What are your experiences learning a "heritage" language?

I’d like to share my experience learning Spanish, a language which although is the first language of my mother, is not a language spoken at home. I grew up a monolingual English speaker, without really being bothered by that fact. During my junior year of high school, the last year I took Spanish in school, I had a wonderful teacher from Cuba who sparked a real interest in me for the language. So I’ve been learning the language independently almost a year now and I’ve seen good progress. Go Lingq!

However a bump in the road has been something I wouldn’t have guessed… my family. Should I attempt to speak with other Spanish speakers I generally feel more encouraged to speak, but trying to speak with family members on my mother’s side it’s really the opposite. They seem almost ashamed to see someone from their family who speaks Spanish and sounds like a gringo. My family on that side is from Puerto Rico and my mother said it’s weird to hear me speak Spanish like someone from another Spanish speaking country. (Puerto Ricans tend to leave out many s’s and d’s in their speech and have a pretty different accent compared to most speakers) My mother also prefers to speak to me in English all the time. (She will answer questions though)

It’s just very discouraging. Especially since having a native speaker at home to talk to would be a big advantage.

I think this is one of the factors that makes heritage languages die out usually after the 2nd generation. Personally speaking, if I didn’t want to learn Spanish for reasons other than my heritage, I probably would’ve dropped it for another language due to the reaction I’ve gotten from my family. If people know the language is part of your heritage and you speak it poorly, I’ve felt it’s seen as something bad by natives compared to a foreigner learning the language. It’s like you’re “catching up” instead of adding something to yourself. Maybe my experience hasn’t been the average, but I’d like to hear what you guys have to say about the experience of learning a heritage language.

I think generally it’s difficult to change the language in which you communicate with people. But I’d stick with it - they’ll come around. Why not focus more on Puerto Rican content? If you start to pick up that accent more, maybe it’ll feel more natural to them.