Heritage Language is only a child’s language?



Felicia Jennings-Winterle
Editorial October/2016

On October 12th Brazil celebrates what we Brazilians call “Children’s Day”… I won’t discuss the origins of this celebration nor the matters of consumerism that can (or cannot) be a product of that. I won’t detain myself on clichés reassuring for the 1,000th time something we should all have on the tip of our tongues: “everyday is children’s day”, though every day we also neglect them. Around the world, these “tiny humans” go through unspeakable things and very close to us they are forced to become, one way or another, mini-adults. It is a sad reality and one that always deserves our attention and discussion.

But what I would like to do here is reflect upon another aspect of childhood – its relationship to heritage languages (HL).

Every other day I encounter misunderstandings about HL. This is totally expected, especially since the discussions about this minority language are spread out, sometimes concerned with one language in particular, and therefore, one can say this is a field of study/practice still growing. Even the so-called specialists get confused. But the #1 inaccuracy seems to be the thought that “heritage language is a child’s language”. Is it?

Follow me on a philosophical path I developed with the word time – a central matter in the realm of HLs.

There’s a “right” time for everything in life (this “right” being extremely flexible) and the best time to develop a HL is in childhood. This does not mean that only children can speak a HL, nor that they should be the only focus of this practice. If it isn’t nurtured in childhood you shouldn’t think: I’m out of time.

A Heritage Language is, “by right”, the language of someone who has a familial (of family: dad, mom, grandparents – don’t confuse with familiarity) connection with, let’s say, Portuguese or Italian or German.

But in childhood there’s time to see, to feel, to listen and to try things – it’s time to grow. Time goes by and then, there isn’t time for anything. Children must have time for everything but to take time off. It’s no surprise that they have no time to spend time with those whose time now is to take time to show that, a long time ago, time was different… it had other colors, flavors, smells, temperatures and sounds but, such time can also be part of the time of their hybrid or “third culture” child – one who spends times being one way and times being another way.


A lot of time, huh?

Yes, a lot of time must be invested. Precious time that requires love, determination, patience, consistency and frequency… it has to be at all times.

But you have all the time in the world to acquire a heritage, or, as we would literally translate from Portuguese, an inheritance. And in that frame of mind, you don’t need to involve a bank or a lawyer. At the right time, you, young adult or older adult, can spend time enjoying your Heritage.

And since your time is precious, and so is mine, let’s be frank: You will need time. Don’t rush it. Sometimes you will have the desire to go back in time. Do it! Other times you will think that this is a waste of your time. Don’t waste it!

That’s exactly why I would like to say to you, parent, or you, who hasn’t even thought about being a parent: Do things in your own time but on time. The benefits, the accomplishments, the results will be seen at all times and for a long time, even when sometimes things get hard here and there.

The time is now and it is theirs… the children’s. Give yourself time to also do adult stuff, of course. But, be aware: the time you spend with them is always too little time. Hurry up, you have time to spare now. Time flies…

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.

2 comentários em “Heritage Language is only a child’s language?

  1. Pingback: Many tongues…

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