Students at Provo High have friends in diverse places. International Baccalaureate students studying Arabic have friends in the Middle East and they've found that they're a lot like themselves."At first they are different, but not as different as we thought," said senior Allison Erickson.
In order to give her students experience speaking the language with native students and a way to learn first-hand about the culture, teacher Audrey Bastian has students write letters to native speakers and video tape skits they write using vocabulary words and post them on a State Department-sponsored Web portal called the Youth Connect Worldwide Arabic Exchange. Then they receive comments from students in Palestine, and they can watch videos posted by Arabic students learning English as well. Until recently Provo was the only American School using the site. They have been joined by a school in Boston.
In one video posted by the Palestinian students, a girl with her head covered used a yellow ruler to point to the words on a giant screen that say "Most people like to hear music," followed by the words in Arabic written in the English alphabet - "Mo'tham annas yoheboon sma' al moseeqa."
Provo students use vocabulary about school and daily life they had been given by the Palestinian students and wrote a skit about studying.
"Since we're at school we decided to do school vocabulary," said junior Jorgena Miller.
Another group made up a skit about their daily activities including getting out of bed, brushing teeth and playing soccer.
Reactions to the students learning Arabic have been positive and negative. Students said people have reacted to the sweatshirts they all have that feature Arabic writing.
Senior Angela Ford said people sometimes ask questions like "Does your sweatshirt say 'terrorist' or 'I have a bomb' or something?"
Bastian said other people are excited that the students are getting the exposure, which she said they need.
"Because we are at war with Iraq it's important for students to have an understanding of that part of the world," Bastian said.
Ford said she likes learning what Arab-speaking people are really like, not just how they are portrayed.
"It's good to see the real culture," she said. "It's nice to break that stereotype that they're all terrorists."
To the U.S. Department of State, languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Farsi (Persian), Russian and Turkish are important for national security, and the government is increasing funding to get programs that teach these languages into schools.
Gregg Roberts, world language specialist for the Utah State Office of Education, said those languages aren't replacing other languages taught in schools like Spanish, French and German, but that there needs to be more options available to students. In addition to national security, language skills are needed in the world's economy.
"We don't want to be left behind as far as the world. The world has global economy," Roberts said.
Freshman Jared Ludlow said he enjoys learning to speak Arabic because he thinks it's more entertaining than other languages.
"I think it's interesting, and it's funner than I would think other languages would be," Miller said. Ludlow's father is a professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University and his grandfather just returned from teaching at BYU's Jerusalem Center. Ludlow said he sometimes cross references his Arabic with his grandfather's Hebrew.
"There's some similar words," Ludlow said. "Some words are very different."
In addition to Arabic, Provo high also offers Spanish, Latin, French, Chinese, German and American Sign Language. Lori Rich, Provo's IB coordinator, said the school is thinking about adding Russian.