Demand for professionals proficient in Arabic language has skyrocketed since 2002, and civil unrest spreading across the Middle East is sure to fuel the need in both the government and private sectors.
In fact, Arabic has become the fastest-growing of all language classes taught in the United States. To help meet the demand, the University of Mississippi is offering a minor in Arabic through its Arabic language program in the Department of Modern Languages.Development of the minor is a huge step in the right direction for the Arabic Language Program, which was launched in the UM Department of Modern Languages in 2008, said Allen Clark, the program's director and assistant professor of modern languages.
"Since the beginning, our department has been working steadfastly to provide a minor in Arabic and hopefully, in the next three years, offer a major, too," Clark said. "Students who complete the minor in Arabic will leave the program as marketable students with real-world experience to offer their future employers."
This is accomplished by providing students an opportunity to spend summers abroad at Yarmouk University in Jordan during their sophomore, junior and senior years.
Students also can practice with language partners, particularly through the Arabic Language Club, in which only Arabic is allowed. The program also allows students to experience Arabic culture through movies, television, food and conversation.
The Arabic program is rigorous, so classes are kept small, Clark said.
"Being that this program is based on the flagship model (of pedagogy), we tend to accept between 10 and 15 students per year," Clark said. "Because of the small class sizes, there are ample opportunities for individual consultation with all Arabic instructors teaching the courses. We think our students appreciate that more than anything."
Chase Pinson, a senior from Crystal Springs, said he plans to continue studying Arabic until he is fluent, and "individual attention from Dr. Clark and my other professors is essential to this proficiency."
"I'm studying Arabic because it's a beautiful language, plus I truly believe it will give me an edge in the employment arena after I graduate with my journalism degree," Pinson said.
"My future goals include working and living in the Middle East, so becoming fluent in Arabic, no matter how long it takes, will open doors. The uniqueness of this program is its ability to cover Arab culture as well as language. This is a great program that can only grow bigger and hopefully someday will grow to rival the Chinese program at Ole Miss, which seems to be pretty solid."
The goal is to continue to grow the program until it is on par with the university's other flagship language program in Chinese, said Donald Dyer, chair of modern languages.
"Our Arabic-language program gains in stature and size each year," Dyer said. "It was designed and implemented to be a curriculum which takes students to the highest of linguistic proficiency and it is well on its way to accomplishing this after just two-and-a-half years in existence. The faculty and the students who pursue Arabic at UM are on the top of their game and great things are expected of them in the years to come."
Since 1998, Clark has taught Arabic at several other institutions, including Beloit College, Middlebury College and Ohio State University. He has co-authored the Arabic language textbook "Ahlan wa Sahlan" (Yale University Press) with Mahdi Alosh, served as a subject matter expert on the University of Maryland project LangNet and worked as a legal interpreter in Columbus, Ohio, and as a translator for multiple reading journals.