Here’s Why We Should Be Teaching Arabic


Lindsay Nissenbaum, Creative Director

When I tell people I take Arabic, they all react in relatively the same way. Most of the time they say something like “that’s so cool!” or “wow, that must be so hard.” It is, in fact, very cool and it can be hard at times but it’s definitely not as complicated as English can sometimes be. Many people also ask questions about how online classes work, but when it comes down to it, they’re essentially the same as in-school classes. You may remember from your studies of French or Spanish having to do countless projects on subjects like the French language in Cameroon or the food in Guatemala. Arabic class is no different. In the Johns Hopkins CTY program, we must complete at least one culture project per semester. These projects include doing research on an Arab country, making classic Arabic food like hummus or creating a fictional character and writing about his/her daily life in a major Arab city. Through these projects, we come to see just how diversified the Arab world is and how similar it is to our lives here in America. In a project I did a few weeks ago, I read about a fictional family, based on a real one, in our textbook and made a poster board depicting their life in Doha, a city in Qatar. The daughter studied Arabic literature, the son travelled to and from London to study computer science and the mother drove an expensive German car. You can find people in America who do the exact same things. The similarities don’t end there. The Arab World is peppered with Western technology, clothing and even fast food chains; the McDonald’s menus even feature a McFalafel in Egypt.

I found it unnerving that on December 7th, 2015, presidential candidate Donald Trump released a statement that called for the prevention of Muslim immigrants from entering the country until we “can figure out what is going on.” We can only assume that what he means by “what is going on” is the plan that the U.S. government is going to use to deal with the havoc that the Islamic State (ISIS) is wreaking in Iraq and Syria. According to the New York Times, after issuing this statement, “[Trump’s] poll numbers rose largely” which tells us that many Americans agreed with him. By making a statement that suggests that all Muslims should be banned from immigrating to the U.S., Trump is not only perpetuating many Muslim stereotypes but he’s setting the example that it is permissible to do so. The most prominent stereotype that Trump perpetuated in his statement is that all Muslims are Arabs and all Arabs are Muslims. This statement is far from the truth. In fact, 4/5ths of the world’s Muslim population resides in countries outside the Middle East. Additionally, 10% of the Arab World is not Muslim. Trump completely ignored these crucial pieces of information while formulating his conclusions. If the people who supported his statement had been more educated on the matters of ISIS, Islam and the Arab World in general, they wouldn’t have been so quick to agree with Trump and perpetuate these stereotypes.

Education on this topic is crucial especially in a country that suffers from both islamophobia and Arabophobia. It is important that Americans, specifically the young ones like us, take the time to learn about the Arab culture and its similarities to the American one. Through Johns Hopkins CTY, the program that Berkeley Carroll uses to offer Arabic courses, I have learned so much about the Arab world. For example, one of the first things Dr. Thana Jarjour-Moussa, a teacher and the program director, taught us was that the Arab world is as diverse as America. Spanning across the Northern coast of Africa and reaching into the easternmost countries of Asia, the Arab world includes a variety of people. The one common thread between them all being the language — Arabic.

Brian Whitaker, who runs the blog Al-Bab, said in an post about learning Arabic, “You start to see how Arabs view the world and become more comfortable relating to them. This kind of cultural understanding seems to me essential if you are trying to interpret events in the region and explain them to others.” Through learning about the Arab culture, we as American students can expand our cultural understandings and work to create a country that really does welcome people of all walks of life.

For those of you who might be interested in taking up Arabic click here for the course description page.