The role of the community in bilingualism that involves a heritage language





By Felicia Jennings-Winterle, Bilingual Education
Updated on October/2016, Fernanda Krüger, Renata Molina, and Carla Pontes (contributors)
Translated by Michelle Gontijo

If two heads think better than one and only one swallow does not make summer, educating bilingual children requires the support of an entire community. In years past, I used to hear from parents that they “did not know any Brazilians.” First-time and experienced parents, who had recently moved out of Brazil or who had already been living abroad for a while, told me they did not have any friends and felt alone. These were actually reasons why many of them gave up speaking Portuguese with their children.

That is — and always was — a tough facet of the reality of those who live abroad: since we do not have relatives around, we need replacements. That is why friendships we make out here have a fundamental role. Imagine being part of a group of parents who’s children are similar in age with your own, can play and learn together, who live close to you, thus making all the difference in the vitality of your family’s heritage language?

In this updated post (the original version was written in 2012), it is already possible to celebrate: the whole world knows about Portuguese as a Heritage Language (and therefore the verbs of the first paragraph have been changed from the present to the past).

There are several groups that gather in different countries, and there is an even bigger number of resources on websites, blogs and social media groups, especially on Facebook, where parents and teachers from all over the world can get to know each other, exchange ideas about bilingual education and, of course, give suggestions.


Promoting because a flock of swallows is needed to announce summer, schedule events and bring people together. Informing because when we exchange ideas, about bilingualism and beyond, families grow stronger. The community as a whole should be aware of the benefits of bilingual education and, therefore, apply language policies in favor of this lifestyle. Encouraging because keeping the flame of bilingualism on is a constant challenge depending on the age, city, country and the child involved. Having a group of families in the same situation makes this a tangible challenge, not a difficult one.


An active and united community contributes to the promotion and encouragement of bilingualism involving a Heritage Language, while lending spaces for meetings and events for the celebration of both the heritage and the local culture, for example.

Pedagogical proposals, private or governmental, that cultivate cultural values and promote education in and about the minority language are called initiatives* and their greatest task is to replicate a world in the Heritage Language.

In these proposals, the Heritage Language is put in context through various activities, situations and opportunities. The appropriation of it, through social, affective and sensory experiences, starts at home, but it has to continue in a group.

We should mention, however, that parents and educators need to be aware that an effective learning and the development of the desire to speak and “live” in the Heritage Language flourish if there is encouragement. If the minority language is part of the child’s multiple contexts, it becomes a useful and productive language.

Initiatives, projects, meetings may already exist and be organized on the street on which you live, but if you do not invest a special time to get involved, these practices eventually disappear… often simply because of lack of quorum. Then, the opportunities to experience the target language are reduced, making its maintenance difficult, and in some cases just not possible. The commitment and the consistency in the participation of the family in social practices are undoubtedly essential in the context of any Heritage Language.

Portuguese as Heritage Language has a commemorative date.
Since 2014, May 16 is Portuguese as Heritage Language Day, the target language of this platform. Through this and other actions, Brasil em Mente and dozens of other initiatives have an enormous and efficient role in helping to raise awareness about the specificity of teaching Portuguese in the context of immigration. Around the world we have exchanged information, knowledge, practices and projects as never before. You can learn more about the various initiatives that promote Portuguese and Brazilian culture through the column “Pelo Mundo“. If you know about other initiatives, let us know. If you would like to set up an initiative and need guidance, please contact us.

* The term initiatives (also known as community schools) synthesizes other terminology like playgroup, playschool, school, workshop, meetings, and so forth. The use of the word “initiative”, instead of a term that incorporates “school” is justified because there is an intrinsic need among these unique educational practices to improve their structuring, and distinguishing them from schooling models (public, private and even homeschooling) is, as well as better equipping the individuals that lead them, a must. An initiative is characterized in terms of its frequency and pedagogical expectations. Formal are those that promote meeting more than once a week, for at least 4 hours a week; informal are those that promote meetings once a week, for less than 4 hours a week; and sporadic are those with irregular frequence of meetings, motivated by celebrations and festivities, for example. Such delineation is important, not only in regards to the expectations of the initiative, but also to the way such expectations can be reached (Jennings-Winterle & Lima-Hernandes, 2015, p. 3).

Also read:
The role of the mother, the father, the grandparents, the school.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 8.49.02 PMFelicia researchers Portuguese as a Heritage Language and is the Founder and Educational Director of Brasil em Mente, the organization that maintains this platform.
© Our content is protected by autoral rights. Share only with the link, citing: Plataforma Brasileirinhos, Brasil em Mente.

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