Summer Arabic class is packed

A heightened national demand for fluent Arabic speakers has resulted in a large enrollment spike at Middlebury College's summer language program.

The Arabic School class that enrolled last week has about 130 students, a 37 percent increase over last year. Among those coming this summer to Middlebury's eight language schools are far more members of the United States intelligence and military communities, says Michael Katz, dean of language schools and schools abroad.

The increased interest in Arabic was predictable following Sept. 11, Katz says. "The history of foreign-language education in the US has been very much reactive – when a crisis occurs abroad, then Americans start studying a language."

Middlebury has hired six additional Arabic instructors this summer, says Nabil Abdelfattah, director of the Arabic School. But getting those instructors here has been more difficult because of tightened background checks. One veteran Yemeni instructor is still waiting in Yemen for the visa that will allow him into the US to teach Arabic. "We're hoping that they all make it here," Katz says, adding that the school doesn't object to the additional security measures but does find the delay ironic.

Students share a common goal of wanting to learn Arabic language and culture. While some may be government employees learning the language for their jobs, others are doing it for research or because of their heritage. What they do with their knowledge after they leave is up to them, Mr. Abdelfattah says.

This was the first time the Arabic School, which opened in 1982, had to stop accepting applications in April.

Despite the political events of the past year, officials say they will focus their classes on the language.

"This is not an area-studies program," Katz says. "We do not study politics, economics, and sociology here, or teach it. We basically ask people to check their politics at the door. That will be even more important this summer than in the past."

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