Heritage Language Survey Report

Sec. 3/10: Biographical Background

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The following questions seek biographical information on our respondents to examine how biography might affect their HL skill levels and attitudes. Most questions in this section focus on the respondents’ exposure to their HL before enrolling in an HL class.

9. Where were you born?

Place of Birth  
United States 1045 62.4%
Former Soviet Union 174 10.4%
Other Country 121 7.2%
China 76 4.5%
Mexico 54 3.2%
Philippines 42 2.5%
Vietnam 42 2.5%
Taiwan 39 2.3%
Korea 30 1.8%
Iran 27 1.6%
Japan 9 0.5%
India 7 0.4%
Thailand 6 0.4%
Indonesia 2 0.1%
Pakistan 1 0.1%
Israel 0 0.0%

The majority of HLLs who answered the survey, 62.4%, was born in the U.S. Of the 37.6% born abroad, the largest group came from the former Soviet Union, mostly encompassing the Russian and Armenian responses. The second largest group came from China, though adding in Taiwan and Hong Kong would produce a greater number of Chinese-speaking foreign-born HLLs than for the former Soviet Union.

10. If you were not born in the U.S., how old were you when you arrived in this country?

Out of 628 respondents who were born in another country, 84 (13%) arrived in the U.S. when they were younger than 2, 191 (30%) between the ages of 2-5, 174 (29%) between the ages of 6-10, 83 (13%) between the ages of 11-13, 59 (9%) between the ages of 14-18, and 37 (6%) were older than 18.

11. If you were not born in the U.S., did you attend school in your country of birth?

Of the 642 who responded to this question, 385 (60%) did attend school in the country of their birth and 257 (40%) did not.

12. If you attended school in another country, for how many years?

467 HLLs responded to this question. This figure is larger than the 385 who said they attended school in their country of birth, which could be a result of both the different wording of items 11 and 12 (“another country” versus “country of birth”) and the complexities of migration. The majority who responded in the affirmative to this question attended school in a country other than U.S. for fewer than 5 years: 165 (35%) spent 1-2 years and 110 (24%) spent 3-5 years. 80 (17%) went to school in a different country for 6-8 years, 56 (12%) for 9-12 years, and 36 (8%) for more than 12 years. The last two responses may seem surprising: if people have had more than 9 years of instruction in a home language, why would they need heritage language instruction? Again, it is important to note that the question did not ask whether they attended schools whose medium of instruction was their own native language; in countries of the former Soviet Union, for example, it would not be unusual to complete formal schooling in a language different from one’s native language. Of the 20 (4%) who answered “Other,” most mentioned study abroad trips or schooling in non-HL countries such as Australia or Canada.

13. As a young child, did you first learn to read in English or in your HL?

Given that 1,045 (61%) of our 1,701 respondents were either born in the U.S. or came here before the age of 2, it is not surprising that the largest group of respondents answering this question (695, or 42%), first learned to read in English. The number is low enough, however, that some who were born here or moved here before learning to read still learned to read their HL first or in tandem with English. 602 (37%) respondents learned to read their HL first, and 345 (21%) learned both at the same time.

14. Have you traveled to a country where your HL is predominantly spoken?

1,223 respondents reported visiting at least once a country where their HL is spoken. 589 reported visiting only once or twice, and 431 reported visiting 3-5 times. 203 answered that they visit regularly, at least once a year. Of the 78 “Other” respondents, the majority reported visiting more than once a year. A small number of the “Other” respondents misunderstood the question and answered that they were born in such a country.