Why Children of Immigrants Need to Learn Heritage Language(s)

by Corey · 2 comments

Growing up as the child of immigrants: parents struggle to assimilate into their new home, their children long to know where they belong. How does language come into play? Where does culture fit in?

Why do so many immigrant parents choose to speak the community language with their children rather than sticking with their native language? Often the path that children of immigrants must take is to learn their heritage language on their own.

Because I started to be able to speak Thai more fluently with them and my cousins, it gave me a leeway into the world that I wouldn’t have otherwise because they were always working and I think a lot of immigrant families , they’ll have that too.

Where does the child of immigrants find stability? Straddling both the parents’ culture and the community culture, children may end up feeling that they need to choose one over the other. What is a child to do?

At the time I thought that I had to choose between my American lifestyle and my Thai heritage. What these kids are learning is that you can embrace both.

This interview from NPR (National Public Radio) touched my heart and I am sure it will resonate with many of you as well. Even though it was originally aired in 2006, the story is timeless:

For more stories and links like this, check out Multilingual Living Magazine where we originally shared this interview.

Can you relate to the experiences in this interview? Were your parents immigrants to a new country? Were they determined to integrate as much as possible? Did you feel the need to choose between cultures and languages?

Corey Heller is the founder of Multilingual Living and the Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of Multilingual Living Magazine. Multilingual Living is the place where she shares her knowledge about raising multilingual and multicultural children. Corey, an American, and her German husband live in Seattle where they raise and homeschool their three children, ages 15, 14 and 12, in German and English.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ron August 31, 2011 at 5:03 pm

I agree with the fact that parents would somehow struggled teaching their children their own heritage. As a child, they can easily adapt into their environment when they migrate. Better to teach them now as early as you could.


2 Corey January 3, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Thank you for your comment, Ron. You are so right! The earlier we start our children with our languages, the more of a chance they have to take their languages for granted (and to continue using them)!


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