The University of Arizona is one of just five schools that has been selected for a federal program to help students become fluent in Arabic.
As the U.S. has been increasingly involved in Middle Eastern countries over the last decade-plus, the dearth of Arabic speakers has been a big problem, and while there has been progress in meeting that need, the problem is not gone.
"I don't think so. We're way far away from doing that," said Dr. Sonia Shiri.
She is academic director of the Arabic Flagship Program at the U of A, which is designed to help more people become fluent in Arabic and the culture of its many speakers.
Students do not just spend time in the classroom. They get tutoring, conversational groups and have one-on-one time with native speakers, and Shiri said the program is for any major.
"If you became a doctor, you would be able to access a type of population because of that knowledge. If somebody was an engineer, down the line they could go and represent their company abroad," said Shiri.
Twenty-two students are enrolled in the Flagship Program's first year. It is funded in part by more than $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Defense. While students get a partial scholarship for the program and its study abroad component, the school hopes to raise money to help pay for the difference.