Bilingual speakers of heritage languages (HLs) and English have emerged as a vital linguistic resource for U.S. national security organizations as well as for NGOs and businesses that seek to expand into overseas markets. Unfortunately, it appears that the promotion of literacy and oral proficiency in HLs among its speakers currently living in the U.S. is widely neglected due to a number of factors, including the unavailability of educational programs in HLs, lack of funding to start literacy–development programs in HLs, and societal pressure on immigrants and their children to assimilate to American culture and learn English as quickly as possible. In the long run this neglect can only result in the significant reduction or loss of much–needed bilingual and culturally literate speakers of less commonly taught languages in the U.S.
The northeastern section of Philadelphia has a Russian–speaking population of approximately 35,000. In spite of the large number of Russian speakers, which implies a strong support system for HL development, the children of Russian–speaking immigrants tend to acquire English and become "Americanized" at a rapid pace, and English quickly overrides Russian as their dominant language. This strong drive to learn English is not surprising, as anecdotal evidence shows that immigrants from various linguistic backgrounds to the U.S. understand the importance of learning English as a means of communication as well as a means of "fitting in." These immigrants are often told to encourage their children to use English as much as possible, even at home and at the expense of their heritage language. However, in a recent survey among Russian–speaking parents of children at an elementary school in N.E. Philadelphia, 100% of those surveyed said that it is "very important" for their children to know a language other than English (namely Russian), and 96% would "enthusiastically support" an educational program that would help their children develop literacy simultaneously in both Russian and English. What factors explain this discrepancy between heritage speakers' desires for their children to maintain their HL and the reality that their children are not actually learning it? What role does identity play in the struggle to maintain a HL? What resources does this community need in order to support HL development in Russian?
This paper will give a demographic overview of the Russian enclave in N.E. Philadelphia and will briefly examine preliminary data showing the relationship between Russian–speaking adults' attitudes and beliefs about how spoken and written Russian and English