Enrollment has increased every year in the Arabic language class since its inception.
The Department of French and Italian at The University of Iowa added Arabic to its array of foreign languages in 2006. According to the Departmental Executive Officer Roland Racevskis of the Department of French and Italian, Arabic is characterized as a Less Commonly Taught Language (LCTL). That is now changing nationwide. The University of Iowa Arabic program has grown rapidly.
"Our enrollment in Arabic between the fall of 2006 and the fall of 2009 tripled," Racevskis said. "It went from 34 total students studying Arabic to 102."
The United States government has designated Arabic as a critical language. That has also piqued interests for it. The International Programs added a Middle East and Muslim World Studies class in English that is geared to study the language and culture. The course was taught by Hungary-native Professor Denes Gazsi, who has been learning and teaching Arabic for almost two decades. The faculty that takes part in it is compromised of an inter-disciplinary research group.
"When I put through the proposal for the minor that finally got approved, I had to get support from different departments all over campus," Racevskis said. "That was interesting too, to see department chairs that were willing to write a letter of support for us."
Also the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Religious Studies supported the program in order to offer students the opportunity to become more knowledgeable of the region. In the future, both JMC and Religious Studies students would have the necessary tools to gain employment in Arabic-speaking countries.
According to Racevskis, more people are realizing that there is a language deficit in the United States regarding how well Americans know languages in different parts of the world. Clearly with the involvement of the U.S. military in various parts of the world, i.e. the Middle East, it has become imperative to learn the language.
"The Middle East is an increasingly significant region for this country (U.S.) economically," Racevskis said.
On the other hand, there's an advantage knowing Arabic as an occupational skill for people interested in pursuing careers in diplomacy or international business. Freshman Rachel Decker who majors in finance first took Arabic at The University of Georgia. Currently she's taking Beginner Arabic at the UI with Professor Gazsi. She said that she enjoys the Arabic class at the UI more than her previous school because of her new professor. Memorizing new vocabulary is challenging but she enjoys reading and writing the language. She plans on studying abroad in Morocco.
The curly haired redhead said, "I started learning Arabic last semester because I wanted to minor in a language, and I feel like with the state of the world, being fluent in Arabic would make me more desirable as a job candidate.
Now students can minor in Arabic which was approved by the Board of Regents in the fall of 2009. Students must complete 15 semester hours beyond the first-year level. As of now, there is not an Arabic major. A French-Arabic track within the French major is now available at the university. This program combines the study of French language and culture with Arabic language and culture. Since some Arabic-speaking North African countries such as Algeria and Tunisia were colonized by France, many of their inhabitants speak those languages.
One of the biggest challenges facing the program is staffing because Arabic teachers are in high demand nationwide. Being able to have a sufficient number of qualified faculty for the increasing number of students interested in the language is a difficult task, especially with the budget cuts the school is facing because of the slow economy.
"I'm the only faculty for Arabic, that's why I'm the coordinator," Gazsi said. "There's one T.A. (graduate student from Oman) who has been here for two years."
The young blond teacher has the freedom to decide what books and materials should be used for the class. Gazsi started learning Arabic since the age of 14. He has extensively traveled to many Middle Eastern and North African countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Syria and Lebanon among others. According to Gazsi, Arabic dialects vary in different countries and that makes teaching and learning even more difficult.
UI junior Daniel Schaefer is in the second semester of Beginning Arabic. He said that it is interesting to watch videos of native speakers and hear the dialectal differences from region to region. It is a dichotomy of feeling encouraged and discouraged when hearing words that he recognizes but sometimes can't recall the meaning.
"There are practically one billion Arabic speakers in the world," Schaefer said. "There is so much misunderstanding between America and the Middle East; I would hope universities and students would take an initiative to bridge the gap."