Not only is Arabic one of the fifth most common spoken native languages in the world, it's also reportedly a great way to promote cultural understanding, and is soon to be offered at an elementary level at Idaho State University.
ISU has welcomed aboard a new and one might say overqualified professor to the history department, Zackery Heern. He is an expert on Islam and the Middle East with a significant amount of research accomplished in those fields.
"It's fortunate to get someone of that really high caliber researcher and teacher. He comes to ISU with a lot of experience," said Kevin Marsh, chair of the history department and associate professor. "For him to come here is a real benefit for ISU."
As of the spring 2016 semester, Heern will be teaching a beginning Arabic class offered Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m.
Heern is enthusiastic and excited for the course. "It will be fun. It will feel like being in preschool again," said Heern.
This course is for students who don't have knowledge of the Arabic language or background of the Middle East. According to Heern, it will be very interactive, as language should be. The focus will be on reading and writing with an emphasis on some oral communication.
The course will start basic. Students will learn the alphabet and how to write their name, and then by the end of the semester they should be able to converse a little in the language as well as to read and write at a basic level.
"I think it will be a really fun class," said Heern. "Arabic is a bit of a challenging language, but I would say one of the most important languages in the world right now."
Heern thinks Arabic is a great language to know if a student wants to work for the government or pursue a career in international relations, adding that the class is beneficial in many other fields of study.
Heern achieved his master's and Ph.D. in Middle Eastern History and Islam, with an emphasis in World History and Arabic from the University of Utah, where he met his wife. He learned Persian, the native language of Iran, at the university his wife attended and said they speak it regularly at home.
Heern took some time after graduation to explore and further his research abroad. He spent time in Egypt and Lebanon, which reportedly furthered his expertise in Arabic and in Persian due to the opportunity to immerse himself in the culture.
He then spent four years teaching at Murry State University in Kentucky with his wife. When the job at ISU opened up, Heern said he was excited to move back to the west and to be closer to family.
"My family and I have really enjoyed being in the area and we love Pocatello already," Heern said after just moving here in August of last year. With a love for the outdoors, he said Pocatello has treated his family well.
Heern said his family are real outdoor fanatics. He does a lot of mountain biking and enjoys the trails up City Creek. He has hope to get his kids up to Pebble Creek Ski Resort for a fun adventure this winter, as he grew up skiing as a kid and has experimented with snowboarding.
Marsh believes Heern has a lot to offer the ISU community. "He has great energy and a real commitment to building classes and other public activities that would be of interest to students and the general community," said Marsh. "Heern doesn't come locked into a narrow area of research but instead he comes just wanting to build an open and welcoming program that benefits others."
Heern recently published a book, "The Emergence of Modern Shi'ism: Islamic Reform in Iraq and Iran." It focuses on Iraq and Iran and the transitional history of Shia Islam in the modern period, particularly how modern Shi'ism developed. It was featured in The Economist, a news magazine.
"There is so much more to the region, the people and the culture than what we get in the media every day," Heern said, adding, "which is often very unfortunate."