Millersville University senior Andrew Lamarra, 23, picked up some Arabic last spring while deployed in Iraq.
When he returned to school, he decided to take an Arabic-language class, expecting he'll be deployed to the Middle East again.
If Lamarra attains proficiency some day, he's considering a job in Army intelligence where he could use his language skills.
Lamarra is among the wave of college students who continue to crowd into Arabic-language classes five years after the initial boom in interest that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The most recent survey of colleges and universities by the Modern Language Association showed a 336 percent increase in enrollment in Arabic classes from 1998 to 2006 -- faster growth than any other foreign language.
Arabic-language students on college campuses numbered 5,500 before 9/11 and nearly 24,000 in fall 2006. The number of colleges offering Arabic instruction has nearly doubled since 2002.
Experts attribute the class sizes to curiosity about the Arab world and Islam, as well as geopolitical interest in the Middle East and jobs available to Arabic speakers in industries such as oil, national security and journalism.
"Arabic's become very trendy since 9/11," said Alexandra Jerome, a lecturer who last year began teaching the first Arabic-language classes at York College.
"The kids take Arabic because not only are they curious about the language and what the language represents, but also because it's got job opportunities attached to it."
Jerome began studying Arabic in 1999 at Dickinson College in Carlisle and now holds a master's degree in Islamic societies and cultures from the University of London.
She has taught students with military obligations and government-job aspirations, as well as those with an eye for politics and/or the oil business.
One student, junior Will Fenske, 23, is a graphic artist with an affection for Arabic calligraphy.
"The letter forms -- it's a beautiful language," said Fenske, who figures Arabic will also be useful in his job with the Army National Guard.
The federal government, realizing the dearth of fluent speakers after 9/11, has taught Arabic to soldiers and spies at specialized schools. It's also encouraging younger generations to take up the language.
Word has spread among college students, who have been told for years that foreign-language skills make them more marketable to employers.
Senior Liam Higgins, 21, took Arabic in his sophomore year at Franklin & Marshall College.
"I've heard if you get fluent in Arabic, you'll get grabbed up right after college -- like by the CIA or something," he said.
Students learn classical, or Modern Standard Arabic, which is the language of Arab media, formal occasions and the Quran. What can hinder some students is Arabic has myriad regional dialects and mastering one to conversational proficiency requires spending a few years in the country.
The University of Maryland hosts a federally funded program for students with basic Arabic skills who want to develop proficiency and learn the Egyptian or Levantine dialects. It includes a year at overseas at Damascus University in Syria.
Some colleges in the midstate have responded to students' calls for Arabic instruction, but administrators have difficulty finding qualified Arabic-language instructors, they say. Because of this shortage, several universities around the country have started to offer long-distance learning Arabic-language courses.
Gettysburg College began offering self-instructed courses in 2006. Four students are currently enrolled, and eight have been accepted for the fall semester class, said Cynthia Helfrich in the college's interdisciplinary office. Others were turned away because of limited resources.
"We have had no Arabic language classes in the past, except through our off-campus study program," Helfrich said by e-mail.
Franklin & Marshall started offering Arabic in 2005 and will make the program full time this fall so that it counts toward the school's three-semester foreign-language requirement.
The college has hired an Israeli doctoral candidate studying at the University of Pennsylvania as its director of Arabic language.
"We're expecting a robust but not an overwhelming number of students" in the classes, said Cecile Zorach, the college's director of international studies.
Twenty-six students packed into Jerome's class at York College when the course was first offered last spring, but six students dropped out early on, Jerome said.
"Once they saw the alphabet, they were like, 'Holy God,'" she said. "They're so used to having languages with the Latin alphabet."
Six are enrolled in her Elementary Arabic II course this spring.
The difficulty of learning Arabic is a common complaint of students. Many bang their heads on desks over the unfamiliar grammar, 13 forms of present tense verbs and the fact that, like in Hebrew, people don't include most vowels when writing.
"I've cracked a number of desks over the years," said David Commins, a Mideast historian at Dickinson College in Carlisle who learned Arabic while living in Syria.
There's three noun cases, two genders and no "to be" verb.
Not only are the sounds and script tough, but if you speak a European language, the root system of Arabic is unfamiliar:
Arabic words are constructed from three-letter "roots" which convey a basic idea. For example, k-t-b conveys the idea of writing. The addition of other letters before, between and after the roots will create associated words: Kitab (book), katib (writer) and maktabah (library).
A root can have 50 or 60 vocabulary items that are slightly different, and a student must learn all to become fluent.
"One of the kids' favorite sayings last year was 'Astag- fir Allah,' which means 'God help us,'" Jerome said.
Experts say there aren't enough highly trained instructors to satisfy the student interest in the language, said Dora Johnson, a research associate developing a network of kindergarten through 12th-grade Arabic teachers through the National Capital Language Research Center in Washington, D.C.
"We do not have enough qualified teachers at the post-secondary level and certainly not at the K-12 level," said Johnson, who learned Arabic growing up in Lebanon.
Overall, the Spanish, French and German languages remain the most popular languages for college students, comprising more than two-thirds of class enrollments. Arabic represents less than 2 percent of foreign-language enrollments.
As interest continues to mushroom, age-appropriate curricula are needed for all ages; instructors need better training and the standards for teacher certification that exist in other foreign-language areas, Johnson said.
"Schools of education don't have money or professors to teach this stuff, so we're going to have to think of alternate ways to create certification," Johnson said.
"There just aren't enough teachers to go around."
--- Arabic is spoken in 22 countries from Morocco and Mauritania in west Africa to Iraq in the eastern Arabian Peninsula.
In that region, more than 160 million people speak the language, while worldwide 600 million Muslims use it as the language of daily prayer in their spiritual practice.
--- Many Arabs feel that language is their unifying element. "Arabic" is not a race but a quality to characterize those people who speak the Arabic language.
--- The diglossic nature of Arabic can prove challenging to those learning the language because the spoken dialects of Arabic vary greatly from "Fuss-ha" (the pure), the classical Arabic taught in schools and used in Arab media known as "Modern Standard Arabic."
--- The Arabic alphabet has 28 letters and most of them correspond to sound in the English alphabet. Three letters are what English-speakers would call vowels. The rest are consonants.
is a list of
Arabic words in the English language:
ON THE WEB
--- Modern Language Association, www.mla.org
--- American Association of Teachers of Arabic, aataweb.org
--- The Arabic alphabet, www.arabacademy.com/download/alphabetwed7introchange5.swf
--- National Middle East Language Resource Center, www.nmelrc.org
--- Center for Arabic Study Abroad, www.utexas.edu/cola/centers/casa/#
--- Model Arab League, www.ncusar.org/email_graphics/announcements/08_MAL_Invitation.html
--- Al-Bab.com, www.al-bab.com