Importance of Arabic Language Courses in U.S. Schools
By Yaara Aleissa / Arab America Contributing Writer
Learning a second language
In almost every industry, the ability to speak a second language is an asset and enhances the likelihood of employment. A 2019 study by Forbes found that 35% of employers indicated that when hiring a multilingual individual, they offered applicants the prospect of a job interview, a job offer, recommended promotion, or recommended pay raise. This skill is well-known among many students. It has even resulted in universities requiring language courses as a precursor to applying or for graduation. However, in 23 U.S. states, second language courses are not a requirement in the school curriculum, therefore, losing out on the opportunity to apply to schools that may have been a dream destination.
The experience of studying another language is not only an immersion in that culture but also provides many benefits to enhancing a student’s memory and even understanding of the language they currently speak. These are just some of the reasons that enhance schools to require the study of a second language.
Prevalence of Arabic langauge
Although, an important conversation that comes to the table is which languages are present in schools for students to study. The five most common non-English languages in the United States, according to the 2019 Census Bureau, are Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Arabic.
The Arabic language, despite being one of the top spoken languages is listed as a minority language taught on U.S. campuses. According to the American Council for International Education, less than 1% of university students study Arabic. Some institutes, such as the Qatar Institute for Culture, have begun working with high schools to bring Arabic into U.S. high schools. Early exposure to the language allows students to build interest. It also makes the experience less overwhelming for a language that has an alphabet that differs vastly from English. The Modern Language Association of America has also pushed for change showcasing a 56% increase in Arabic Language learners between 2013 to 2016.
Diversifying language options in schools
Although the most commonly taught languages in school are Spanish, French, and German 91% of U.S. schools teach Spanish. Languages, such as Arabic, are identified by the United States Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs as Critical Languages. These languages are less commonly taught in U.S. schools even though they are spoken commonly in the United States. To compensate for this inequity the Bureau offers a Critical Language Scholarship for students to study that language abroad for an entire summer.
This ability to speak a second language is not just a job prospect. It is also a manner of connecting with others and making conversations more meaningful. This is especially necessary for career fields that rely heavily on effective and clear communication. Having a language barrier makes this difficult for both parties involved. An example can be showcased in public school systems.
In K-12 schools, the percentage of Arabic-speaking English learners is the second-largest group in the country and has increased 75 percent in the last eight years to 122,000 individuals, showcasing a rapid growth in native Arabic speakers in U.S. schools.
An article by Pennsylvania Western University advertises their Arabic language department by asking the question, “What can you do with an Arabic certificate or degree?” which narrows down the language to a couple of fields: government work, international finance, or interpreter. The Arabic language, like any other language, is not applicable because of where someone is but rather as a means of communication. Any opportunity to break the language barrier for someone demonstrates the use of a second language.
This push needs to come from both sides, the educators and the students. For students, this makes the use of study abroad programs important. They have the opportunity to visit beautiful sights offered in the MENA regions. Alongside becoming immersed in a new culture with the benefits of learning a new language. Some of the most common destinations include Jordan and Morocco.
On the other hand, for educators and decision-makers regarding education, advocating for programs that support the Arabic language is essential. Arabic departments across the U.S. may overcome the hurdle of implementing Arabic classes but they also face another issue. The upkeep of attracting students and gaining funding to implement more Arabic course options. Many students may opt for languages such as Spanish or French since the alphabet shares similarity to English. However, exposing students to the Arabic language early on allows critical thinking skills to develop making the language more approachable.
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