Starting a new kind of conversation

Inspired by his experience learning Chinese in high school, current sophomore Phillip Brenfleck came to Puget Sound with his sights set on yet another linguistic challenge: learning Arabic. To his disappointment, however, the University did not offer an Arabic language course. Brenfleck began working with Michel Rocchi, the Director of Language and Culture Programs, in the fall of 2010 to try to bring Arabic to Puget Sound. One year and some 300 signatures later, Brenfleck and nearly 50 other students are learning the language on-campus, free of charge.

Yasmine Khattab, a native speaker from Egypt and the spouse of Religon professor Matthew Ingalls, is teaching two sections of introductory, conversational Arabic from 4-6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Khattab has previously taught similar courses at Yale University.

Both sections filled up quickly despite the fact that the course is currently not-for-credit. Brenfleck believes that students could receive retroactive credit for the course, but students do not appear too worried.

“I am in the course for the opportunity to learn a new language,” freshman CaroLea Casas said. “I would love to be given retroactive credit for it in the future, but I’m excited to take part in the course, and that is reward enough at least for this semester.  My language credit is already taken care of, so I don’t have to worry there.”

The class encompasses a variety of academic interests and experience levels. Freshman Andrew Lutfala is a Politics and Government major who grew up speaking Arabic with his Lebanese parents.
“It means a lot to me that Arabic has been recognized by the university and that hopefully this Arabic course will become an officially credited course next year, and eventually be offered as a minor and/or major,” Lutfala said. “I believe this is a step in the right direction for the University and will support the school’s mission to support diversity within its student base. Arabic is an important language in the present and will only grow in importance in the future.  If UPS is committed to making Arabic a priority, it will reap great dividends for not only the students but the reputation of the University as well.”

Lutfala emphasized how Arabic can help students with careers in the Middle East and around the world. Like Lutfala, Casas sees Arabic as an important language for graduates in today’s world.
“Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic are three of the most important languages in today’s world, and I was really excited about the prospect of learning all three,” Casas said.

Despite the overwhelmingly positive responses so far, the course’s creation has not been entirely problem-free. According to Brenfleck, finding an optimal timeslot that wouldn’t interfere with for-credit coursework was a difficulty. Similarly, some students felt left out by registration process, which was handled on an individual basis through Brenfleck and Rocchi rather than  through Cascade as a normal course is.

“When I transferred here from the U of O, I was upset that Arabic wasn’t offered. It was brought to my attention last year that there was a petition going to get the class started and I never knew the class was being offered despite putting my email down,” senior Jack Simon said. “I felt it would have been beneficial to me after taking two years of Arabic and passing a proficiency test at the U of O to continue my studies here.”

Editors Note: Phillip Brenfleck writes for the Trail.