Citing the current political climate in the Middle East and a genuine desire to understand its cultural backdrop, a growing number of students are signing up to relearn their ABC's—in Arabic.
According to the Registrar's website, 97 students are currently enrolled in Arabic A, "Elementary Arabic," a 20 percent increase over last year.
Students who have already begun to learn the language are continuing their studies in second and third-year Arabic classes. Professor of the Practice of Arabic William Granara estimated that enrollment in third-year Arabic doubled this year.
While in the past, many students had said they studied Arabic to get in touch with their heritage, today they are joined by more and more students hoping to gain perspective on global politics.
"The Middle East is a hot topic in the world and it's a problematic area," Granara said. "Arabic has become what Russian was in the Cold War."
Ana I. Mendy '09, who said she plans to concentrate in government, said she chose to enroll in an Arabic class because of her interest in politics.
"The focus is now on the Middle East and I think you can't really understand a country or study it well if you don't know the language spoken there," she said.
Garrett G. D. Nelson '09 also said he is using Arabic as a tool to understand the Arab world.
"It's just interesting to learn about a culture through the language," he said, adding that it "always seemed like an important language to learn with the current events and the multicultural society we live in."
Nelson said he hopes to pursue Arabic in the future and travel to the Middle East.
Granara said another possible appeal of the language was the quality of its teaching fellows and preceptors, who have received high marks in the Cue Guide.
A third-year student in Arabic, Krister B. Anderson '07, originally enrolled in Arabic to fulfill of a language requirement, but he said that after enjoying his first year, he went on to pursue a citation and spent the summer in Morocco working for the State Department.
"It's a very intense time commitment, but I feel like the instruction I've received has been excellent," he said.
Mendy also said she found her studies in Arabic to be "really fast-paced and intense but extremely rewarding and un to do."
The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, which offers Arabic courses, faces many challenges to maintain the quality of the department as the number of enrolled students rises, according to Granara.
"The demand for Arabic is beginning to exceed the supply of good, well-trained teachers," he said.
Already, the department has hired a new full-time preceptor in Arabic and opened an unprecedented seventh section of first-year Arabic.
Granara said he worries that Harvard may have to cap enrollment if the number of students continues to rise rapidly and new instructors are not hired.
In addition to the efforts his department is making, Granara said he hopes that other disciplines will hire more faculty specializing in the Middle East, a field which currently lacks a permanently appointed expert in the government, economics, or sociology departments.
Meyer Professor of Middle East History E. Roger Owen said that he hopes more classes will be offered next semester with the arrival of a visiting professor in the government department to teach a course on Islam and politics.