Second Hebrew Language Literature Review Explores How Language Learning Influences Identity, Relationships with Community

November 28, 2016

Source: CASJE (the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education)


CASJE (the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education) today released the second of three literature reviews that explores what recent research about heritage, second and foreign language learning means for the teaching and learning of Hebrew. The newest review, Contributions of Second/Foreign Language Learning Scholarship to Identity Development and Hebrew Education, looks closely at how second/foreign language acquisition relates to learners’ identity development and their relationships with various cultures, groups and communities. New research focused specifically on Hebrew learning would help Jewish educators understand how their learners both relate to and are influenced by Hebrew.

“Certainly learning Hebrew can have a deep influence on the learner's identity, relationship to the Jewish community, connection to Israel and Israelis, and any number of related areas,” says Sharon Avni, Associate Professor of ESL and Linguistics at BMCC-City University of New York (CUNY), who conducted this literature review. “However, what we see from previous research is that there is no ‘magic formula’—learning a language does not necessarily shape or determine one's social or cultural identity or affiliation. For Jewish educators, policymakers, and philanthropists who want to strengthen youth’s connection to Judaism, both the potential of Hebrew language learning and its limitations are important to bear in mind.”

Avni outlines three key themes— Intergroup Relations and Motivation; Context and Culture; and Language Repertoires and Performance—which she notes yield important findings and reveal significant further questions to explore about Hebrew language learning.

Key findings and questions in each theme include:

Intergroup Relations and Motivation

How a learner feels about being a part of “target language” community may determine her or his language learning success. Moreover, successful second language learning is not necessarily about being internally motivated, but about a person’s access (or lack thereof) to social networks in which they can use the language. For learners, investment in the target language is also an investment in their identity, which constantly changes over time and across contexts.

Context and Culture

Foreign/second language novices are socialized through language to become familiar with their community’s ways of thinking, feeling, and acting in the world. Through language they learn about a community’s values, beliefs, and ideologies, a process called “second language socialization.”

Language Repertoires and Performance

Language teachers and learners are engaged in a performance with an audience of spectators in the classroom and with a broader global audience that may not be physically present, but who also either reject or affirm the learners’ new knowledge. One study examines how Israeli shlichim families in the United States learn to recognize and mock Americans’ non-Israeli pronunciations of Hebrew, thereby allowing Israelis to reinforce and blur the boundaries between Israeli and American Jews. By doing so, the shlichim families can claim Israeli authenticity.

Read the full review here.

Updated: Dec. 07, 2016