Arabic language interest increases

GW will offer more Arabic language class sections and add at least one faculty member next fall in response to growing student interest and enrollment in the subject.

Currently, more than 130 students are enrolled in Arabic classes, up 30 percent from two years ago. When GW first started offering Arabic classes in 1993, the 24 enrolled students took classes at Georgetown University.

GW offers first through fourth year Arabic language and Arabic literature courses.

“Considering we used to only have one section of one class we’ve come a long way,” said professor Elizabeth Ann Fisher, chair of the Department of Classical and Semitic Languages, which houses the Arabic program.

Fisher said her department is currently searching for a “tenure-track” assistant professor of Arabic she hopes to add by fall 2004.

“The long-term future of the Arabic program at GW is insured by the presence of a ‘tenure-track,’ and eventually tenured, faculty member,” Fisher said.

Fisher said she is unsure how many new Arabic sections will open next year. Although students cannot major or minor in Arabic, Fisher said she hopes students will be able to in the future.

Administrators, including University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, traveled to the Middle East about a week and a half ago to explore academic and fundraising opportunities.

Administrators have said GW might collaborate with the University of Kuwait and haveexplore academic and fundraising opportunities.

Administrators have said GW might collaborate with the University of Kuwait and have Kuwaiti faculty come to GW to teach Arabic language classes. Officials are also considering setting up a study abroad program in Kuwait.

But students not enrolled in classes can still learn Arabic. The University began offering a free beginning Arabic course at GW Hillel about a month ago. The weekly class, held Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., attracts 50 to 60 students each session.

Trachtenberg developed the idea for a free class after Ross Kaplan, of the U.S. State Department, taught him and a few vice presidents Arabic in spring 2002. The President’s Office funds the classes at Hillel.

“President Trachtenberg requested that I teach at Hillel because it provides an appropriate venue,” Kaplan said. “Many Jews are interested in the Middle East and realize that knowing Hebrew is insufficient to understanding the majority of the people living in that region. Jews are curious about the region and want to approach the issues with an open mind.”

Kaplan said the course, open to all GW students, focuses on developing reading, writing and listening skills. Kaplan said students will learn as much in his course, which is not for credit, as they do in the University’s first-year Arabic class because he is following its syllabus. He also emphasized that the class will promote cultural understanding of the Arab world.

“I think Americans are curious about the Arab world and Islam. Perhaps this is a positive outcome of September 11,” Kaplan said. “If teaching Arabic, sharing stories of my time as a (Fulbright Scholar) in Morocco and conveying my professional experiences at the State Department’s office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative can improve our relations with the Arab and Muslim world, I feel compelled to do so.”

Simon Amiel, executive director of Hillel, said offering Arabic courses at the building was logical because Arab and Jewish cultures are rooted in the Middle East.

“Holding Arabic classes at Hillel was an easy decision to make,” Amiel said. “It’s a language that is closely related to Hebrew and is a language that many Jews on this campus, including myself, have an interest in learning either because of their interest in the Middle East or through their interest in Semitic languages.”

Fisher said students study foreign languages so they can learn about different cultures, and the best place to start with language. She added that students who wish to take Arabic through the Classics Department should know that classes fill up quickly, so interested students must register as early as possible.

Other students look at languages in practical terms, realizing that in today’s job market knowing a language, particularly Arabic, is an asset. According to a recent Newsweek article, a shortage of Arabic speakers has “plagued the entire intelligence community.” The FBI needs Arabic and Farsi translators to listen to conversations conducted in the Middle Eastern languages.

“Mainly I decided to take Arabic because I love languages and I love cultures, and I’m fascinated with the Middle East and North Africa,” said sophomore Rob Ehrman, a first-year Arabic student. “It’s also a popular language and can help you get a job after college, especially if you want to get into government service, like I do.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.