Between Arabic and French in the Israeli Education System: Acquisition of Cosmopolitan Capital in a Conflict-Ridden Society

Miri Yemini, Natali Bar-Netz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the era of globalization, educational systems are forced to react and globalize through schools’ content and context. Among other 21st-century capabilities such as information technology use, team work, and entrepreneurship, multilingual competence has been placed among the objectives of education systems in many developed and developing countries (e.g., UK, Singapore, China, and Israel). We analyzed the pattern of students’ choice for advanced studies in English, Arabic, and French languages in Israeli schools over the last 20 years (1995, 2000, 2005, and 2010). Throughout the study period, advanced studies in English and French correlated highly with the mother’s education (hence are associated with a certain social perceived status), while Arabic studies became increasingly correlated with the mother’s education over the years. In addition, we performed semistructured, in-depth interviews with 20 parents of children studying either French or Arabic in junior high schools. All interviewed parents were selected from schools at which pupils can choose between French and Arabic, and parents were asked about the motivation for choosing either French or Arabic. We found that parents mostly see foreign languages as part of cultural and cosmopolitan capital that their children need to acquire in order to benefit from it later in their career. While French was found to be perceived in terms of pragmatic and instrumental cosmopolitan capital, Arabic was perceived as a pragmatic but also as an ideological asset. In addition, interviewed parents used certain stereotypes, usually to describe the unchosen language to rationalize their choice. We discuss our findings in the context of Israeli society and the conflict-ridden situation that its education system is functioning within.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-190
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Language, Identity and Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - 27 May 2015


  • Arabic language
  • French language
  • Israel
  • cosmopolitan capital
  • schools


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