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Arabic language is in demand

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  • Zafar Khan
    Arabic language is in demand By G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Special for USA TODAY http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2005-03-13-arabic-language_x.htm Purdue
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 16, 2005
      Arabic language is in demand
      By G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Special for USA TODAY


      Purdue University sophomore Brent Forgues is chasing
      an academic dream that was a rarity on this West
      Lafayette, Ind., campus just four years ago: He's
      determined to be a strong speaker of Arabic.

      Foreseeing a career in journalism, Forgues, 20, hopes
      expertise in what he calls an "obscure" language will
      boost his marketability in a competitive industry.

      To get there, he's mastering a new alphabet and lots
      of unfamiliar sounds alongside similarly ambitious
      students, from South Asian Muslims to Indiana natives
      in ROTC who often come to class in fatigues. To meet
      the demand, Purdue's program has ballooned from just
      two courses to 12 since fall 2003.

      "As long as Purdue keeps adding Arabic classes, I'll
      keep taking them," Forgues says. "Everybody who's in
      this (Arabic 102) class now has an exact purpose in
      why they're taking it and how it will apply to their

      Across the USA, a surge of student curiosity about
      Arabic after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is
      maturing into a demand for more courses, especially
      upper-level classes as novices resolve to master the
      language. A full 73% of 640 Arabic-language students
      surveyed at 37 institutions in 2004 said they were
      "determined to achieve a level of proficiency in
      Arabic that would allow me to function in it
      comfortably in my professional activities," according
      to the National Middle East Language Resource Center
      at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

      Only a minority of students reach proficiency. One in
      four first-year students in the best programs
      eventually reach the third-year level, says center
      director R. Kirk Belnap. In weaker programs, he says,
      the dropout rate is even higher.

      To meet the demand, schools that already offer Arabic
      are expanding old programs, creating new ones and
      scrambling, sometimes in vain, to find qualified
      teachers. Purdue relies on six grad students to teach
      its courses. Vermont's Middlebury College recruits
      from Syria and Egypt to staff its summer language
      program. Yet even with extra efforts, various
      constraints are making it a challenge for schools to
      keep up.

      "More students have begun to realize they have to
      study it for a number of years to be really
      proficient," says William Mayers, coordinator of the
      Arabic Language School at Middlebury College's
      Sunderland Language Center.

      "We get enough good applicants from the really
      high-caliber schools — and these are straight-A
      students — and a lot of them we're turning down
      because of limited space."

      The numbers help show how interest in Arabic keeps
      growing. Enrollment in Arabic courses nationwide
      jumped from 5,500 to 10,600, a 92% increase, from 1998
      to 2002, according to the most recent data from the
      Modern Language Association. Only American Sign
      Language boosted enrollments by a larger percentage in
      that time period. Since 2002, enrollments have climbed
      again by an estimated 15% to 25%, the Middle East
      language center says.

      To keep pace, some institutions are beefing up what
      they offer on an advanced level. The Center for
      Advanced Proficiency in Arabic, the nation's first
      intensive program offered for a full academic year,
      opens this fall at Georgetown University in
      Washington, D.C. Middlebury College is expanding its
      summer program by about 10% this year and is planning
      to start offering third-year Arabic during the
      academic year as soon as this fall.

      Yet with fewer than 10% of U.S. colleges offering any
      Arabic courses, some fear that higher-learning
      institutions on the whole aren't doing enough to

      "Demand is there, but they're not offering (courses)
      because of budgetary constraints or whatever," Belnap
      says. "These are very curious things in a time when
      your country is clamoring for more foreign-language

      Though many people study Arabic to enhance careers in
      business or government, a good 20% are "heritage
      speakers" with a purely cultural or personal interest,
      says Mahmoud al-Batal, director of the Center for
      Arabic Study Abroad and an Arabic professor at Emory
      University in Atlanta.

      As Muslim-Americans who pray and read their holy
      scriptures in Arabic, Batal says, they sometimes bring
      a sense of purpose that goes beyond any economic

      "They see themselves as a bridge to connect people and
      cultures of the Arab world with the American public,"
      Batal says. "And they see the language piece as
      critical to achieve this goal."

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