Traditionally known as the Paris of the Middle East, Beirut has quickly earned another reputation, particularly for students eager to learn Arabic.
Summer intensive programs and regular courses are expanding, attracting more and more people from around the globe. The annual summer influx of Lebanese living in the diaspora is one reason for Beirut's hot-spot status for Arabic learning; many students are originally Lebanese.
For Serene Hakim, a 21-year-old Lebanese-American from the Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies at the American University of Beirut (AUB), it's an easy decision.
"I come to Beirut every summer to visit family, so it was just convenient to have the classes here since I'd already be here," she said.
The AUB summer program has been active for a decade. Students currently attend six hours a day of class for six weeks, coupled with a few hours of homework every night.
"By requiring this intensive effort, the program is able to ensure a tremendous amount of Arabic learning in a very short period of time," explained Steven Arrigg Koh, 27-year-old American lawyer who happens to be half-Lebanese and half-South Korean.
Aliya Saidi, the director of the program, highlighted the satisfaction of the students, which they express in an evaluation form at the end of the program. It is also highly selective: only students who have started university can apply, and out of 180 applications, 80 were selected based on their grades and their level of Arabic.
At the Lebanese American University (LAU), Dr. Mimi Jeha, the director of the Summer Institute for Intensive Arabic Language and Culture (SINARC) program, said she received nearly 270 applications for 164 spots this year, citing the overall increase in applications over the past few years as behind the decision to expand the program.
Ultimately, she'd like build on the success of the summer and fall SINARC program and would like to create a year-round option for students.
Asked why he chose LAU's SINARC program, Maurice Jr. Labelle, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Akron, cited a desire to "appreciate the culture of Lebanon,"
Additionally, because classes are in the mornings, the program's structure allows him time in the afternoons to conduct research for his dissertation. Students can choose between Lebanese dialect courses or opt for three hours of Modern Standard Arabic a day, with one hour of Lebanese dialect.
Alicia Khalek, a student in Wafa Kays' Intensive Lebanese Arabic class, said she enjoys the "very interactive" nature of the three-hour class, which involves many practical skills like making reservations at a hotel, or learning a recipe and teaching it to the class in Arabic.
The Universite Saint-Joseph (USJ) also offers an intensive summer program, divided in two sessions, in which students attend class five hours a day over a period of four weeks.
University-based programs are mostly aimed at students, the majority of whom come from the US and are often of Lebanese origin, but they also attract students from Europe and countries as far away as Japan and Korea.
At SINARC, there is no typical summer student: in addition to the traditional base of Americans, children of the Lebanese Diaspora from North and South America are joined by students from Croatia and Norway.
The programs strive to be demanding: at AUB and LAU, students take an Arabic-language pledge, committing themselves to speaking only in Arabic while in class and on field trips.
"If we were to describe this program in just one phrase, it would be 'very intensive,'" said Bilal Orfali, one of the program coordinators. "The AUB program is both academic and cultural. It is also designed to introduce the students to Lebanese and Arab culture."
The AUB program includes field trips to tourism sites such as Beiteddine, Jbeil or Harisa, as well as visits to the An-Nahar and As-Safir newspapers.
"The goal is cultural immersion," said Jeha, from SINARC. "We take them on trips nearly every weekend, so by the end of the program they get to see all of Lebanon."
Also, students have supplementary options such as a twice-a-week dabkeh class and other cultural immersion activities.
However, these well-structured programs don't come cheap: They range from $680 at USJ up to $4,000 at AUB, with LAU in the middle at $3,200.
Beirut also offers other options for anyone looking for less-intensive or less-expensive Arabic instruction.
At the Saifi Institute, students can choose between intensive courses (15 hours a week) and regular courses (seven hours a week). ALPS, which is affiliated with the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, offers even more flexible options.
"I like to say that we provide an 'a la carte menu' – whenever we have one or two students who have the same needs, we open up a class for them," said Joelle Giappesi, a Frenchwoman born in Lebanon who decided to teach Arabic "out of love for the language in general."
ALPS also offers a summer intensive program composed of two sessions of four weeks each; the courses focus on Levantine colloquial Arabic and there are fewer than half-a-dozen students per class.
As proof that these flexible options attract students, Saifi Institute, which opened its doors three years ago, is already expanding, and moving to new premises in Gemmayzeh "to create the best-working atmosphere for our students," according to the program's director, Rana Dirani McClenahan.
With prices ranging from around $20 an hour for a private lesson and around $8 to $9 an hour for a small group lesson, these options attract those not looking for an intensive university-based experience.
As Lebanon becomes crowded with tourists during the summer, Arabic instruction is adapting. Talk Beirut, part of BeBeirut, an urban tourism project launched by AUB students to promote Lebanese culture and language, attracts tourists on short-term stays.
They attend a five-hour-long "crash course" to learn the very basics.
According to Maureen Abi Ghanem, the coordinator of the program, these are "how to handle a taxi, order food in a restaurant, a few Arabic greetings" and some words to help speakers express themselves in matters of the heart.
Talk Beirut also offers regular courses, which are flexible and are adapted to the needs of students in a program restricted to colloquial.
"If someone wants to learn classical or Modern Standard Arabic, we just refer them to another school," added the program's coordinator.
The French Cultural Center is another option, but offers only colloquial Arabic for four hours a week over three months.
"We consider the student a social actor who evolves in his environment through the different tasks of everyday life, whether it is finding a taxi in the street, ordering at a restaurant or even writing a poem," says Christophe Chaillot, the director of language courses at the French Cultural Center.
"This is why we focus on the specific vocabulary related to these tasks," he added.
Consequently, the teaching methods vary substantially among the programs.
Saifi's staff says teachers enjoy a number of qualifications, rendering them "ready to expect anything, in order to adapt to the students and best answer their needs," according to McClenahan.
At ALPS, the courses put an emphasis on the present tense and the concepts of masculine and feminine, which students are not usually familiar with.
"We also insist a lot on the alphabet, because if you cannot differentiate between the sounds, you cannot speak properly," says Giappesi.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the French Cultural Center barely deals with the alphabet, as it mostly aims at enabling the students to accomplish basic everyday tasks.
With the growing numbers of students and others interested in Arabic, the course options in Beirut are becoming more varied, allowing people to find the program and setting that suit them best.