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Heritage Language Loss
July 2019


What does the research say about the relationship between K-12 student loss of heritage language and academic achievement, social interactions, and long-term English learner status?

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Guiberson, M. M., Barrett, K. C., Jancosek, E. G., & Yoshinaga Itano, C. (2006). Language maintenance and loss in preschool-age children of Mexican immigrants: Longitudinal study. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 28(1), 4–17. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"In this study, the authors plotted the Spanish language usage of 10 preschool-age children over the course of 3 years and assigned them to one of two groups: language maintenance and language loss. The authors then compared the groups' scores on structured tasks, language behaviors, and language usage/exposure variables. They found that children in the language loss group presented with more grammatical errors, whereas the language maintenance group performed better on Spanish vocabulary and language tasks."

Menken, K., & Kleyn, T. (2010). The long-term impact of subtractive schooling in the educational experiences of secondary English learners. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 13(4), 399–417. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This study examines a lesser-known population of students, called ‘long-term English language learners’ (LTELLs) in the USA, who now comprise one-third of all English language learners in New York City secondary schools. A major finding from our research, which explores the characteristics and educational needs of this student population, is that the students’ prior schooling has been subtractive, posing significant challenges for their academic literacy acquisition. Having attended school in the USA for seven years or more, LTELLs have experienced programming that has not provided sufficient opportunities to fully develop their native language literacy skills, in spite of research which states that such opportunities are correlated with school success."

Nesteruk, O. (2010). Heritage language maintenance and loss among the children of Eastern European immigrants in the USA. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 31(3), 271–286. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The present study offers an in-depth look at heritage language maintenance and loss among the children of immigrant professionals from Eastern Europe residing in the USA. Based on semi-structured interviews with 50 married mothers and fathers, I explore: (1) parental attitudes related to heritage language transmission to their children; (2) parental efforts to transmit heritage language; (3) reported barriers to heritage language transmission and maintenance; and (4) parental adjustments in response to children's diminishing heritage language skills. The roles of individual, family and community factors in the maintenance of heritage language in the second generation are discussed."

Stevenson, A. D., Martínez, A. J. G., Brkich, K. L., Flores, B. B., Claeys, L., & Pitts, W. (2019). Latinas’ heritage language as a source of resiliency: Impact on academic achievement in STEM fields. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 14(1), 1–13. Online first version retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This article highlights how the preservation of heritage languages is essential in the construction of three Georgia Latina participants' cultural identities and the creation of support networks that allow them to develop resiliency and achieve academically."

Shi, Z. (2013). Home literacy environment and English language learners’ literacy development: What can we learn from the literature? Canadian Children, 38(1), 29–38. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Intended for educators and researchers in the field of early childhood education working with children from immigrant families, this article first briefly addresses the relationship between home literacy environment and English language learners’ literacy development in both their heritage language and English. Second, through surveying the literature, I identify three different areas in which a home literacy environment influences English language learners’ literacy development: (a) through language attitudes and parental beliefs; (b) through identity formation; and (c) through literacy behaviour of immigrant parents. Some helpful strategies learned from the literature are provided for educators to use with newcomer families in support of children’s literacy development."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: Heritage OR Home OR Native OR First, Loss OR Attrition, Subtractive, Language, English learner

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.