suggest about contested space in an officially multilingual area.

NHLRC co-director Maria Polinsky (Harvard University) spoke about her latest research on the difficulties that heritage speakers face in relearning their heritage language, including the influence of the societally dominant language (e.g., English in the U.S.), and the implications for understanding and creating language learning models for all language learners.

Carmen Silva-Corvalán (USC) discussed her longitudinal study of her bilingual (Spanish and English) grandchildren, the topic of her most recent book, Bilingual Language Acquisition: Spanish and English in the First Six Years (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Another new book, Handbook of Heritage, Community, and Native American Languages in the United States (Routledge and Center for Applied Linguistics) was launched at the conference and was the focus of a panel discussion.

Russell  Campbell Young Scholar Awards were given to Netta Avinieri (Monterey Institute of International Studies), Genevieve Leung (University of San Francisco), and Diego Pascual y Cabo (Texas Tech University). These awards, named in memory of the late Russell Campbell, a professor of applied linguistics at UCLA, recognize young scholars whose research has made substantive contributions to heritage language studies.  In addition, Julio Torres (State University of New York at Albany) received an award in special recognition for his contributions to NHLRC, which include the creation of a portal for research and proficiency assessment tools.

The Joshua Fishman Award was given to Richard Brecht (University of Maryland, National Foreign Language Center), an expert in language policy, in recognition of his work in promoting heritage language education in the U.S.  Brecht spoke about the need for effective language preparation in the U.S. and the role of heritage language education in that effort.

A March 6 pre-conference workshop was offered by NHLRC co-director Maria Carreira (CSU Long Beach) on teaching heritage and non-heritage speakers in the same classroom, which is common since few programs offer separate classes for each group.


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