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Sparking large-scale change in heritage language education: A Global Call to Action

February 21, 2024

In time for UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day 2024, which celebrates students’ universal right to study their heritage languages, a new global think tank of academics and practitioners have created an easy-to-use list of recommendations for everyone – from students to mainstream schools to policy-makers – to help improve heritage language and culture education for multilingual children worldwide.  

 “A simple step that everyone can take is being aware of which heritage language programs are operating in your community.”

- Dr. Sabine Little from Sheffield University

Hidden gems in our communities

In a “Global Call to Action for Heritage Language Education,” a newly established Heritage Language (HL) Global Think Tank gives recommendations for how to achieve more sustainable heritage language teaching worldwide. Dr. Joy Kreeft Peyton, president of the U.S. Coalition for Community-Based Heritage Language Schools, explains, “Not everyone is aware of heritage language programs.” Also called “mother tongue schools” or “weekend schools,” heritage language programs are often non-profit, grassroots initiatives operated by parents and volunteers from a language community in order to maintain the language and culture of their children’s heritage. “It is because these lessons take place outside of regular school hours that the general public is often unaware of their existence. But these are hidden gems in our community!”

Collective action urgently needed

The HL Global Think Tank formed in 2022, when coalition leaders from North America, Europe, and Australia decided to come together regularly to discuss the persistent challenges faced by heritage language programs, as well as possible solutions. According to Dr. Renata Emilsson Peskova of the University of Iceland and Móðurmál – the Association on Bilingualism, “Collective action is urgently needed. We must prevent unnecessary language loss, because language loss negatively impacts individuals, families, and societies as a whole. Many of the challenges faced by heritage language programs stem from misconceptions about linguistic diversity.” 

Human rights and equity

The members of the think tank are optimistic that the Global Call to Action for Heritage Language Education will spark a large-scale change in language education and language policy-making. They believe that International Mother Language Day is the perfect time to launch this Global Call to Action because the day represents the struggle and hope for access to education in one’s mother tongue. Dr. Nina Paulovicova from Athabasca University in Canada explains, “Access to heritage language education is a human rights issue and equity issue. Heritage language education must become a fundamental element in official policy on language education in societies across the world. We are not only talking about local and national governmental policy, but also family language policy, mainstream school policy, and corporate social responsibility policy.”

What can you do?

The recommendations made in the Global Call to Action give concrete examples of how students, caregivers, mainstream teachers and principals, heritage language teachers, libraries, non-profit initiatives, universities, journalists, local businesses, and government officials can work collectively to improve the quality and reach of heritage language education. “A simple step that everyone can take,” points out Dr. Sabine Little from Sheffield University, “is being aware of which heritage language programs are operating in your community.” Other suggestions include providing ways for heritage language programs to have access to suitable and affordable lesson locations and for students to gain recognition and accreditation for their skills in the heritage language.

There has been growing recognition of multilingualism in the U.K. and elsewhere in recent years and innovative approaches showing how this can be embedded in language education,” acknowledges Dr. Jim Anderson, who serves as research fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London, and helps lead the Home, Heritage, Community Languages Advisory Group. “But there is so much more that can be done. Our team is looking forward to witnessing the impact of this Global Call to Action.

February 21, International Mother Language Day, marks the launch of the Global Call to Action. Throughout the year, the Call will be added in other languages, and events will be organized to promote it, discuss it, and raise awareness about it. For updates, follow FOHLC Europe (Forum of Heritage Language Coalitions in Europe):

Pledge commitment

If you want to help heritage language educators and the children they support, please be sure to pledge commitment to the Global Call to Action publicly on social media and share widely within your networks.

Find and share the Global Call to Action for Heritage Language Education: 

GCTA HLE - v.01 - EN
Download PDF • 5.34MB

Hashtags to use on social media when pledging support: 

Social media images: 

You can also download the images here:

For inquiries:

U.S. Coalition of Community-Based Heritage Language Schools

Forum of Heritage Language Coalitions Europe (FOHLC Europe) 

This press release has been prepared by members of the Heritage Language (HL) Global Think Tank. The HL Global Think Tank advocates for the sustainability of heritage language education at local, national, and international levels. At the core of the work of the participants is the ambition to ensure that multilingual students receive a high quality of language education that provides them with self-confidence, a strong sense of identity, intercultural competence, and lifelong skills that will benefit them in our increasingly globalized society. The group includes experts on the topic of heritage language education coming from a variety of linguistic and professional backgrounds, including academia, advocacy, activism, coalition leadership, assessment testing, grassroots organizations, and school boards. Participation in the think tank is on a volunteer basis. As part of the think tank’s efforts to help revitalize and promote heritage language education, its members authored the International Guidelines for Professional Practices in Community-Based Heritage Language School (2021). For a full list of members of the think tank, see 


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