Winter Term is welcoming a new, experimental language program to campus in the form of an eight-week Beginning Arabic workshop. After an email mid-winter break allowed students to sign up on a first-come first-serve basis, 20 of over 50 students interested were accepted into the workshop.
Katie Kiraly, daughter of Visiting Instructor in English and Theatre Sherwood Kiraly, instructs the course. She recently worked in the office of Prince El Hassan bin Talal in Amman, Jordan, where she used Arabic daily. Prior, she worked in Washington, D.C. in the Near East Policy Program on Arab Politics. Kiraly comes into the course with seven years of experience with Modern Standard and Jordanian Arabic, which is the dialect her students are learning.
The Arabic workshop is conducted in a regular classroom setting. Students are expected to meet every Tuesday and Thursday for about an hour, receive constant evaluations and expect daily work. However, as an experimental program, the workshop will not be reflected on student transcripts, nor will it offer academic credit.
This has caused mixed reactions within the students taking the workshop. For freshman Yeomin Kim, the workshop provides a sense of freedom.
“The workshop technically becomes my fourth class for the term. I still have quizzes and homework but I don’t feel pressured to learn the language for a grade,” Kim said. “I just like learning new languages, and Arabic is a beautiful and relevant language. But I also know people who want to get into Middle Eastern studies and having the workshop show up on their transcripts would be beneficial. But they don’t have many alternatives with Arabic.”
Although Knox offers classes like Intro to Middle Eastern Politics, Intro to Middle Eastern History and Comparative Politics of the Middle East, the number of classes are very limited when put in comparison to the number of classes offered by the Latin American and Africana Studies departments.
Kiraly agreed to teach this Arabic workshop in part to promote the importance of the language and the Middle East in contemporary affairs.
“Knowing about the Middle East is particularly important now because of the U.S foreign policy,” Kiraly said. “We are going to be focused on the region for now on, and we should have solid knowledge about the region. The administration completely understands this and the demand for it from their students. I received support from the deans and staff members. I want to see the workshop as a stepping stone.”
The high interest in the workshop is promising for future Arabic courses. Within the first hours of the email asking for student interest over break, the workshop was full. Kim, initially closed out from the workshop, replied to the email only five hours after it was sent.
“I was surprised that I was closed out so easily,” Kim said. “But I also knew there were a lot of people waiting for an Arabic course. Hopefully this helps starts a new course for those students.”
However, Kiraly believes there are other factors to consider before setting it as a class, such as who would be willing to teach it, finding appropriate ways to teach the language and making sure the demand for the language continues. For now, students are learning the new language out of pure interest.