About a month before school started, Donna Werner, chair of humanities at St. Louis Community College, Meramec, faced an unusual problem. Werner, who oversees language courses at the college, said her Arabic 101 class was almost completely full with students, but it had no instructor.
"Earlier in the year I wasn't that worried. I thought enrollment wasn't going to be very high because last time we had to cancel it due to low enrollment," Werner said.
This year, foreign language enrollment of eastern languages has seen increased popularity at Meramec, with Japanese, Chinese and Arabic classes at full capacity this semester.
Werner said it was a pleasant problem to have, although she had to scramble to find an Arabic instructor. The most difficult part, Werner said, was finding someone who would meet Meramec's high standards.
"I started looking through the applications, and few met the qualifications the way our board policy requires it," Werner said. "They have to have a master's in the language or a master's in a related field with 18 hours of related coursework. That's very hard to find in Arabic."
Eventually she found Younasse Tarbouni, who teaches Arabic at Washington University, after asking him if he knew anyone who could teach the class.
"I had in the past worked in a community college for six years. I liked the place, and I suggested I could teach the class," said Tarbouni, who taught English as second language courses at St. Louis Community College, Forest Park until 2005.
The Changing Language of Business
Yvonne Johnson, dean of humanities and social sciences at Meramec, said students are quickly realizing of the global nature of the times. Johnson said many students who truly want to get ahead are not only looking at learning what she calls "popular languages," such as French and Spanish, but are increasingly more interested in Japanese, Chinese and Arabic because that may be where the jobs are, she said.
"We live in a global society, people travel more and more for business," Johnson said. "I think that people are becoming more and more interested in Asian and Middle-Eastern languages because, well, for one thing, the business focus is shifting."
According to a Wall Street Journal article, ever since Sept. 11, 2001, enrollment in Arabic programs across the nation has sharply increased. The article cites better jobs for those who can master the language as one of the main reasons among students for taking the course.
"It's not a U.S. economy—it's a world economy," Tarbouni said. "One of the main components of doing business is speaking and using the other's language can basically open doors and give us more opportunities to do business with the rest of the world."
Community College Culture
Werner said not just anyone can teach at Meramec, and besides the high standards the school has when hiring, Werner said faculty members are constantly reviewed to make sure they are keeping the students interested and learning.
"The teaching at the community college is generally the best teaching in the United States," said Roy Day, language professor at Meramec who is also in charge of evaluating other instructors. "If you go to a large either private or public institution and you take a beginners-language class, you will most certainly have a graduate student teaching it. At St. Louis Community College, you may have a Ph.D with 30 years of experience."
Roy, who teaches French and Spanish at Meramec, said students have a great advantage when taking language courses at Meremac by getting high quality for a very low price.
"We do compete on cost," Day said. "We are a good deal."
Tarbouni said he enjoyed returning to teach at the community college because he finds students there to pose a different kind of challenge for his class.
"They are usually part-time students working two or three jobs and then taking courses, for which I have great respect," Tarbouni said. "They are just amazing. They are ideal in coming prepared despite working two, three jobs during the day. They are giving their maximum to succeed. In a nutshell, I think the community college students feel there is a burden on them because the community college is looked at as not as competitive. The students take that as a challenge and work twice as hard."
And although Tarbouni said Arabic can be a very difficult language to learn, he decided to prove no language is impossible to learn by enrolling himself in a Chinese class.
"Arabic is not an easy language, and for that matter, no language is easy," Tarbouni said. "However, as humans, we are predisposed to learn languages. I took Chinese at this age, not because I claim to be some sort of genius, but just to prove that yes, it is difficult, but it is not that much different from learning French, Spanish and English, for that matter."