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Hebrew Language Acquisition Connected to Identity Development, Parental Support, Other Factors

September 13, 2016
CASJE releases first in Series of Lit Reviews on Hebrew, focuses on “heritage language learning”
 
San Francisco, CA -- CASJE (the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education) today released the first of three literature reviews that explores what recent research about heritage, second and foreign language learning means for the teaching and learning of Hebrew. This first review in the series, Implications of Heritage Language Research for Hebrew Teaching and Learning, shows the many personal and external factors that influence this learning—and demonstrate that Jewish educators would be helped by more significant research on the subject.
 
“Learning a heritage language is deeply connected to the student’s personal identity, her or his goals in life, and numerous other external factors,” says Avital Feuer, Associate Clinical Professor of Hebrew in the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures and the Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, who conducted the review. “When it comes to Hebrew specifically, how the student envisions using the language, the level of importance parents place on the learning, or how different family members might feel about Israel, for example, all influence the student attaining proficiency in the language. Research that examines these questions could play a major role in re-thinking Hebrew education in the U.S.” 
 
“Heritage language” refers to a language other than the dominant language that is familiar, not foreign, to the user. Feuer’s review focuses on the majority of young Hebrew language learners who are ethnically Jewish but who do not speak Hebrew at home as their primary language. She also notes that while Hebrew is not strictly-speaking a heritage language for most users in North America, there is still merit in mining research in this field.
 

Key Findings:

Home and Family Matters: 
  • Parental use of the heritage language at home encourages students’ language maintenance; Feuer recommends studying the ways Hebrew is used in the home and the attitudes toward Hebrew that children observe or mimic. 
School and Educational Influences:
  • School structure and learning goals, whether explicit or not, are important in shaping students’ educational experiences.
Other External Influences: 
  • Strong relationships with relatives in the country of origin positively affected willingness to use and maintain the heritage language. Similarly, return trips to the country of origin increased the likelihood that students would use the language, gain advanced proficiency and feel positively toward it.
"As a field, Jewish education clearly needs more empirical studies of Hebrew language education,” says Sharon Feiman-Nemser, Senior Researcher at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis and member of the Board of Directors of CASJE, a community of researchers, practitioners, and funders that commissioned the literature review and works to improve the quality of knowledge for the field of Jewish education. “This series will help us all understand how much we still need to learn, the commitment it will take to support that research, and the benefits that would come if the field has access to the research’s findings about Hebrew.”