Community-based language schools in the national educational landscape

by Joy Kreeft Peyton (Alliance for the Advancement of Heritage Languages (Alliance), Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), Washington, DC)


Based on work by Joshua Fishman (1960s and 1980s), information from organizations documenting programs, and researchers in heritage language education, we can safely estimate that there are at least 8,000 community-based heritage language schools in the United States, teaching over 200 languages. They are often established by members of the community in weekend schools, weekday afternoon schools, evening classes, summer programs, and special classes in community and religious centers (Fishman, 2001; Fishman & Nahirny, 1996; Liu, 2010; Wiley, 2007, 2008). These schools are largely invisible to society at large and even to public school staff in the communities in which they function. They are usually not mentioned in discussions of our nation’s need for language proficiency and of strategies for meeting that need. However, they are an important part of the lives of the students, families, and communities that they serve. This presentation describes an effort by the Alliance and CAL to document and spotlight community-based language schools and to bring together individuals working in these programs. The value that these schools bring to their participants, our education efforts, and U.S. society generally will be discussed. The presenter and participants will then think about next steps we can take together.



Joy Kreeft Peyton is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington, DC. She is a founding member and leader of the steering committee for the Alliance for the Advancement of Heritage Languages (, hosted at CAL. The Alliance is dedicated to the preservation and development of proficiency of speakers of languages other than English (in those languages) and documentation of programs dedicated to developing proficiency in those languages. She is co-editor of Heritage Languages in America: Preserving a National Resource (Center for Applied Linguistics and Delta Systems) and Language in Action: New Studies of Language in Society (Hampton Press) and co-author of Heritage Language Education in the United States: A Need to Reconceptualize and Restructure, in Sustaining Linguistic Diversity: Endangered and Minority Languages and Language Varieties. She is a member of the editorial advisory board of the Heritage Language Journal.