JOBS IN MIND, STUDENTS LOOK FOR CLASSES IN ARABIC
BRIDGEWATER -- Anna Brewer, 19, sits in the front of the classroom,
watching closely as professor Atallah Alroud writes a new letter of
the Arabic alphabet on the white board. She is the first to raise her
hand and repeat after Alroud as he introduces students to an
unfamiliar sound -- for which, he says, English has no equivalent.
Brewer says she spends about six hours a week studying the new
language, but she isn't doing it just for fun. Like many students in
the Bridgewater State College classroom, she has a more practical goal
in mind: "I spoke with an FBI special agent, and they said if I could
speak Arabic, I'd be more likely to be hired by the bureau."
Brewer is one of more than a handful of local students who have been
drawn to the study of Arabic, now offered at an increasing number of
state and community colleges around the state.
In recent years, smaller private colleges and even state and community
colleges have begun teaching the language, which previously was
offered only at large universities, according to William Granara, the
director of Arabic Studies at Harvard University.
"What you're seeing now," he said, "is the demand for Arabic has gone
beyond the elite universities and has progressed to the small private
universities and state universities.
"All of a sudden in the post-9/11 world, Arabic could be a key to
getting a good job."
Russian was the language of choice for many in the 1960s; now it's
Arabic, Granara said.
Salem State College and Worcester State College began offering Arabic
in September, while Quincy College and Bridgewater State started
teaching it in January. At Salem State, the course was so popular that
many couldn't get in, according to Jon Aske, the chairman of the
foreign languages department. A dozen of the students planned to spend
their 10-day spring break in Morocco, polishing their language skills.
Two community colleges, Massasoit in Brockton and Bunker Hill in
Charlestown, got on board even sooner. Both have taught Arabic for
"Right after the war in Iraq started, there was a lot of interest in
Arabic," said Sawsan Zahara, who has been teaching Arabic at Massasoit
since 2004. During the past semester, she said, four of her students
returned from Iraq as active military personnel, and wanted to learn
to read and write the language because they knew they would be going back.
At Bridgewater State College, also, the course filled up quickly.
Fourteen people are enrolled currently, and of the 11 students
interviewed for this article, six said they hope to pursue careers
with law enforcement, the military, or the FBI.
Anita Amin, 18, who sits behind Brewer in the class, is thinking about
a career as a translator.
"I might go into the Army because they need more female translators
who can speak Arabic," she said. Amin is Muslim, so she also wants to
learn Arabic to be able to read the Koran in that language.
Then there is Jesse Austin, 26, a biology student from Middleborough,
who spent several months in Bahrain as a soldier three years ago. He
says he learned "a few things, a couple of words," but now he is
looking at a career in law enforcement and thinks Arabic would be a
"I figured it'd be a lot easier to get in if I had Arabic," he said.
"I looked on the website for the FBI; they had a list of the languages
they were looking for, and that was one of them."
Robert Gove, 18, a management student who is in the Army National
Guard, is preparing to be activated. "I want to go to Iraq. I want to
have a comprehension of the language."
It probably will take more than a semester of classes. Since he
started teaching the course on Jan. 23, Alroud said, students have
been learning the letters of the alphabet and how to write their names
"They learned to ask for something to eat. I teach them the necessary
words they need if they go to Jordan," he said, adding that a trip to
that country is being planned for the summer "to see the achievement
of the course."
Bridgewater State decided to offer the course after students in
criminal justice and political science approached the head of the
foreign languages department and said they would take the course if it
were offered. Originally, a Boston University professor was expected
to teach it, but a month before the course was scheduled to start, he
"I had 20 people signed up for the class, but I didn't have an
instructor," said Fernanda Ferreira, chairwoman of the foreign
languages department. "Finding an instructor in Arabic is so hard
because there is such a need. I called the chair of the Middle Eastern
department at Harvard, and he said, 'Good luck.' "
Bridgewater eventually arranged to bring in a professor from Tafila
Technical University in Jordan on an exchange-scholar visa. That was
how Alroud, who had never been outside the Middle East, found himself
spending the winter in Bridgewater, where he sometimes lectured
wearing an overcoat.
In addition to teaching Arabic, Alroud also has given talks about
Jordan at a local high school and middle school, as well at the
Bridgewater Senior Center. The president of Tefila Technical
University and some of his administrators and faculty visited
Bridgewater State in March.
Salem State College also faced difficulties finding an instructor.
"It was very hard to find someone to come to Salem and teach Arabic,"
Aske said. Eventually, the college arranged for its chemistry
professor, who is from Morocco, to teach his native language part time.
Darlene Kirk, a spokeswoman for the US State Department's Bureau of
Educational and Cultural Affairs, said the number of Arabic teachers
who have come to the United States almost doubled this school year and
has increased by almost six times since 2003- 2004. This year, 107 of
those teachers arrived this year to teach their language through the
Fulbright program, Kirk said, compared with 57 teachers in the
previous school year.
This was good news for Samar Jaberi, a citizen of Bahrain, who landed
a job as a teaching assistant in an Arabic course at Wellesley College.
"More schools in America are having Arabic and Middle East
departments; that is why the Fulbright [program] gave more
scholarships this year," she said.
Jaberi said she was surprised on the first day of class when she asked
her students why they wanted to learn Arabic.
"I thought most of them would be from an Arabic background and that is
why they [would want] to learn Arabic," she said. "Most of them wanted
to be journalists, FBI [agents], or work for the Department of State."
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