Not enough Arabic Teachers out there...

So, I worked for Startalk Arabic at BYU this summer. It was way awesome. During the camp, there were these people walking around all the time video-taping us, probably for advertising for next year. I wanted to find the ad online, so I did a google search on "Startalk Arabic BYU", and came up with this article. I want to comment on it, as the issues are particularly important to me.

Surge in students studying Arabic outstrips supply of teachers

The title of the article alone completely catches my attention. I am the only Middle School Arabic teacher (in Public school) in all of Utah. Whoah.

A shortage of Arabic-language teachers across the country is shedding light on a classic economics question: What happens when there is plenty of demand and not enough supply?

And there definitely is not enough supply, I can tell you that.

Since 9/11, the number of students interested in the Middle Eastern language has been skyrocketing. More than 20,000 people in the USA enrolled in an Arabic-language higher-education program in 2006, double the number who signed up from 1998 to 2002, according to projections from a study the Modern Language Association expects to release this fall.

"Other languages will show an increase (in the fall report), but the only language that might be as dramatic as Arabic might be Chinese," says association executive director Rosemary Feal.

And even then, Arabic will be hard to surpass.

Interest has also trickled down to the pre-collegiate level as secondary schools and summer language camps surface across the country.

But generating student interest and enrollment is not the problem.

"There's definitely more demand for courses than there are qualified instructors," Feal says. "There's no doubt."

Absolutely none.

Education experts agree that Arabic is a difficult language to learn, more so than French or Spanish, the traditional alternatives.

That's not true. Arabic is not harder to learn than French or Spanish. It just takes more time because there are fewer cognates. It's wrong to perpetuate this idea that Arabic is "harder" than Romance languages.

Not surprisingly, the student dropout rate is high.

"We estimate that 20,000 students are studying Arabic at the collegiate level, but not even 5% are likely to graduate with functional speaking proficiency," says R. Kirk Belnap, director of the National Resource Center at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

One of the big problems with using "functional speaking proficiency" as a guideline for fluency in Arabic is that not all of the 20,000 students study Arabic with the goal of proficient speaking. Many want to be become translators, or analysts for government agencies. Right now, the most widely accepted Arabic textbooks for native English speakers prepares students to go into those kind of jobs, not become proficient speakers. I think that speaking is essential.

In an attempt to fix the problem, programs are sprouting to provide Arabic lessons to younger students.

More than 100 public, Islamic and other private schools nationwide now offer pre-collegiate Arabic-language programs of three to five sessions a week throughout the academic year, according to the National Capital Language Resource Center.

Like the two Arabic classes I teach.

Doing so does not come without risks, however. New York City this week opened its Khalil Gibran International Academy, which requires that its students study Arabic language. But the school has been greeted with protests by some who consider it a training ground for radical Islam. Others defend the school and say it helps meet the need for more Arabic speakers in the USA.

Oh yeah, well you can't study Korean, because it is a training ground for nuclear weapons creation.

This summer, STARTALK, a BYU-sponsored summer camp, offered a full session in Arabic for the first time in its 46-year history. This move represents further measures by the National Security Language Initiative — President Bush's 2006 effort to allot $114 million toward the study of Arabic, Farsi, Hindi and Urdu — to increase the learning of "critical" foreign languages. Minnesota's Concordia Language Villages recently completed its second annual Arabic language camp.

Go President Bush.

Whether creative and younger classrooms are the solutions is yet to be determined. The dropout rate at the K-12 level is 75%, says Dora Johnson of the Center for Applied Linguistics, an organization based in Washington, D.C., that researches and promotes the teaching and learning of languages.

But despite these numbers, academics say that there is potential for improvement.

Well that's the good thing about lousy results...

"I don't think they're frustrated," University of Texas Arabic professor Mahmoud al-Batal says of his "self-selected" Arabic students. "This is a national challenge for us. The most important thing is to provide teacher training for all those involved … and (create) more programs (overseas) and intensive programs in the U.S."

Concordia's director, Christine Schulze, adds: "Arabic is a language in great demand in many areas of society. … People are more interested, curious and want to reach out."

I really want to be the best teacher I can.


  1. Well, I tried to write earlier. I don't know whether my comments made it to you or not.

    I'll try again.

    I commend you for your astute observations such as Arabic not being more difficult than French. You have the credentials to draw that conclusion, having studied French.

    I wish you would use English words other than "crap" and "crappy." I think you might persuade more the audience you need to attract, such as principals and superintendents.

    Kate, you are a teacher. You can be a great teacher. You could, and perhaps should (... should be the one to...) write the new textbook for Arabic studies. With your WNS background, and your French etc... you come qualified to make it interesting and make it something that would be used. It's time. Don't stress out about it.

    So, good luck!

  2. You already are a really good teacher! You are creative and you helped me remember some challenging concepts with your clever mnemonic devices. I really liked your comparison to studying Korean, because I have heard the 'studying Arabic will make you a terrorist' argument before, and had trouble not rolling my eyes.
    I have found it very challenging to find a course in Arabic in my area since I have come home. Finally I found a beta program, offered for no credit in the evenings once a week for 7 weeks at a college. I agree that the supply is currently much lower than the demand. I am glad people are going into the field hopefully to fix that problem.


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