College students Nick Posegay and Elysa Bryen were looking for a chance to challenge their learning of Arabic and bring together other students looking to expand their understanding of the notoriously difficult language. So they launched their own publication at the University of Chicago written entirely in Arabic.
Majalla, the Arabic word for "magazine," published its first issue in January, and students in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations are preparing the next edition for later this quarter.
"In the department there are lots of opportunities to speak and write in class, but there aren't a lot of outside opportunities," said Bryen, a fourth-year. "We really wanted to push our Arabic to another level."
The idea for Majalla came from Osama Abu-Eledam, a lecturer in Arabic at UChicago. Bryen and Posegay began designing the magazine last spring. While studying in Morocco over the summer, Posegay met second-year Madeline de Figueiredo, who was enthusiastic about the idea and agreed to help.
The trio of editors put out a call for submissions with no real restrictions on content, only requiring authors be current UChicago students. The group received material ranging from the academic to the personal, from undergraduate and graduate students alike.
"We had someone write about the worst date they had ever been on and then we had someone write about the history of Oman," de Figueiredo said. "How people chose to use their language and what ideas they were expressing was really interesting."
The team said despite being at the same level of proficiency with many of the writers who submitted pieces, the editing process was a challenge. Reading student writing that moved beyond the more familiar academic Arabic proved to be a challenge.
"It was a learning experience for us because we had to pull out dictionaries and make sure we were understanding it," said Bryen. "We're learning vocabulary we wouldn't learn in the classroom."
Noha Forster, a lecturer and coordinator of the Arabic program in NELC, said that Majalla highlights not only the creativity of students but their ability as well. She serves as a mentor for the magazine, which showcases writing from students with one to four years of Arabic study at the University.
"I'm very excited about it," Forster said. "To be proficient in a language means to produce the language, orally and in written form. Majalla is a testament to the shift that we here at the University of Chicago have made in our expectations of our students: You can truly claim to 'know' Arabic if you can also communicate in Arabic."
The magazine has received support from the Alumni Development Fund of the Critical Language Scholarship Program, which is sponsored through the U.S. Department of State. Moving forward, the editorial team will be seeking funding from NELC and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies in order to continue publishing two issues a year.
"We want to build up a community to continue this after Elysa and I graduate," said Posegay, a fifth-year student in a joint bachelor's and master's program. "In time, we believe it will serve not only as a new academic resource, but also build a stronger collaborative community that attracts new students to explore the Arabic language."