College of LAS « Illinois

Linguistics

Arabic Program Among Nation's Fastest Growing

Photo of Elabbas Benmamoun

One of the fastest-growing Arabic language programs in the United States isn't in a metropolis; it's right here in the rural Midwest.

LAS now offers 10 sections of Arabic each year. Last semester alone there were more than 100 students enrolled—a substantial increase over the last five years. The program includes courses in all levels of standard and colloquial Arabic. A course in "Business Arabic"—a mixture of standard and Egyptian Arabic—was developed, as was a Web-based language project, Arabic Online.

The LAS program is "one of the biggest in the country in terms of numbers of students who regularly take Arabic," says the coordinator of the program, Elabbas Benmamoun, a professor of linguistics. "Also, we are one of the few programs that offer both standard and colloquial Arabic."

Arabic is a "relatively difficult" language to learn. It uses a writing system, or script, that is different from English, and it's written from right to left. Also, it doesn't share as many cognates with English as Romance languages do. "In these respects, it is like Chinese or Japanese," Benmamoun says. The growth in interest can be tied to the prominence of the Arab and Muslim world in the news and the recognition of the importance of language in studying these areas.

Photo by Bill Wiegand
Summer 2002