A heritage language is not needed for work nor for everyday communication. So what’s the use of it?
- 16 June 2022
- Posted by: Cristina Schumacher
- Category: Intercultural Ink
By Cristina Schumacher, Director of Language Programmes, EarthDiverse
In very simple terms, what characterises a heritage language is that it is learned or spoken at home by the children of immigrants or indigenous peoples. It may also be the language one identifies with as part of their community and culture of origin, not necessarily as a fluent speaker.
Heritage languages don’t usually show as a required skill in jobs listings. Because the knowledge of a heritage language will hardly feature among the required skills for someone to progress along their career path, and more often than not it is seen as just an exotic perk, its speakers may not see the point in keeping it, let alone studying and improving it. It is true that if we see things the conventional way, a heritage language is likely to be considered one’s 100th or so priority.
So why invest time and energy to keep it or learn more about it?
There are many reasons for doing so. I mention a few below. You will see that I begin by addressing the emotional reasons, and this is no coincidence. Well-navigated emotions and subjectivity account for mostly resolved and positive human beings. And if you disagree and would rather see things being dealt with in a more objective way, the rational and matter-of-fact reasons follow.
REASONS FOR KEEPING YOUR HERITAGE LANGUAGE ALIVE:
Reasons from the heart. When there is a heritage language in our lives it tends to be the one we learned how to speak in, perhaps not exclusively the one in which we did so, but one among them, in the case of bilingual or even multilingual people. Simply put, it’s a language in which we express ourselves as babies, therefore it tends to be identified with this time of our lives and all the experiences that belong with it. In a way, keeping this communicative skill alive is also a way of maintaining contact with our inner child, or our most sensorial and emotional self.
Cultural reasons. Because different languages represent different cultures, and different cultures represent alternative perspectives on the world with their accompanying particular concepts and approaches, when we speak more than one language it is as if we had more than one angle from which to look at the world. This translates as more flexible or adjustable responses to crises or problems, or even more resourceful decision-making. For obvious reasons, the more languages we speak, understand and can think in, the greater the chances for increased flexibility skills to manifest.
Health reasons. It has been scientifically proven that multilingualism slows cognitive decline. Multilingual people think better for longer, very likely because they have to make an extra effort to switch between languages in diverse communicative contexts, which in turn must function like a kind of ‘brain gym’.
Social reasons. In a way, given that a language is really a code, mastering more than one code or language gives us that extra capacity of perceiving more of what is around. This can be the case because we use different vowel and consonant sounds, or just because we have access to one more range of reality, as it were. For this to make sense it helps to keep in mind that each language delivers a view of the world that is always sufficient for manifesting the facts and needs involved in where, how, when etc it is used – the geography, the ethnicity, the weather, etc of the place in which it is originally spoken. However, by saying that it is always sufficient for a particular reality to be expressed we’re automatically leaving other realities out. Humans use what they need, and so languages reflect a diversity of needs around the globe.
Personal reasons. We live in an increasingly competitive world, whether we like it or not. Possessing a special package of concepts – a certain combination of spoken languages to resort to in our thinking – will necessarily translate as a competitive advantage for us. Of course, our employer has to be able to see that, but, regardless of what others may appreciate from what knowledge we possess, this is the kind of thing that can only come to our advantage. Just knowing more than – or diversely from – the crowd is already advantageous.
There would be a lot more to say about the benefits and advantages of keeping our heritage language alive. In a way, knowing a heritage language means that we have been initiated on the path of multilingualism when we were still too young to make a decision about it. So whether we speak a little or some or much of our heritage language, being aware of what it really means and how this knowledge can work for us is essential. A well-maintained heritage language can make a huge difference in our lives.
If you wish to know more about this topic – or to take language courses and reap the benefits of multilingualism – contact me at [email protected]. It will be a pleasure to discuss this topic with you. In the meantime, see below what languages you can choose from if you decide to study with us at EarthDiverse.
- Farsi (Persian)
- Te Reo Māori