Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




The present study seeks to expand current research on heritage learners by introducing new data on language production and measured rates of language comprehension and production of Russian heritage speakers of the low-proficiency level, i.e., those who were born in the U.S. or arrived at a pre-school age.

Performance-based data were collected in a university classroom environment by means of a special diagnostic test developed by the researcher, and by the use of a standardized testing instrument—the Prototype AP© Russian Examination produced by the American Council of Teachers of Russian. The data present findings that are based on measured pre- and post-program standardized testing using the ACTR/ILR proficiency scale.

The diagnostic test establishes baseline language levels and language characteristics of the subject group at the intake level and assesses existing measurable levels of first language retention. The standardized tests measure changes in proficiency of heritage learners and the progressive effects of a two-semester instructional intervention (bridge course).

This study describes and examines the patterns of heritage learner interlanguage production as evidence of internalized grammatical systems, focusing mainly on heritage learners’ levels of control of the nominal system and sentence-level syntax as reflected in the data. It looks into different factors that affect the language competency of low-level proficiency heritage learners, confirming earlier findings (Isurin 2008) that the relationship between age of arrival and heritage language competence is not linear, and that other extralinguistic factors—the amount of daily exposure to L1, the language spoken in the family, and levels of L1 literacy in the family itself, among others—must also be considered.

Furthermore, this study offers a comparison of the language skills between mid and post-course low-proficiency heritage learners and traditional non-heritage learners of Russian, confirming the claim that heritage learners build (or rebuild) language skills faster than foreign language learners acquire these skills and can attain a higher proficiency level with fewer contact hours (Kagan and Bauckus 2008).

The findings of the study offer insights into the nature of adult language acquisition and the revival of a mother-tongue, focusing on Russian heritage learners with a low proficiency level and assessing how their strengths can be utilized for more effective instructed programs.


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