SAN BERNARDINO - Nathaniel Kim studied Spanish in high school, but by the time graduation rolled around he remembered very little of what he had learned.
Flash forward to the summer of 2008, where Kim, 19, is one of 62 students in the six-week Summer Intensive Arabic Language Program at Cal State San Bernardino.
After several weeks of living on the campus much as he would in the Middle East, he now speaks entire phrases in Arabic.
"A lot of people are doing this to get into national security or business, but I am an avid student of languages, and I can't think of a better way to learn one than to be immersed in it," he said.
Students in the program, now in its second year, spend from 8 a.m. to late at night Monday through Thursday preparing and eating Arabic food, studying the language and participating in cultural activities.
After breakfast, they study Arabic before breaking for the second meal of the day.
At a recent lunch, young men and women clad in jeans, T-shirts and in some cases head scarves stood shoulder to shoulder helping themselves to meatballs, potatoes and pita bread while Arabic music played in the background.
While some spoke in English, most conversed in the language they are studying with teachers, tutors and fellow students.
The afternoons are devoted to such activities as Middle Eastern dance, homework and career counseling.
After dinner, the students spend the evenings doing calligraphy, Quran recitations and watching Arabic movies and news shows.
Every Friday, they leave campus and go on field trips.
Recent destinations included Cal Poly Pomona to visit the graceful Arabian horses housed there and an Iraqi community in El Cajon.
The reason for the 24/7 immersion is that Arabic is a difficult language to learn, said Dany Doueiri, lecturer in the department of world languages and literatures at Cal State San Bernardino, as well as the program coordinator.
"Without immersion it would take a very, very long time to grasp," he said.
The cultural component only adds to the experience, he added.
"Without that we would be doing our students a disservice," he said.
Students who complete the program have the opportunity to study Arabic through the 2008-09 academic year in order to prepare for the study abroad program in summer 2009.
Currently, 16 students are in Jordan completing the final phase from last year's program.
At the conclusion of the six-week program, students undergo an oral proficiency interview and receive a certificate of completion.
Those who continue instruction get a certificate or minor in Arabic language.
Many of the students, ages 19 to 56, hope their command of a foreign language will enable them to find work overseas.
Others, who grew up in Middle Eastern countries, simply want to communicate in the language of their parents.
For most, the intense experience, which ends July 31, has been worth it.
"Nonstop Arabic for six weeks is pretty intense, but it has been great," said Noor Salem, 20, of Anaheim. "I already had high expectations, but this has been the experience of a lifetime."