Since I can remember, I have wanted to study Arabic. The Arab world has always had some inexplicable draw for me: I am fascinated by its culture, food, and history. So when I chose to attend Georgetown, I immediately enrolled in Intensive Modern Standard Arabic.
For the first two years of my college career I was a slave to Arabic spending hours learning a new alphabet, grammatical structure, and vocabulary. Having previously only studied Romance languages, I have found that Arabic is a horse of a completely different color. I tend to be good at learning languages, and thus have been continually frustrated by my inability to grasp Arabic these past three years.
Despite focusing all of my efforts on the intricacies of the language, I still find myself afloat in a sea of fatHas with no life raft in sight. Every time my Arabic teacher says, "Khalas there is the grammatical rule that never changes," I know that in two weeks I will learn that there are at least twelve exceptions. Fundamentally, I have come to realize in my past three years of study that while my study habits are sometimes questionable, the bigger issue lies in the way in which we learn Arabic here at Georgetown.
Our university has arguably the best Arabic program in the country, with the exception of the University of Texas at Austin. The textbook that is used by Arabic programs across the country is published by Georgetown University Press, and even within GU, Arabic is one of the most popular languages of study. With so many interested students, it would make sense that Georgetown would live up to the high standards that have been attributed to it. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. As most Arabic students will tell you, the department is incredibly disorganized ,and the way in which we learn the language is often not conducive to life in an Arabic-speaking country.
An important factor in determining the quality of an academic program is looking at how organized it is. Programs with fantastic professors and resources can be hindered by an inability to set clear syllabi and disseminate information to students. This is exactly the issue that the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies faces. While professors are dedicated to their students and extremely knowledgeable, it is also undeniable that there is a complete disconnect when it comes to administration. I have never had an Arabic class that followed the syllabus. Inevitably, the professor changes it in class and then is frustrated when students do the homework according to what was said in class and not what was written on the syllabus. As an Arabic student, you are constantly running from classmate to classmate trying to figure out what exactly is due for the next class.
When you finally figure out what is due, you realize that the amount of homework that you have been given will take you at least the next four hours. And Arabic is every day. Imagine the amount of time that Arabic students spend working on their homework, on top of the time they spend figuring out what it is. Homework, of course, is only half of it. When exams come around, you have no idea what will be tested and more likely than not at least half of it will never have been covered in class. The students you see walking out of class with dazed looks on their faces? Arabic students. As a classmate of mine said, "We all got 20s out of 100 last semester because we had no idea what was going on." It's one thing for one person to perform poorly on a test, but quite another for an entire class to do so.
The worst part of the lack of communication is that it often prevents students from moving on in the language. A friend that came back from studying abroad in Jordan told me that the department failed to contact her about a placement test. When she began to worry and contacted them, she was told that she had two hours to complete it. I will likely not receive Arabic proficiency because I was told in Spring 2012 that I could take Arabic Media and then receive proficiency, but when I walked into class in January I was told that this was not the case. I know that I am not alone in this issue.
Fundamentally, many Arabic students that enter Georgetown in love with the culture and the language find themselves disillusioned. This is a direct result of the lack of organization and clear expectations within the Arabic department. For a language that demands so much investment, it is unacceptable that students are not given clear direction. The quality of our Arabic education is unparalleled, but if the department doesn't get its act together, it's bound to lose students to Chinese, cementing their world domination.