Arabic booming in US

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Dec 12 21:10:37 UTC 2006

Arabic learning booming in US
By Sahar Kassaimah for

Learning the Arabic language has gained a significant momentum since the
9/11 attacks in light of a high demand for Arabic speakers, with
enrollment in Arabic classes more than doubling.  Dr. Michael Fishbein,
lecturer of Arabic at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA),
testified to the mounting tide. "As of today, a week before classes begin,
all three sections of Arabic have filled up and all of them have waiting
lists," said Dr. Fishbein.

He added that more students contact him every day asking whether they can
take the class, but he has to turn them away as there is no funding for a
fourth section. "I would estimate, a very rough estimate, that about a
quarter of the students have some Arabic ethnic connection," said Dr.
Fishbein. "Another quarter is non-Arab Muslims. There are usually a fair
number of students interested in history, linguistics, anthropology."
Enrollment in Arabic classes at Villanova University has also grown faster

"In the case of our institute, we have experienced an increase of about
30-50% which can be explained by the interest that emerged after 9/11,"
said Dr. Sayed Omran, associate professor of Arabic. Arabic has a
reputation of being too hard to learn. But Omran, who has been teaching
Arabic to American students for over twenty years, believes that despite
the challenges of a right to left alphabet, new sounds, and a different
grammar, American students have been able to achieve proficiency in
Arabic. In fact, Arabic has become the fastest growing foreign language
taught at American colleges and universities, due to various motivations
on the part of students.

"Some of our students these days are enlisted in the army or navy and some
aim to obtain jobs in the federal government or its agencies," said Omran.
Since 2001 the Justice Department has increased its translation staff by
more than 60 percent, with a heavy emphasis on Arabic speakers. And demand
has skyrocketed at government contractors like DFI, especially for
translators willing to ship off to Iraq. President George Bush's National
Security Language Initiative aims at boosting teaching of what he
described as "critical" languages such as Arabic, Farsi, Hindi and
Chinese. He said the step was a strategic move to promote "terror-combat,
freedom and democracy".

Dr. Michael Cooperson, who has teaches Arabic at UCLA, and has also taught
it at Dartmouth College and Harvard College, said learning Arabic could
open more employment horizons but would not be enough to battle terrorism.
"Im a medievalist, not a specialist in national security, but I suspect
that, although learning Arabic helps students get jobs with the NSA, the
FBI, the CIA, and the like, terrorism will continue unabated as long as
its causes remain unaddressed." There are other reasons for learning the
language. "Interestingly, our students still view Arabic as a beautiful
language with a beautiful script and I have never heard any one call
Arabic the language of terrorism," said Omran, who holds a Ph.D. degree in
Linguistics from Georgetown University.

"In its modern spoken forms, Arabic allows me to travel and maintain
friendships in Egypt, Lebanon, and other Arabic-speaking countries." Dr.
Fishbein believes that ignorance is not a good basis for interaction and
that learning another language is a good way to move out of ones
insularity and see things from another point of view. "In a world where
international contact is constantly increasing, anything that promotes
mutual understanding is very important," he said. The academic insists
that students should learn other foreign languages, including but not only

"So the study of Arabic, to use a term you will understand, is a fard
kifayah [communal duty]. In an ideal world, every student would become


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