Lamees Al Balushi, a junior business major from Oman, is a native speaker of Arabic, yet she is a currently enrolled in a 300-level Arabic course.
“I’m taking Arabic, to be honest with you, just for an easy ‘A’ for me,” Al Balushi said. “I’m required to take a class [at a 300 level], so I took Arabic.”
The desire to take a course in a language one is already proficient in may come as a surprise to some.
But Al Balushi’s class, in which 14 out of 21 students spoke Arabic before joining, suggests it’s not all that rare. There are a variety of reasons besides easy credit that a native speaker would take the class. One reason would be to learn a new dialect.
“There’s a different Arabic accent for each country,” Al Balushi said. “In the class, we learn the general Arabic, which everyone can use.”
According to assistant professor of practice of Arabic language and culture, Abla Hasan, the instruction provided at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is Modern Standard Arabic.
“The spoken Arabic language is not one monolithic language, but a variety of spoken dialects across the 22 Arabic-speaking countries,” Hasan said. “What [is] referred to as ‘fluency’ in speaking Arabic might be a fluency in one local dialect.”
Hasan also mentioned the growing immigrant Arabic community in Lincoln, contributing to the number of heritage speakers on campus or students who learned Arabic at home. While they may be fluent in Arabic, they could be unfamiliar with MSA or need help on their reading, writing and grammar.
Another basis for enrolling in the course could simply be a refresher of the language’s formalities, even if it is one’s own native language.
“[I’m taking the course] because I have been in the United States for six years, one year in California and the other five in Nebraska,” senior management and economics major Shadha Al Jabri said. “The Arabic language has many rules and because of the lack of using it during my stay in the U.S., I forgot some of these important rules. So, I took the class to refresh my memories about my mother language.”
As for the students enrolled in the course for easy credit, Hasan manages to keep them busy, ensuring they are earning their grade.
“[Hasan] is taking a whole group of learners in the class who are at different levels and turn[ing] their presence into an opportunity and integrating the classroom in that way,” chair and professor of modern languages and literatures, Patricia Simpson, said. “She may have students who are perhaps in the class for an easy grade, but I don’t think that that’s been their experience. I believe that she keeps them involved in the class in a way that is appropriate to their level of ability.”
Over the semester, native speakers are paired with non-native speakers to assist them in learning Arabic. The international students also give presentations about the culture and current events of their home countries, providing an opportunity for cultural exchange.
“Every day as native speakers, we speak in turns about something about our culture,” Al Balushi said. “Some students brought traditional food, which is rice with chicken, and they shared with the class. One student is from Sudan, she talked about their culture and how they dress. One of the guys from [Oman] talked about our famous dances.”
Overall, the Arabic studies program provides a unique opportunity for each individual in the class, regardless of background.
“Since the Arabic studies program started, we have adopted a successful community reach-out plan,” Hasan said. “And this explains the international student interest in courses we provide.”