Usually when there is a crisis between the Arab world and the West Arabic suddenly becomes an important language and interest in learning the language booms.
An awareness that Arabic ought to be taught in America is apparent in discussions held in different milieus: such as academia, business institutions and TV programs. Al Jazeera Arabic channel had a special one-hour program (From Washington 7/6/2010) dealing with the Arabic language and its status in America. The questions raised during the discussion were “does Arabic have the same importance as other languages in the US? And should Arabic be taught as a foreign language in public schools?”
Professor Laura Khoury, an anthropologist who participated in the program, said the teaching of Arabic would build bridges of understanding between America and the Arab world and hence improve communications with the Arab world. Moreover, said Khoury that it is only fair and rightful for Arab Americans to request the teaching of their ancestor’s language in public schools since they are taxpayers in this country. She, however, criticized how Arabic is taught in America. The curriculum, says Khoury, is not appropriate because it is biased toward the West. One should add here that the Arab American community is a large community whose membership has been estimated between 6 to 9 million people. This is a fact that should be taken into consideration when discussing the importance of teaching Arabic in America.
Presently there are many rising voices in the different Arab American communities for the teaching of Arabic. In Chicago the community demanded that Arabic be taught in public school similar to other foreign languages. In Virginia, Michigan and California communities are also demanding the introduction of Arabic as a foreign language the way Spanish is.
The moderator of Al Jazeera asked his guests “what should Arab Americans do so that Arabic is taught the same way Spanish is?” Nihad Awad, Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) said that politically it is not easy nowadays to push for Arabic to be to be taught in public schools. After 9/11, said Awad, Americans became suspicious of anything Arabic and in fact many are opposing the participation of Arab Americans in the political arena.
In an article in Federal News Radio (7/30/2010), Max Cacas reported that Senator Daniel Adaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, convened a hearing to explore how government can improve foreign language capabilities. The senator stated “understanding foreign language is …vital to our economic security as Americans compete in the global market.” Furthermore, Cacas said David Maurer, GAO’s director of the homeland security and justice team found that “the State Department suffers from an on going shortage of foreign language skills”. Maurer said, “With such key shortfall in such languages as Arabic and Chinese, State has several initiative to address the short falls including training and pay incentives.”
Hence, it is obvious that learning Arabic in America should be considered seriously and the reasons are many.
Liza Owad wrote in the Medill Reports of Chicago (3/11/2010) that there is a problem due to the language gap in health communication. “How do you talk to the doctor when you don’t know the words?” She said “a study conducted by the Institute of Medicine revealed racial and ethnic minorities tend to receive a lower quality of health care than non-minorities. This is due to the patients’ inability to communicate with their doctor.”
Similarly in the judicial system interpreters are in great demand. Police departments in New York and across the country are stepping up efforts to recruit officers who can speak Arabic. “Police chiefs hope the investments pays off by improving service to immigrant communities and easing fear of offices in those areas.” Colleen Long, in he The Associated Press 3/12/2010).
What about the business field? Mayor Richard M. Daley and Chicago pubic schools officials announced in 2009 plans to “expand the CPS Arabic language program using $888.000 U.S. Department of Education Grant.” The Mayor stated, “We all know the economic future of our city depends on our willingness to seek opportunities in the Arab world…” The population of the Arab world exceeds 350.000,000 a fact that can be looked at as an incentive for American businesses to seek lucrative markets.
Fortunately in Academia awareness about the importance of teaching the Arabic language was restudied. School, Colleges and Universities are aware that Arabic is a critical language and ought to be introduced at all levels.
According to the Omaha World-Herald (4/16/2010) Arabic is the fastest growing foreign language taught at U.S. colleges and universities “a trend mirrored at the University of Iowa.”
In an article in The Norman Transcript (3/30/2010) entitled “Breaking Barriers.” Nanette Light states that the University of Oklahoma will offer an undergraduate degree in Arabic in the fall of 2010, “positioning the school as the only academic institution in Oklahoma and one of the five in the country to offer fluency in the language as a major.”
According to a study conducted by the Modern Language Association “Enrollment in Arabic classes grew 127 percent nationally from 2002 to 2006, by far the largest jump of any language...French and German grew by only 2.2 percent and 3.5 percent respectively. That compared with the 127 percent growth for Arabic, 51 percent for Chinese and 37 percent for Korean. Arabic in 2006 became the 10th most-studied language in the United States.”
In conclusion, in spite of the negative attitude that prevails among some Americans towards Arabs and hence the Arabic language, the teaching of the language has prospered. A number of grants, especially Federal Grants, are available for institutions seriously seeking them.
It is up to individuals or academic institutions to become aware of the availability of existing funds. Unfortunately, this is a responsibility, from which some academicians recoil, which seems as if they do not care for the kind of bridges these opportunities are constructing toward cross-cultural understanding!