Arabic At New York City’s Friends Seminary

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When New York City’s Friends Seminary began offering high school courses on Arabic language and culture two years ago, the decision was not without controversy, especially since few of the school’s students are of Arabic descent.  In particular, some parents were concerned that by offering the language, the school was taking sides in the interminable conflict between Israel and Palestine.

However, the classes have proved quite popular, attracting a group of dedicated students who plan to continue studying the language, both in US colleges and abroad. And although more students take Spanish and French, the Arabic students seem more inclined to use the language outside of school and to seek out future careers that revolve around speaking it. For example, the New York Times interviewed the first nine graduating seniors in the Arabic class, and this is what they found:

Of the nine graduating seniors who studied Arabic, all plan to continue — most applied only to colleges that offer the language; several say Ms. Swank’s classes influenced their thoughts about their futures. For Mr. Adamopoulos, that might mean practicing medicine in an Arabic-speaking country. Mr. Smith-Stevens, who starts Middlebury College in the fall, intends to major in international relations, with a focus on the Middle East. Even Mr. Peebles, who hopes to keep performing, plans to continue his Arabic studies at Tufts University. “Inshallah,” he added — God willing.

With the relationship between the Muslim world and the United States becoming more and more tense, it’s encouraging to see young people who are willing to bridge the gap between the two cultures. Hopefully, more US schools will begin to offer Arabic as an option in high school, since students are much more likely to become fluent if they start studying a language in high school rather than college.