French Heritage Language Learning

A Site of Multilingual Identity Formation, Cultural Exploration, and Creative Expression in New York City


  • Maya Angela Smith University of Washington


heritage language, francophone, multilingualism, second language acquisition, sociolinguistics


Since 2005, the French Heritage Language Program has sought to address the needs of underserved French-speaking communities throughout the United States. With the goal of “making French an asset for new Americans,” the majority of whom come from West Africa and Haiti, the FHLP not only provides free French language training, it also creates a space where these students can construct their identities as multilingual speakers and learn the value of their various cultural backgrounds. By analyzing data gathered from students, teachers, and staff in the New York City branch of the FHLP program, including sociolinguistic interviews, classroom observations, and surveys, this article explores identity formation with regard to not only French but to all languages in a person’s linguistic repertoire. To contextualize the participants’ experiences, a first line of inquiry examines the FHLP in relation to monolingual ideologies and policies often inherent in French language education. How does the program address French as a heritage language that may be only one of many heritage languages a student possesses and that may only have a minimal presence as a home language? A second line of inquiry then focuses on individual participants’ language ideologies. Given that many students come from former French colonies, what are their reasons for learning French? What are their attitudes toward French and other languages? What is their relationship with their countries of origin, with France, or with the greater Francophone world? Through these questions, this article charts multilingual identity formation, cultural exploration, and creative expression. 

Author Biography

Maya Angela Smith, University of Washington

Assistant Professor of French, Department of French and Italian Studies