The Arabic language is spoken in many countries in the Middle East and northern Africa and among Muslim and other communities around the world.
And this year, for the very first time, students at Norwell High School are studying the language in Arabic 1.
The course is taught by Rabia Mifdal, a second-year teacher at Norwell High who also teaches French.
During a visit to the Arabic class last week — at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning — a group of about 15 Norwell High juniors and seniors, donning Bruins hats, tie-dyed t-shirts and a Norwell ski team sweatshirt, among other attire, exchanged greetings with their teacher, in Arabic. Mifdal then asked them a number of basic questions, to which the students responded in Arabic. The students then practiced writing out a few short sentences in their notebooks, jotting from right to left of course, and later, some students stood up before the class to offer a 30-second commentary on their lives, in Arabic.
In interviews at the end of class, the majority of students said they enjoyed studying the language, with many agreeing that learning the alphabet has been the greatest challenge so far.
John Finnegan said he decided to enroll in Arabic because there are a lot of career opportunities available for those who speak the language. "There will be lots of opportunities in the future," he said.
"When you take Arabic, it's completely different," added Evan Cannata, who explained that whereas Spanish and French and other Romance languages have many similarities, which can aid one's study of the languages, when you take on Arabic you're pretty much starting from scratch.
"Everyone's at the same level," he said. "The culture is real interesting too."
Rachel Lynch said she found the course difficult at first, but they're going slow, and they're definitely making progress.
Michaela Nichols said the teacher knows the students are at an elementary level, and so the class is moving at the appropriate pace.
Chandler Anthony and Stephen Herling both commented that the Arabic alphabet was tough to learn, but things have gotten easier since then.
Following the class, Mifdal talked about the course and how it's progressing.
"I really, really like it a lot," she said. "I'm enjoying teaching. It's the beginning, and it's building. Like [one of the students] said, it's going to be the next hot thing."
A native of Morocco, Mifdal attended Mohammed Fifth University in Rabat, Morocco. She then moved to The United States (originally to work for Disney) and she's been living in the U.S. for 21 years. She taught first grade at an elementary school in Brockton for a number of years, before coming to Norwell last year. She's currently working on her master's degree in applied linguistics.
Mifdal said Norwell High is only the second high school in Eastern Mass to offer Arabic as a course of study.
Arabic: 'It's totally different'
The Arabic course began in September, and during the first few months Mifdal taught the students the 28 intricate letters (plus some symbols) of the Arabic alphabet. The goal, she said, was to get the students to really master how to write and recognize the artistic-looking letters, and to commit them to memory. That step took about four months, Mifdal said, and during that period the students also learned a little bit of the culture of Arabic-speaking countries.
For example, the students traveled into Boston to see "Arabia," a film at the Omni Theater.
Each of the students completed a project on a different Arabic speaking country, and their work — on Egypt, Jordan, Libya and other countries — was displayed on the classroom's walls.
For class, the students have adopted Arabic names, including Mahmoud, Yaqout, Fatima, Laila, Nadia, Ghassen and others.
They've also enjoyed a number of Arabic and/or Middle Eastern foods, and this past Friday (May 21) the class had a party planned, with a number of interesting selections on the menu: including taboouli, hummus, pita chips, baklava and some cake.
Mifdal concurred that the alphabet is the most challenging part about Arabic.
"[The students] have no background with it," she said. "It's totally different."
She added that Arabic offers sounds that are foreign to English-speakers' ears, and can provide pronunciation challenges.
Once the students learned the alphabet completely, though — a milestone the class reached at or around January — Mifdal said the class could proceed like any typical other language course.
"I am so proud of the program," said Mifdal. "I am so proud of the students. I achieved the goal that I'd set up for the program."
"This year there was a lot of interest," Mifdal said, adding that she's not sure how many students will enroll in Arabic next year. Mifdal said the high school does not plan to offer Arabic 2 next year (for the juniors who are currently taking Arabic 1), but Arabic 1 will again be offered.
There will also be an Arabic club, however, which will be open to any student who wants to practice the language.