Lone Peak Arabic teacher Brian Harker went to Egypt over the summer on a grant to help him teach the language better. His favorite part was living in the dorms with Egyptian students and getting to know the language the way it is spoken there.
Harker spent six weeks in Alexandria, Egypt, on a special program grant with the American Council for International Education.
"Egyptian Arabic is full of humor, slang and sarcasm so there is a huge difference between the written language and what is actually spoken by most Egyptians. The same word can be pronounced in many different ways so it can have entirely new meanings," he said.
The study each day was intensive, with four hours of classes, then study time. However, he said he got more out of speaking with his fellow Egyptian dorm mates.
Harker graduated in Middle Eastern Studies from BYU and has been to Egypt twice as well as Jordan, Palestine and Yemen. "Of all the Mideastern Arabic languages, I am drawn to Egyptian Arabic the most. The language of Jordan is beautiful but Egyptian is more lighthearted and friendly, more full of fun and humor," he said. "Some Mideastern places are cleaner and nicer with better food but whenever I study Arabic I would rather go to Egypt."
Harker got the grant after one of his former students at Provo High told him about the program. He applied online and was accepted.
The U.S. State Department has been encouraging the study of the critical languages of Chinese, Russian and Arabic and have set up grants for students and teachers to learn these languages better. Harker said, "Nationwide Utah is one of the places where Arabic is taught in more high schools maybe because the National Middle East Language Resource Center is at BYU. In fact, there were two teachers from Utah, two from Idaho with only one each from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Kansas in our group."
Two other Utah teachers, Tina Cannon and Stacy Lyon from the Renaissance Academy in Lehi, received similar grants this year from the ACIE to go to China to increase their proficiency in the language and methods of teaching.
Harker said the experience has opened up avenues to connect with other Arabic teachers and share ways to make their classes better. Harker has read two of the Harry Potter books in Arabic and uses parts of these books to enliven his classes.
"Arabic has 28 letters and is written right to left and connected together like our cursive. It is a phonetic language so sounding out some of the unique words in Arabic the students are familiar with in English like quidditch and Hogwarts are fun for the students," he said.
Harker teaches Arabic part time at Lone Peak High School as well as Salt Lake Community College and has taught at BYU, the University of Utah, Provo High and Salem Hills High School.
Lone Peak High School principal Chip Koop said Harker is a great teacher and the students really like him.
"He is an engaging teacher and kid centered. The Arabic language is very different with many dialects and traditions," Koop said. "Brian helps bring our different worlds and cultures together. He has done a phenomenal job for us."
The weather in Alexandria, while humid, is mild with the temperatures in the 80's because it is on the Mediterranean Sea. But it is different in Luxor, where the pyramids are located. "It gets over 110 degrees there," he said. He also got to go scuba diving in the Red Sea, which is one of the premier places for the sport.
He said the food in his dorm was good but almost always had the same basic ingredients of caramelized onions, rice, lentils, meat and tomato sauce. "They serve it family style with all the dishes placed on the table to be passed around. The chef in our cafeteria was pretty good so it was tasty but the girls said theirs was pretty bad. We went out to eat at restaurants sometimes but the menu was about the same so we didn't go out much."
Harker was born in Corvalis, Oregon but grew up in Springville, then went to BYU where his father is a professor of microbiology. Although he took German in high school, he said he did not apply himself so did not like it very well. He became interested in other languages when he was on a mission for the LDS Church in Hawaii.
"I had the opportunity to study Tongan and Gilbertese when I was serving in the Christmas Islands. I realized it was the only time I wished I had more time to study more, it was so fascinating to me," he said.
In his spare time he likes to read, ski and train for and participate in triathlons.
"When you think of triathlons you think of the Iron Man, which seems impossible, but I do the half mile sprint, half mile swim and 5K bike ride which is doable and fun. My last time was an hour and 20 minutes which is 20 minutes less than I did before," he said. "I like the sport because you are mostly competing against yourself. The other people often stop and help each other like if you get a flat tire on your bike."