The term heritage language is used to identify any languages other than the dominant language(s) in a given social context  Other researchers defined the term heritage language as the language associated with one's cultural background and it may or may not be spoken in the home  Van Deusen-Scholl (2003)  states that the term heritage language cannot be identified in a static, definitive sense; rather, it is more a metaphor in relation to the structuring of attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions that enable or constrain linguistic practices.
There have been critical views on the use of the term heritage language. Despite the term heritage language, heritage language speaker, and heritage language learner are gaining currency , the concept remains ill defined and is sensitive to a variety of interpretations within a social, political, regional, and national contexts 
Using the label heritage itself has been challenged by many and has been regarded as extremely negative -even offensive- by some and counterproductive by others . Baker and Jones state that the term heritage language points more to the past and less to the future, to traditions rather to the contemporary so that the danger is that the term becomes associated with ancient cultures, past traditions and more "primitive times" and so may fail to give the impression of a modern language that is of value in a technological society 
Alternative terms for heritage language proposed by researchers and used or preferred in different countries and contexts are:
- native language
- minority language
- ancestral language
- immigrant minority language
- allochthonous language
- home language
- language of origin
- community language
Though some of these terms are equally problematic as heritage language. For example, native language is also problematic because we cannot assume that the language does not necessarily students' native language. Those students may have a limited knowledge of the language or simply may not speak it at all. Ancestral language also conveys a negative connotation that it belongs to the distant past or a previous generation which does not have a present or future affiliation.
Heritage Language Learners
Valdés  provided three main criteria to identify heritage language learners. According to the proposal, heritage language learners are individuals who:
- are raised in homes where a non-English language is spoken
- speak or merely understand the heritage language
- are to some degree bilingual in English and the heritage language
We have to keep in mind that heritage language learners are not a monolithic group so that we cannot assume or overgeneralize their proficiency.  Rather, degree of heritage language fluency, proficiency, cultural background, connection or knowledge are widely varied among students. For example, heritage language learners include students of fluent native speakers to nonspeakers who may be generations removed but who may feel culturally connected to a language (Van Deusen-Scholl, 2003).
- Cho, G., Cho, K.-S., & Tse, L. (1997). Why ethnic minorities need to develop their heritage language: The case of Korean Americans. Language, Culture, and Curriculum, 10, 106-112.
- Van Deusen-Scholl, N. (2003) Toward a definition of heritage language: Sociopolitical and pedagogical considerations. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education 2 (3), 211-230
- Wiley, T. (2001). On defining heritage languages and their speakers. In Kreeft Payton, D. Ranard, & S. McGinnis (Eds.). Heritage languages in America. Preserving a national resource (pp. 29-36). Washington DC: Center for Applied Linguistics and Delta Systems.
- Baker, C. & Jones, S.P. (1998). Encyclopedial of bilingualism and bilingual education. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.
- Valdés, G. (2001). Heritage language students: Profiles and possibilities. In J. K. Peyton, D. A. Ranard, & S. McGinnis (Eds.), Heritage languages in America: Preserving a national resource (pp. 37-77). Washington DC: Center for Applied Linguistics and Delta Systems.
- Wang, S. C. & Garcoea, M. I. (2002). Heritage Language Learners. http://ncssfl.org/papers/NCSSFLHLLs0902.pdf