What’s New with Arabic Language Instruction in the United States?
By: Annika Wolfe/ Arab America Contributing Writer
Arabic is the fifth most-spoken language in the world, preceded by Mandarin, Spanish, English, and Hindi. Arabic is the official or co-official language of 26 countries and a minor language in six, many of whom are member states in the Arab league. Almost 430 million people speak Arabic worldwide, with over one million speakers in the United States.
Arabic is the fastest growing language in the US, growing by 29 percent between 2010 and 2014. “The number of people ages 5 and older who speak Arabic at home has risen to 1.1 million between 2010 and 2014, making it the seventh most commonly spoken non-English language in the U.S.” As a result of the jump in Arabic speakers, the 2020 census questionnaires will be available in Arabic for the first time in US history.
These numbers may not be exact as Arab-Americans are not officially recognized as a federal minority group, affecting reporting numbers. However, we do know that the number of Arabic speakers and those wanting to learn is on the rise. Many speak in dialect while students in American colleges and universities learn the Modern Standard Arabic, a formal form of the language that is not widely spoken but used primarily in writing, in broadcasting, and lecturing. There are many regional dialects spoken, from the Levantine/ Shaami to Egyptian and Gulf Arabic. This popular language is classified as a macrolanguage comprising 30 modern varieties, including its standard form.
Arabic is spoken in many American states, with California, Michigan, and New York being the states with the most speakers. Over 100,000 people in both California and Michigan spoke Arabic with almost 90,000 in New York as of 2010. The high numbers are to be expected as these states host the largest Arab-American and Arab-immigrant communities in the United States. From Dearborn, Michigan to Los Angeles, California, more and more Americans and immigrants are speaking Arabic. The popularity of the language is spreading to other states as well, with Texas and New Jersey being home to over 100,000 Arabic speakers combined.
The spike in Arabic speakers along with increased global communication has resulted in a large number of United States college students beginning to study both the language and culture. In the fall of 2013, almost 33,000 students in US institutes of higher education were enrolled in Arabic language classes. These high numbers are, in part, thanks to the extensive funding and program enhancement done by Qatar Foundation International (QFI). Since its inception, the foundation has worked to introduce Arabic not only to universities but elementary and high schools as well, creating pathways for students who might have never discovered Arabic, a way to uncover a new passion.
Arabic is not easy to learn, often taking much longer than many universities’ two-year language requirements. The rise in the number of students learning Arabic has not only been a challenging new language but one that will require years of study and practice. This shows the newfound interest and dedication to both learning the Arabic language and studying Arab culture. It is important to not only accept those who speak Arabic but encourage Americans and non-Arab people alike to study and make an effort to learn this useful beautiful language.