Identified by the U.S. government as a critical need in the post 9/11 world and by peace advocates as a critical step toward international understanding, Cornell University students are mastering Arabic language and culture as a pioneering immersion program nears the end of its first year.
The students, part of Cornell's Intensive Arabic Program, are now studying at Hashemite University in Jordan and doing community volunteer work under the guidance of program director Munther Younes.
"Judging by the feedback I get from the professors and the students themselves, they seem to be doing well in these courses, actively participating, and enjoying them," said Younes, a senior lecturer in Arabic language and linguistics in Cornell's Department of Near Eastern Studies.
The language program involves a fall semester with 16 credits of intensive intermediate Arabic study on the Ithaca campus, and a spring semester of cultural immersion in Jordan with a full course load at a Jordanian university. The program is limited to 12 students.
In an approach critical to it's unique success, the program integrates written and every-day spoken Arabic.
"When they initially arrived, people couldn't believe these were American students," said Kim Haines-Eitzen, chair of Near Eastern Studies. "For students to be doing so well in such a short period of time means Munther's integrated method is really working."
Each student is paired with a Hashemite University student as a language partner. Required community service projects also place the students in direct contact with Jordanians. Six of the students also have been teaching English to Iraqi refugees.
Others, paired with their Hashemite counterparts in a biology course, are working to identify community health problems. Students also visit Amman and other Jordanian cities, as well as other Middle Eastern countries, including Syria, Israel and Egypt.
Launched in the fall of 2009, the program is modeled in part on Cornell's Full-Year Asian Language Concentration Program and the China and Asia-Pacific Studies Program. Under Younes' direction, students learn both the formal, written Arabic and spoken dialects used in every-day conversation. This allows participants to more fully function in the Arabic-speaking world.
The program is being supported by an anonymous gift for its first four years.
In 2006, then President George W. Bush launched the National Security Language Initiative, urging American students to develop a broader understanding of several key languages, including Arabic. In recent years, the United Nations has increasingly advocated a broader understanding of Arabic language and culture as an essential element in building a lasting Middle East peace and fostering trust between the Arab world and the West.