Supporting Heritage Languages through York St John’s Community Language School

Did you know, over 1 million children in the UK use English as an additional language?*  
In this blog, ISJ intern Matthew Peyton introduces the work of York St John University’s Community Language School. Established in 2022, the School offers support and teaching in heritage languages to children and adolescents in the York area.  

Instilling a love for language 

In this age of globalisation and new technology, the borders between countries have been broken down to allow for more fluid movements between different countries. As generations of migrants settle in new countries, often the younger generations who were either born in the diasporas or have been schooled and brought up in English-dominant settings from childhood, lose links with the languages and heritage cultures of their parents or grandparents.

Pots of pencils and scissors With this in mind, the Community Language School (CLS) at York St John University aims to reconnect children and adolescents with their heritage languages and to create opportunities for migrant communities to network with one another. One of the key aims of the School is to instill a love for language learning amongst children from multilingual migrant families as well as   British English-speaking families.  This desire to work with communities and people echoes the ISJ’s own. 

The Community Language School is led by Dr Indu Meddegama and co-led by Dr Maja Skender-Lizatovic, from the School of Education, Language and Psychology. The CLS offers interactive, activity-based classes in languages other than English. Classes are run by volunteers from York St John University, parents of the children, and other members from the local community.  They are recruited through formal application and interview processes, followed by Safeguarding training, and Enhanced DBS checks.  Some of the language classes already being offered are Mandarin, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. 

A unique School for languages in York  

There are many features to the CLS that differentiates it from the ‘traditional’ Community Language Schools organised and run by volunteering parents from migrant communities. In place of catering to the language or cultural needs of a single community, the University’s CLS engages with communities from diverse linguacultural backgrounds. The CLS also has two other distinct key objectives: firstly, to offer on-going professional developmental opportunities to volunteers keen to train further or seek employment later in the teaching sector and secondly, to consider the nexus between the CLS and attitudes towards ‘heritage’ languages amongst children from migrant backgrounds and potential changes to home language practices.
  In discussion with Dr Meddegama she explained the CLS was set up in response to research, including her own doctoral work, which has reiterated over the years the worrying trend of migrant families, especially in English-dominant settings, moving away from heritage languages in favour of English. She explained that over 1 million children in England use English as an additional language. Yet, owing to a lack of funding, resourcing, awareness-raising and training for teachers, there’s little to no advocacy of multilingual practices within mainstream education. As a result, the Community Language School hopes it will become a hub for celebrating and encouraging children to the older generations’ heritage language, even if they are no longer a main ‘home’ language for them.   


Classroom with Children The CLS classes are run by multilingual volunteers comprised of university students as well as members from the local community in York. Volunteers are not expected to have prior experience or relevant training in teaching as the School leads work closely with them to help with class preparation work. What the leads are keen to see in those applying for a volunteering position is “an enthusiasm to spread the love of learning languages”. They are currently seeking volunteers for Italian, and Arabic.  

 The Community Language School is important in building community connections and cementing the importance of heritage languages and passing them on to the younger generations. It is this work within the community that echoes the aims and goals of the ISJ, and the importance of connecting with different communities and identities. If you want to volunteer and get in touch you can follow this link: This will take you to the CLS’s webpage, where you can enrol your child in the school, apply to be a volunteer, and meet the rest of the team that works on the project. 


*Department for Education. 2018. Schools, pupils and their characteristics. Retrieved from