“Arabic represents more than 300 million speakers,” says Yahya Laayouni, assistant professor of Arabic and French, “and is the language of the second largest religion in the world, Islam. Arabic is also the fifth most spoken language in the world.”
The United States government considers it a “critical language.” It’s a hot language on the job market, too. “There are career opportunities that Arabic opens up in a variety of fields,” Laayouni says, “in business, political science, computer forensics, international relations, translation and many others. There is actually a shortage of Americans who speak Arabic overseas.”
The language has a reputation of being difficult to learn, but students shouldn’t let that stop them, Laayouni says. “Since Arabic uses a completely different alphabet and its system of writing is based on connecting letters, students consider that as a barrier. In fact, it is not.”
Students spend at least four weeks learning how to write, how to recognize letters and how to connect them. “The challenge is at the level of speaking,” Laayouni says, “but with practice it becomes much easier.”
Both Goss and Nixon used basic Arabic while on their trips. What does that mean to native speakers?
“They generally appreciate that people in other countries are learning their language and culture,” Laayouni says. “Saying marhaba (“hi”) or kaifa l’hal (“how are you?”) means a lot to them. It also makes a good impression, helps establish good relationships and makes people more willing to speak to you.” •