There was a flurry of hands as students at Lincoln Park High School, a state school on the north side of Chicago, vied to prove their competence.
"The cat is behind the chair," said one. "Almost," the teacher, Robert Wiley, said, encouraging her to try again.
"The cat is on the chair," offered the student tentatively. "Correct," Mr Wiley replied, moving on to the next question, still speaking in Arabic.
For a second-year Arabic class, conducted almost exclusively in the language, Mr Wiley's students showed impressive aptitude. Prepositions of place can rarely have been tackled with more teenage enthusiasm.
But then, this class of 22 pupils appears to have taken to the language with a gusto that seems to justify the decision by the Chicago Public School board to further expand a young language programme that already includes nearly 2,400 children in the Chicago area.
"It's a hard language," said Jacob, 16, "but it's fun. And it's good to do, because I don't think it's very widely studied."
That may be about to change. In 2006, George W Bush, the former US president, launched the National Security Language Initiative. A bid to strengthen US national security through the teaching of foreign languages, the initiative allocated US$114 million (Dh418m) to encourage the teaching in public schools of what were called "critical languages". These include Mandarin Chinese, Farsi, Hindi, Russian and Arabic.
Chicago provided an ideal testing ground, especially for Arabic. Arab speakers constitute the sixth largest minority in the city, and therefore offered potential students more than just language instruction, explained Amy Hammerand, the manager of World Languages and International Studies at the Office of Language and Cultural Education at Chicago Public Schools.
Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington and New York City are among the cities also involved in the programme.
"We can make connections in the community. Students have taken field trips to an Arab Christian church and a mosque. There's an Arabesque festival every summer. So there is a ready culture component for students in Chicago."
That connection has also attracted funding from Arab countries. The Oasis Foundation, a charitable institution established in 2008 by Yousef al Otaiba, the UAE's ambassador to the United States, to promote mutual understanding between the two countries, has so far funded the programme for US$65,000 through 2012. The funding is set to increase in the future.
Qatar has also become involved, with the Qatar Foundation offering a week-long student trip to the country, the first of which will take place this spring holiday. Two of Mr Wiley's students are due to take part.
So successful has the Arabic language programme in the Chicago Public Schools been, the four-year-old scheme has already expanded from being offered at three schools citywide in 2007, to 10. An eleventh school is piloting an online course that administrators hope will soon spread to four high schools.
Last year, the first high school students with four years of instruction behind them graduated. Soon, the city will have young people ready for college who have taken Arabic since kindergarten.
"Arabic is in high demand," said Ms Hammerand, calling the lessons the "most exciting" part of her job. "It helps demystify stereotypes."
The programme, however, has angered some. Since it was launched, but especially since it was expanded in 2008, right-wing websites with names such as "Jihad Watch" and "Militant Islam Monitor" have been complaining about "what the feds spend our money on", and worried over the "Islamisation of the Illinois public school system".
Such criticisms have not had any impact at Lincoln Park High School. Mr Wiley said parents were often curious about why Arabic was offered but never critical. Michael Boraz, the school principal, said the choices available at the school and the diversity of its student body were its strengths.
Moreover, he said, students saw Arabic as a tool to prepare for the future.
"It's a kid thing today. They like to stay ahead of the curve."
Certainly, Jacob was very conscious of how it might help him in the future. He hoped to make a career in "business or commerce" and was aware that Arabic had been designated a critical language by the government and could open doors in terms of college.
Ms Hammerand pointed out that Michigan State University now offered scholarships to students who chose to pursue their studies in the language even if they were not majoring in Arabic.
But there seemed to be as many reasons for choosing Arabic as there were students in Mr Wiley's class. Adonia, Jacob's classmate, grew up in Ethiopia, where many of his friends spoke Arabic. By learning Arabic, he hoped he could one day go home "and impress them".
Ismira, 16, grew up in Bosnia. A Muslim from a non-Arabic speaking background, she had had some exposure through her mosque, but wished to learn more. "It is the language of our holy book," she said.
Mr Wiley, who teaches five Arabic classes with a total of about 120 students at Lincoln Park, said he also had a number of Jewish students who knew the language to be similar to Hebrew. Finally, he said, "there are those who just think it could be cool".