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Arabic On Rise At Tufts

Arabic On Rise At TuftsTomeet a growing student demand for Arabic language classes, Tuftshas been expanding its offerings.Medford/Somerville,Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.30.04] These days assistant professor AmiraEl-Zein has her hands full. Her Arabic classes – once sparselyattended – are now packed with Tufts undergraduates eagerto learn the language. Arabic’s growing popularity, partof a national trend, is a positive sign for faculty like El-Zeinwho are trying to bridge the gap between the United States andthe Arab world.

“Wehad one section of Arabic, maybe 14, 15 students,” El-Zeinsaid in an interview with National Public Radio’s AllThings Considered, describing the size of the Arabic languageprogram a few years ago. “And now we have three sectionsof first years, 70 students under the first year. It is reallyamazing.”

El-Zein'sexcitement about the growth of the Tufts Arabic program is evidentin her classroom.

“Sheteaches with energy and discipline, quickly immersing her studentsin a series of exercises in conversation, grammar and, on thisday, a reading of a letter from an Arabic textbook,” NPRreported after sitting in on one of El-Zein’s classes.

David Nguyenwas among the students.

“I’mstudying Arabic because it’s going to be an important languagejust as probably many people thought Russian was an importantlanguage during the Cold War,” he told NPR.

Senior JoeJaffee agrees.

“That’sthe most critical area on the planet right now,” he toldAll Things Considered.

Experts saycollege students around the country have similar opinions.

“Anational survey found that between 1998 and 2002, the year afterthe 9/11 attacks, the number of American college students takingArabic nearly doubled, from more than 5,000 to more than 10,000,”reported NPR.

The governmenthopes many will provide much needed assistance to the country’sintelligence organizations who don’t have enough qualifiedexperts on the language.

“TheDepartment of Education and the Pentagon have pumped more than$2 million into academia to remedy an acute shortage of Arab speakers,”reported All Things Considered.

Interestedin becoming a security consultant in the Middle East, Jaffe saysfluency in Arabic is not just a ticket to a job – it’scritical to understanding the region and its place in the internationalcommunity.

“Insteadof passing judgment, if you learn Arabic and learn more Arabicculture, you might have a better opportunity to understand andintermediate,” Jaffe told NPR.

That’sexactly the kind of perspective needed for long-term progress,El-Zein says.

“Iwant [my students] to be a generation that will open up bridgesbetween the Arab world and the States,” she told AllThings Considered. “There is a lack of understandingfrom Americans and the Arab world that is really stunning, tosay the least.”


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