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Did you know that Arabic speakers are in high demand and low supply? That the United States government and some corporations provide funds for Arabic scholarships and programs? And did you know that Arabic classes are offered through the Department of International Language and Culture Studies? To learn more, we sat down with Farah Combs, continuing lecturer in Arabic.

How did you decide to become an Arabic instructor?

Farah CombsI actually never planned on teaching Arabic. I am a native Arabic speaker with an undergraduate degree in premed biology and a master's degree in geography and regional planning. After graduation, I discovered that jobs in my chosen field were scarce, so I decided to teach Arabic. However, being a native speaker didn’t qualify me to teach the language. So, Professor Mahdi Alosh, my mentor at Ohio State University (OSU), suggested that I take classes with him on teaching Arabic as a foreign language.

I had to take language, culture, grammar, and literature classes. After this extensive training, I was able to teach an Arabic language class and absolutely loved it.  About a year and a half into teaching at OSU, I was offered a teaching position at the United States Military Academy for a few years, and I became an oral proficiency interview tester with the American Council on The Teaching of Foreign Languages prior to joining IPFW in 2010.

What are the benefits of knowing Arabic?

Arabic is in high demand by the United States government as well as many private businesses. Having Arabic on a student's resume will make them more marketable after graduation. Arabic is considered a strategic language [a language critical to national security] as well as a critical language by the United States government, so the US Department of State created scholarships for Arabic study abroad programs. It also is one of the official languages of the United Nations and 22 Arab countries. Arabic is a great asset that will help students in many different fields, including international politics, diplomacy, engineering, medicine, journalism, and business. One of my former students, Christopher Rozman, was even promoted in the military because he learned Arabic.

Do students learn about Arabic culture along with the language?

You can't separate a language from its culture. To learn a language, the culture must be understood, and in order to understand the culture you must learn the language.  Of course, there isn’t just one Arabic culture—it varies from one Arabic country to another, and there are also subcultures within each country.

I begin teaching about culture on the very first day of classes when we learn greetings. I have students stand up and shake hands when greeting each other, which is standard in most Arabic cultures, although some Arabic women refrain because of their beliefs.  We also talk about the different cultures in a lesson about a female college student who lives in Qatar. In this example, she lives in a big house with her family, who owns three expensive cars and has chauffeurs.  We talk about the Persian Gulf region which is a very affluent area where it's normal to have drivers and mansions.  I contrast this with my own experience, since I was raised in a less wealthy region in Kuwait.

How will the Arabic program evolve in the future?

We currently offer four semesters of Arabic language classes at IPFW, which meets students’ foreign language and general education requirements. I hope to see the program grow in the near future, especially in the number of students taking Arabic. I also hope to develop more interest about Arabic on campus through programs like “A Taste of Arabic,” where we invited students to sit through a mock Arabic class, learn to introduce themselves, and enjoy Arabic food, and “Arabic Cultural Hour,” where we invite any interested parties to learn about Arabic cultures and current events. We also hope to continue programs like "Arabic Conversations," which features our Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (international students who come to IPFW for one year to better understand US culture and share thier own),  and "Arabic Immersion Day," where everyone is invited to get a little taste of Arabic food, culture, and language.

To learn more about the Arabic program or events, contact Farah Combs.