Abdelhafid Missouri moved to Philadelphia in 2001, just as terrorism and war were newly focusing Americans' attention on the culture and politics of the Arab world.
At the University of Pennsylvania, where Missouri was a language teacher, the number of students taking beginning Arabic classes soon soared, he recalls.
"In the aftermath of 9/11 there's been great interest in the Arabic language," says Missouri, a Morocco native who now teaches at Temple University's noncredit program in Center City.
Arabic is now taught at several schools around Philadelphia, as are courses in other modern languages beyond the basic French/Spanish/German/Italian quartet offered in many high schools.
The Temple program offers courses in 11 languages, including Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Polish and Russian, which program director Kevin Wood says are popular among Philadelphians seeking to reconnect to their family roots. Eight-week courses cost $165 and 10-week courses cost $185.
Arabic is also on the course schedule at the Community College of Philadelphia, as are Chinese, Japanese and Hebrew. Over the summer the school has an intensive summer course in Swahili, a language spoken in several East African countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The basic fee for city residents is $345 for a 10-week course.
As an alternative to college- affiliated programs, Philadelphians who want to learn one of the less commonly taught languages can take advantage of the city's array of ethnic and cultural institutions. For example, a number of mosques and Islamic societies have Arabic classes along with instruction on the Koran.
Likewise, the 80-year-old American Swedish Historical Museum in South Philadelphia urges the linguistically adventurous, Lär dig svenska! The museum has 10-week classes that begin every fall and cost $215.
Another specialized school is the Philadelphia Chinese Language Center in Lafayette Hill, which has a wide range of Mandarin classes. They focus variously on conversation, business, tourist travel and pronunciation, and include a class designed for athletes and others heading to the Beijing Olympics. The center also has conversation classes in Cantonese, the dialect used in Hong Kong, Macao, Guangdong province and among U.S. immigrants. Ten-week courses are $150.
For the rare Thai or Korean class, try International House, a nonprofit student residence and cultural center near Drexel and Penn. Ten-week introductory courses, generally taught by grad students, cost just $100, not including textbooks.
"The focus is on helping people develop very basic and practical skills," says language program director Barbara Warnock. "The students have a general interest, or sometimes they may be planning a trip to China or Korea." International House has Mandarin and Korean classes scheduled to start next month, and will have a Thai class as well if enough students sign up.
For intensive instruction, private schools have networks of tutors. The Lingual Institute recently set up students with one-on-one tutoring in Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Danish, Greek, Korean, Romanian and Swedish, says company president Ken Klein. "When you have private tutoring you really have committed students, and that makes the real difference," he says. Tutors cost $35 to $45 an hour.
Likewise, the storied international language school Berlitz has private instruction in Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin, Russian, Ukrainian and other tongues, as well as some group classes. For other languages, Berlitz can arrange live online instruction on the student's home or office computer. Prices vary by program.
A pricier alternative is instruction at a university. Drexel's offerings include Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Korean. Nonstudents not seeking college credit may attend for about $3,000 a class.
The University of Pennsylvania has the widest range of courses. The website of the Penn Language Center lists 36 languages including Amharic, Bengali, Czech, modern Greek, Gujarati, Hausa, Hungarian, Igbo, Irish Gaelic, Kannada and, well, you get the point. A nonstudent may audit a class with the professor's permission. Tuition and fees for one course add up to $4,258.