Arabic classes now offered by W&L

Students no longer have to leave campus to learn Arabic

Alison Murtagh

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Washington and Lee University is offering classes in Arabic for the first time ever. Previously, students wishing to study the language needed to take classes at the Virginia Military Institute.

“I have read a very impressive proverb, it says that ‘an illiterate person is the one who knows just one language,’” Professor Ismali Slitine Alaou said. “So I think that in today’s world it is a necessity to have at least two languages.”

Alaoui is a Fulbright Foreign Language teaching assistant working with Professor Anthony “Antoine” Edwards. Originally from Morocco, Alaoui came to the United States for the first time to teach Arabic at W&L.

“Arabic is spoken in over 20 different countries. So it is used in many different countries in North Africa and the Middle East,” he said. “The students can just pick up one language in order to use it in Egypt, in Saudi Arabia, in Morocco, in Algeria, in Tunisia —just one language.”

Ali Thai, ‘19, is currently enrolled in the class. Having never taken an Arabic class before, W&L offered a new opportunity for her academic career.

“I took French in high school, but I really enjoy learning languages and I wanted to learn a language that did not use the Roman alphabet,” Thai said. “I’m also maybe interested in going into the foreign service and I thought Arabic could be very useful for that.”

The class meets every day for 55 minutes. Currently, there are two first-year Arabic courses being offered. According to Edwards, until this year, students wishing to pursue the language had to attend classes at VMI or study abroad.

“The problem with this arrangement was the different number of weeks in the two [university] calendars…so that creates some issues,” he said. “Also, it was very difficult for Washington and Lee students to get into first-year or second-year Arabic classes at VMI because those are extremely popular.

Previously, Edwards said, there was not a strong Middle Eastern presence on campus. Students and professors began to petition  to bring Arabic classes to the university. Now, there are classes focusing on Islam and Middle East politics as well.

“For me, I think it’s important for students to learn other languages broadly. Arabic specifically, because it not only gives a little bit of international focus to students, it also is very much in demand for employment,” Edwards said. “And, it gets students to think and realize that the Middle East is not just this area of bad unknowns, from lack of a more scientific explanation.”

In winter term, two sections of first-year Arabic II will be offered Monday through Friday. An Arabic literature course will be offered during the term as well. Students do not have to speak Arabic to enroll.