Oregon: Arabic has become one of the most popular langauge classes, and professors expect it to increase in demand

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Jan 11 14:19:03 UTC 2008

Bridging the language gap

Arabic has become one of the most popular langauge classes, and
professors expect it to increase in demand

By: Mike O'Brien Posted: 1/10/08

As a University freshman last year, Zane Hager needed one more class
to round out his course load. "I was looking for something to pad out
my schedule, something exotic," he said. Hager found himself learning
Arabic through the Self-Study language program, a tutoring program the
University's Yamada Language Center administers for students
interested in studying languages not typically offered at the
University. "(YLC) is the service, technology and teaching resources
for all languages taught at the U of O," explained Director Jeff

Now as a sophomore, Hager is one of about 140 students studying Arabic
for credit. Because of its popularity, six credited courses in the
language are now offered in the YLC's World Language Academy, in which
students can also study Korean, Portuguese and Swahili, the native
language of millions in East Africa. "In Self-Study, we were teaching
at least 20 students per term for at least a couple of years there and
self-study is very obscure," said Arabic professor Chris Holman, a
2001 graduate of the University.
Yamada Language Center

Through the World Languages Academy, the Yamada Language Center offers
credited courses in Arabic, Korean, Portuguese and Swahili, the
official language of several countries in East Africa. Courses in the
Self-Study language program do not count toward an academic degree,
but still offer students the opportunity to learn a variety of
languages not typically offered at the University, including Greek;
Thai; Cherokee; Catalan, a romance language primarily spoken in Spain;
Farsi, the official language of countries like Iran and Afghanistan;
and Nahuatl, an Aztec language native to Central Mexico.
For more information, log onto babel.uoregon.edu.

Holman, who learned Arabic 12 years ago while in Kuwait as a soldier
in the U.S. Army, was initially hired to teach Arabic last year. The
courses filled immediately and were so popular that the University
added second-year Arabic to the course catalogue. "We doubled in size
this year. I don't know if we'll double again, but I'm sure we'll
increase," said Holman, who added that an Arabic minor will possibly
be available in Fall 2009. If the Arabic minor was offered sooner,
University senior Margaret Ormsbee would have declared it. Ormsbee, an
anthropology major who likes learning about different cultures and
what goes into their policy decisions, said her Arabic courses have
prepared her for an immersion program in the Middle East this summer.

"I think it's great," Ormsbee said. "It's definitely really hard, but
it's wonderful. I'm going to Jordan for the summer and I definitely
feel like, just taking one term, I feel prepared to go into the
culture." Some things that make Arabic popular, according to Holman
and Magoto, include current world issues, its widespread nature -
Arabic is the official language of more than 20 countries - and the
alternative it provides to Spanish and French, the only languages
offered in many American high schools.

Jenna Schmidt, a sophomore political science major interested in a
career in counterterrorism, sees studying Arabic as a way to bridge
the cultural gap. "Especially with current world issues, I just think
it's important people get a better understanding of Middle Eastern
culture," she said. "We're going to be dealing with (the Middle East)
for a long time. Neither culture really understands the other, at
least on a broad degree." Schmidt attributes her eagerness to learn
about other cultures to her childhood, during much of which she and
her family lived in American Samoa.

"I've seen that there are other cultures that function differently
than Americans and that's OK," she said.The Arabic alphabet is
different from the Latin alphabet used for English which makes it more
difficult to learn than romance languages, but easier than Asian
languages, said University professor Mohamed Jemmali. Jemmali, who was
hired to teach Arabic in response to the popularity of Holman's
initial courses, grew up speaking Arabic in Tunisia, a small north
African country across the Mediterranean Sea from Italy. He learned
English while studying at Humboldt State University, located about 100
miles south of Oregon in Arcata, Calif.

"Arabic is the fastest-growing second language in America right now,
even more than Chinese," Jemmali said. "(The students) are very
enthusiastic, their evaluations show a lot of continued interest in
learning more. Their enrollment keeps growing. We have almost all our
available seats taken. So far, so good. I can't complain, for sure."

mobrien at dailyemerald.com
(c) Copyright 2008 Oregon Daily Emerald

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