Gender, Hebrew Language Acquisition and Religious Values in Jewish High Schools in North America

  • Debra Cohen
  • Nancy Berkowitz


The present study examines gender differences in Hebrew language performance, and attitudes towards learning Hebrew in different groups within the North American Jewish community. The chosen groups differ in their religious affiliation (non-Orthodox vs. Orthodox) and gender class composition (co-ed vs. segregated). These groups range from the non-Orthodox groups, which see gender equality as a central modern-Jewish value (Fishman, 2000), to certain Orthodox groups which see gender inequality as a Jewish traditional value that should be preserved. Segregated education usually indicates agreement with the latter. We found a significantly wider gap in language performance, learning goals and attitudes between boys and girls, in favour of the girls, in the Orthodox/segregated group than in the other two groups (non-Orthodox and Orthodox/co-ed). This finding supports the poststructuralist approaches which view gender as a social, historical and cultural construct that mediates between culture and language behaviour (Gal, 1991; Piller and Pavlenko, 2001). We also showed that learning goals of the learner play a central role as mediators between gender and language behaviour.


Language Learning Religious Affiliation Language Acquisition Religious Identity Mastery Goal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ames, C. (1992). Classrooms: Goals, structures, and student motivation. Journal of Educational Psychology 84, 261–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bacon, S. M. (1992). The relationship between gender, comprehension, processing strategies, and cognitive and affective response in foreign language listening. Modern Language Journal 76, 160–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baker, S. C., and Maclntyre, P. D. (2003). The role of gender and immersion in communication and second language orientation. In: Z. Dornyei (Ed.), Attitudes, orientations, and motivations in language learning. Nottingham: University of Nottingham.Google Scholar
  4. Bonvillain, N. (1997). Women and men: Cultural constructs of gender. 2nd edn, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  5. Boyle, J. (1987). Sex differences in listening vocabulary. Language Learning 37, 273–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brecht, R. D., and Robinson, J. L. (1993). Qualitative analysis of second language acquisition in study abroad: The ACTR/NFLC project. NFLC Occasional Papers.Google Scholar
  7. Burstall, C. (1975). Factors affecting foreign-language learning: A consideration of some relevant research findings. Language Teaching and Linguistics Abstracts 8, 5–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Butler, R. (1987). Task-involving and ego-involving properties of evaluation: Effects of different feedback conditions on motivational perceptions, interest and performance. Journal of Educational Psychology 79, 474–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chastain, K. (1970). A methodological study comparing the audio-lingual habit: Theory and the cognitive code learning theory - A continuation. Modern Language Journal 54.Google Scholar
  10. Chavez, M. (2001). Gender in the language classroom. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.Google Scholar
  11. Dweck, C. S., and Elliott, E. S. (1983). Achievement motivation. In: P. Mussen and E. M. Hetherington (Eds). Handbook of child psychology. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  12. Dweck, C. S., and Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review 95, 256–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Eckert, P., and McConnell-Ginet, S. (1992). Think practically and look locally: Language and gender as community-based practice. Annual Review of Anthropology 21, 461–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ellis, R. (1994). The study of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Fishman, S. B. (2000). Jewish life and American culture. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  16. Gal, S. (1991). Peasant men can’t get wives: Language and sex roles in a bilingual community. Language in Society 7(1), 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gardner, R. C., and Lambert, W. E. (1972). Attitudes and motivation in second-language learning. Rowly, MA: Newbury House.Google Scholar
  18. Holmes, J., and Meyerhoff, M. (1999). Communities of practice in language and gender research. Special Issue of Language in Society 28 (2).Google Scholar
  19. Huebner, T. (1995). A framework for investigating the effectiveness of study abroad programs. In: C. Kramsch (Ed.), Redefining the boundaries of language study. AAUSC Annual Volumes. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle (pp. 185–217).Google Scholar
  20. Klee, C. (1987). Differential language usage patterns by males and females in a rural community in the Rio Grand Valley. In: T. Morgan, J. Lee, and B. Van Patten (Eds), Language and language use. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.Google Scholar
  21. Lynch, A. (2004). The relationship between second and heritage language acquisition: Notes on Research and theory building. Heritage Language Journal 1.Google Scholar
  22. Maehr, M. L. (1989). Thoughts about motivation. In: C. Ames and R. Ames (Eds), Research on motivation in education: Goals and cognitions. Vol. 3, New York: Academic Press (pp. 299–315).Google Scholar
  23. Middleton, M. J., and Midgley, C. (1997). Avoiding the demonstration of lack of ability: An underexplored aspect of goal theory. Journal of Educational Psychology 89, 710–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Midgley, C., Maehr, M. I., Hruda, L. Z. et al. (2000). Manual for the patterns of adaptive learning scales. Michigan: www.unich.eduGoogle Scholar
  25. Nicholls, J. G. (1984). Achievement motivation: Conceptions of ability, subjective experience, task choice, and performance. Psychological Review 91, 328–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Nolen, S. B. (1988). Reasons for studying: Motivation orientations and study strategies. Cognitive and Instruction 5, 269–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Nyikos, M. (1990). Sex related differences in adult language learning: Socialization and memory factors. Modern Language Journal 3, 273–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Oxford, R., and Nyikos, M. (1988). Variables affecting choice of language learning strategies by university students. Modern Language Journal 73, 291–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pajares, F., and Giovanni, V. (2001). Gender differences in writing motivation and achievement of middle school students: A function of gender orientation. Contemporary Educational Psychology 26, 366–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Piller, I., and Pavlenko, A. (2001). Introduction: Multilingualism, second language learning and gender, In: A. Parlenko, A. Blackledge, I. Piller, and M. Teutsch-Dwyer (Eds), Multilingualism, second language learning and gender. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  31. Politzer, R. (1983). An exploratory study of self-reported language learning behaviors and their relation to achievement. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 6, 54–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sadker, M., and Sadker, D. (1994). Failing at fairness: How America’s schools cheat girls. New York: Touchstone.Google Scholar
  33. Shiue, C. (2003). English foreign language acquisition among college students-listening skills. Hwa Kang Journal of TEFL.Google Scholar
  34. Sole’, Y. (1978). Sociocultural and sociopsychological factors in differential language retentiveness by sex. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 17, 29–44.Google Scholar
  35. Spence, J. T., and Helmreich, R. L. (1983). Achievement-related motives and behaviors. In: J. T. Spence (Ed.), Achievement and achievement motives: Psychological and sociological. San-Francisco, CA: Freeman (pp. 7–74).Google Scholar
  36. Spolsky, B. (1989). Conditions for second language learning: Introduction to a general theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  37. US General Accounting Office. (1996). Public education: Issues involving single-gender schools and programs. Report to the Chairman, Committee on the Budget, House of Representatives: Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  38. Zentella, A. C. (1997). Growing up bilingual. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Debra Cohen and Nancy Berkowitz 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Debra Cohen
  • Nancy Berkowitz

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations