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Heritage languages are quickly lost in predominantly monolingual environments such as the United States – usually by the second or third generation of immigrants. Such rapid loss is costly in many ways. This chapter will examine the acquisition, maintenance/loss and re-acquisition of heritage languages. We will explore factors that seem to predict acquisition, maintenance and loss. We will also explore how childhood experience with a heritage language may help adults re-learn the language. Korean is chosen as a focus because it seems particularly vulnerable to rapid attrition. Understanding its story may give us insights about other endangered heritage languages.
Heritage languages are often lost rapidly in a predominantly monolingual environment, usually by the second or third generation of immigrants (Veltman, 1983; Krashen, 1996). The United States is a case in point. About 28.4 million people – or roughly 10 percent of the American population – are foreign-born (US Bureau of the Census, 2000), bringing with them an impressive collection of heritage languages. However, only a minority of their children and virtually none of their grandchildren manage to speak their heritage language with ease and credibility (Fillmore, 2000). This rapid loss is costly in many ways. The language barrier exacerbates generation gaps in linguistic minority families. Heritage cultures, along with heritage languages, are also lost. At a broader level, the nation loses valuable linguistic resources much needed for bridging cultures within the nation and across nations. What can be done to stem the tide?
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