By Vicki Valosik. For strategic, business, and cultural reasons, Arabic programs have grown rapidly at U.S. institutions—even surpassing some traditional favorites. Luke Holzapfel, a European history major in his senior year at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), planned to take Portuguese in college, but when his language of choice was full, he snagged one of the last seats in introductory Arabic instead. Now he is happy for the way things worked out.
"The ability to speak Arabic is an increasingly important skill," says Holzapfel. "The Middle East is a burgeoning area for a wide variety of fields." Although he says employment in the intelligence community is the "white whale" among many Arabic students, he regularly hears of job opportunities at the State Department and with private companies as well. "And, given the growing number of conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa," he adds, "Arabic language skills are increasingly critical in humanitarian efforts." Holzapfel, who is now a senior, has added a minor in Middle East studies and says he "couldn't be more thankful" that the Portuguese class was full.
U.S. undergraduate students are enrolling in Arabic courses in record numbers. According to the Modern Language Association (MLA), which conducts foreign language enrollment surveys at the national level, Arabic is by far the fastest-growing language at U.S. colleges and universities. After the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001, Arabic moved for the first time into the top 10 list of foreign languages studied in the United States, growing at a rate of 126.5 percent between 2002 and 2006. By 2009 Arabic enrollment had grown another 46.3 percent, far outpacing the second and third fastest-growing languages, Korean and Chinese, which were up 19.1 percent and 18.2 percent, respectively. As of the most recent MLA survey, which was published in 2010, Arabic was the eighth most-studied language in U.S. colleges and universities, with approximately 35,083 course enrollments nationwide.
Arabic Becoming More Popular Than Some Longtime Foreign Language Favorites
At some universities, such as California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) , Arabic enrollment is surpassing traditional languages. More...