CANCELED: Demographics of Heritage Language Speakers in the U.S.

MAR 19, 2020 | 4:30 PM TO 6:30 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue




March 19, 2020: 4:30 PM-6:30 PM





Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC)


Heritage language (HL) speakers are those who have acquired a minority language at home and whose primary language has shifted from the minority (home) language to the majority language (English in the U.S.) through schooling and other social contact. In this talk, I first present regional and chronological changes in the demographics of HL speakers in the U.S. between 1980 and 2010 using the Integrated Public User Microdata Series (U.S. Census data). I will also present some data on HL speakers at community colleges, which show both expected and unexpected language shifts taking place.
The census data show that the number of HL speakers grew at a considerably faster rate (26.98% per decade from 1980-2010) than the average growth of the U.S. population (10.88% per decade from 1980-2010). However, the growth rates differ radically from state to state and from language to language. In some states and for some languages, there was even a decline in the number of HL speakers during the same time period. For example, while HL speakers of new immigrant languages (such as Arabic, Hindi, and Vietnamese) experienced substantial growth between 1980-2010, HL speakers of former immigrant languages such as French, German, and Italian saw rapid declines. These differences by region and language suggest that social contexts for individual HL speakers are rather complex and should not be assumed similar each other. Maintenance and attrition of HLs are, to large extent, a function of social environment, in which the HL speakers receive different facilitative or inhibitory reinforcement (e.g., availability of HL/bilingual programs etc.). I argue that such social factors significantly differ from individual to individual depending on the language the HL speakers use and on which regions they reside.

The second part of the talk presents data on HL speakers at community colleges. The increase in HL students in higher education is particularly noticeable at community colleges, which are more likely to accommodate immigrants and children of immigrants. According to the survey-based national study that we conducted in 2015, as many as 42% of community college students in modern language classrooms are identified as HL speakers. The survey data indicate, however, nearly 50% of HL speakers at community colleges are not actively seeking to maintain their HL through modern language classes. I will present some possible reasons.

Tomonori Nagano is an Associate Professor of Japanese and Linguistics at LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY). He has received his Ph.D. and M.Phil. in Linguistics from the CUNY Graduate Center and his MA in TESOL from New York University. His research interests are second language acquisition and Japanese as a heritage language. His publicatons include acquisition of transitivity in second language (Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism), demographics of heritage language speakers in the U.S. between 1980-2010 (Modern Language Journal), and a national survey on teaching and learning of foreign languages at community colleges (Foreign Language Annals) (  for the publication list). He is a certified tester and rater (Japanese) for OPI and AAPLE of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and is currently serving as a board member for the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages (ADFL) at MLA.