Arabic language program sees boost in enrollment

Foreign languages have been an integral part of students’ lives at the U for a long time-language and study abroad programs on campus encourage students to travel to all realms of the world, including France, Spain, Germany, Chile and Italy.

But while languages like French, Japanese, Spanish and German often pop into students’ minds when they think of studying foreign languages, another language-one that is often overlooked by many students-is quickly being added to the list of commonly studied dialects.

Arabic is taught at the U, and though it has traditionally been disregarded as an area of study, a large number of inquisitive students are changing this trend.

Considering the wide global usage of the language, this fact isn’t surprising. Arabic is spoken in more than 20 countries including Morocco, Oman, Sudan and Egypt.

More than 200 million people around the world fluently speak Arabic, and it is one of the five official United Nations languages, according to George Berg, instructor of Arabic at the U.

“Arabic is becoming one of the commonly taught languages, like Spanish and French,” Berg said. “During the summer [2003], the U hosted the Western Consortion Summer Institute program. Students came from all over the country. We had a record enrollment for the Arabic program. It was a great success. We were really excited.”

“We’ve seen an increased number of students participating in Arabic language courses at the U, and that number continues to skyrocket,” said Hussein Elkhafaifi, assistant professor of Arabic and a native of Libya.

Elkhafaifi has been teaching Arabic for more than 25 years at institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of California at Berkeley and the U.

James Green, a U senior majoring in Middle East Studies and Arabic, was an Arabic translator in the first Gulf War. He was 19 when he first started learning the language.

“I was in Saudi Arabia for 13 months. I also went to Jordan, among other places,” Green said.

Elkhafaifi admitted that Arabic could be a difficult language to learn for some students.

“Students who plan to take Arabic or who are currently taking it must be patient. They should not only learn it from going to class every day, they must interact with other people who speak it. They must use it. They should travel abroad. But it takes time,” Elkhafaifi said.

Green agreed.

“The differences in the script-writing could confuse students, as well as the sounds. Some of the sounds are not sounds we use in English, so students have to train their throats to pronounce them. I guess it can be pretty hard to learn. But it is such a beautiful language,” he said.

Currently, the U does not sponsor a study-abroad program to any Arabic-speaking country. Barker suggested that the U should.

“It would definitely be a good thing [to sponsor a study abroad program to an Arabic speaking country],” said Barker, who plans to travel to Morocco this summer. “It would set the U apart from other universities.”

Elkhafaifi agreed that it would be valuable to get U students out of Utah and into an Arabic-intensive environment.

“It is important to know the culture and to travel to all parts of the world if we want this idea of globalization,” Elkhafaifi said.

“With all of the issues surrounding the Middle East lately, it is important for students to learn and to understand.”

Berg said that currently the Middle East Center helps students locate study-abroad programs through non-U based organizations.

However, Elkhafaifi said that this assistance may not be enough.

“While the Middle East Center does do well in helping students locate study-abroad opportunities, it would be better with some funding or some help from the U,” he said.

Far from studying just to get a degree, Berg said that education in another language can be a personally fulfilling experience.

“Learning another language is a bridge into another culture,” Berg said. “It becomes your language, in a sense. It is very important.”

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