Challenging Linguistic Purism in Dual Language Bilingual Education: A Case Study of Hebrew in a New York City Public Middle School


Source: Annual Review of Applied Linguistics,37(2017), pp. 185–202

Dual language bilingual education (DLBE) programs, in which students are taught language and academic content in English and a partner language, have dramatically grown in popularity in U.S. schools. Moving beyond the teaching of Spanish and Chinese, DLBE programs are now being offered in less commonly taught languages and attracting new student populations. Based on qualitative research conducted in a New York City public middle school that recently began a Hebrew DLBE program, we found that this program, in its inception and design, challenges traditional definitions of DLBE and offers new understandings about bilingual education for the 21st century. We argue that the policies and guidelines for the provision of DLBE and the scholarship upon which they are based are rooted in notions of linguistic purism that fail to consider or meet the needs of communities enrolling in bilingual education programs today.


Our study illuminates how a new DLBE program challenges DLBE doctrine. In this manuscript, we highlight linguistic purism inculcated in bilingual education research, which promulgates a 50/50 balance of students and strict language separation, and show how these ideals have been codified in New York’s DLBE policies. We then share research from a new Hebrew DLBE program at a public middle school, which is part of the wider expansion of bilingual education into new languages and communities in New York City schools. Our findings show how its students do not represent two distinctly different monolingual communities and how Hebrew and English are not taught in isolation. When the school’s approach was found to be out of step with bilingual education policy mandates, the city imposed a heritage language model, which is not considered a form of bilingual education under local policies, rather than supporting the school to increase its Hebrew offerings.

The expansion of bilingual education in recent years and the support it has received offers exciting opportunities for minoritized communities and their languages, as well as for English monolinguals to learn new languages. Moving forward, we recommend that bilingual education policies be adopted that are based on bilingual norms rather than monolingual ones and provide space for schools to prioritize the needs of their local communities with the flexibility necessary to do so. 

Updated: Feb. 12, 2018