A cellist for the Great Falls Symphony, Thad Suits understands well the language of music. He plays in the Cascade Quartet, and he and his wife Su make up the Mistral Duo. He also teaches students how to play the cello at his Great Falls studio.
Next month Suits will speak an entirely different language, one that he also will share with students.
On Sept. 13, Suits begins his second year of teaching an Arabic language class at MSU-Great Falls College of Technology.
Suits has studied Arabic for eight years and vacationed in Morocco a few years ago, where he immersed himself in the language. His taxi driver became his guide and companion and refused to speak English.
Suits watches Al-Jazeera television and reads Arab newspapers. He remains pen pals with acquaintances he has made in Arab countries.
An Egyptian girl who lived in Alexandria translated some Arabic comic books for Suits, and the two stay in touch. Now living in Canada, she offered Suits an insider's view of the Egyptian revolution.
"She gives me an earful," Suits said.
Word of mouth led Suits to MSU-Tech and a teaching position.
"With so much going on in the Middle East and so many of our people over there, the study of the Arabic language has grown in popularity," said Deb Richerson, who works in the Outreach and Continuing Education Department.
Along with teaching the basics of the language, Suits' also offers an Arabic cultural segment in which he delves into music, the arts and architecture. The semester ends with a sampling of Arabic cuisine.
"(The class) helps us better understand the Arab cultures and the language," said Jana Carter, who took Suits' course last year.
Reading Arabic was especially challenging.
"I felt like I was going crazy at times going right to left," she said. "The language was difficult in that some of the sounds aren't in English or in the Romance languages."
There are 28 Arabic letters, none of them vowels, and some are difficult to pronounce, with no English equivalents. Arabic dates back as early as the alphabet itself and is used by 150 million people worldwide.
Because she loves languages, Alexandra Ferriera took the beginning Arabic class last year and is signed up for the next course.
"The Arabic language is difficult to get used to, but I liked it very much and I will continue," Ferriera said.
As a kid, Suits remembers sitting around the dinner table and listening to his father use foreign phrases. His father spoke some German, which inspired Suits to study that language in high school and take a semester in college. The two wars in Iraq encouraged Suits to learn Arabic.
"It's like looking at the code and wanting to break the code," he said.
Suits' class is offered through MSU-Tech's continuing education program. Registration is under way for the one-credit class.