The lore and foreign language of schoolchildren

AN OLD friend immigrated from Russia to New Jersey when he was small.  When asked if he spoke Russian, he would say he speaks “kitchen Russian”: the kind of things your mum says to you around the house. It’s a good phrase to describe the competence of a lot of immigrants in their “heritage language”.  They can argue fluently with their parents about how late they can stay out, but if asked to write a short essay on their three favourite scientific discoveries, they’d be completely lost. First, they may not ever have learned to write their heritage language. If they haven’t read a lot, they also won’t master the kind of formulations used in writing generally.

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