Bowdoin's Arabic teacher spends two hours a week teaching the alphabet, pronunciation, and simple word combinations to a class of some 15 students on Friday afternoons. Although he often stays after class to help beginners with questions, he does not get paid overtime—in fact, he does not get paid for teaching at all.
That's because Bowdoin's Arabic teacher is a student.
Jamil Wyne '08 began teaching an informal Arabic class this semester in order to provide other students the opportunity to learn a widely-spoken language that is not included in the College's curriculum.
Although the course is entirely unofficial and participants do not earn credit, interest in Wyne's class remains high. While about 15 students attend the class each week, almost 40 are on the e-mail list and join in when their schedules permit.
"As far as I've noticed, there's just as much interest in the student body in Arabic as there is in Spanish or French," Wyne said.
"I think what I'm doing right now is enough to let people know that there's an interest," he added. "It seems like the next natural step is to bring an Arabic professor."
Bowdoin has taken recent steps toward increasing the number of courses that focus on Middle Eastern studies and is currently looking to launch a pilot program in Arabic language instruction. The College has already made an offer to a teaching fellow to lead the program, which could be in place by next year.
"The Curriculum and Educational Policy Committee of the College thought this was a good way to explore the possibility of making some Arabic instructions available," said Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd, "as well as gauging the level of student interest."
The College has also hired Dr. Robert Morrison, an expert on Islam and Judaism, to teach in the Department of Religion. Though Morrison has taught Arabic in the past, Judd said she does not anticipate he will teach the language at Bowdoin.
"However," she added, "he will certainly be a resource for students interested in Arabic and a resource for the College as we explore possible ways to add Arabic to the curriculum."
But until the proposed Arabic program is officially incorporated into Bowdoin's curriculum, Wyne and other student Arabic speakers said they will continue to rely on peer instruction.
Wyne, who studied Arabic extensively during two summers in Morocco, first considered teaching his informal language class when he was approached in December by two fellow students looking for a way to learn Arabic at Bowdoin. After gauging interest through Student Digest posts and word-of-mouth, Wyne discovered that other students were also disappointed by the College's lack of Arabic and Islamic instruction.
"It's something that's so prevalent in the world and yet there's no program here," Wyne said. "It's a very applicable language and it's a part of the world that really gets ignored sometimes."
Debbie Theodore '08 attended Wyne's class for the first time last Friday after learning earlier in the week that she had been accepted to serve in the Peace Corps in Jordan immediately after graduation. Although her Peace Corps training will include a three-month intensive language course in Jordan, Theodore said she saw Wyne's class as a useful first step in learning a completely foreign language.
"I thought it would be a good opportunity to get a sense of the language before I get over there," Theodore said. "It doesn't hurt to start early."
According to native Arabic speaker Hasan Elsadig '10, Wyne's informal course provides an accessible entry point into the language for new speakers like Theodore.
"Some people can be intimidated by a language such as this, where the form is completely different from Romance languages," Elsadig wrote in an e-mail to the Orient.
"But I still feel that, at least in the basics, Arabic can be learned easily, with a little work of course," he added. "Working in groups, especially ones of this size, definitely help, as opposed to trying to learn by oneself."