New Arabic course at HCC generates positive buzz

January 28, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

One reason Phylicia Ferguson, 20, of Martinsburg, signed up for Arabic at Hagerstown Community College was so she would know a language other than "West Virginia Spanish."

"Like when I was in high school, the Spanish teacher would get in front of the class and say, 'Owe lah,'" Ferguson said in a heavy Southern drawl.

Ferguson is one of 17 students enrolled in HCC's elementary Arabic class, a 15-week course that began Monday, Jan. 14. The introduction of Arabic this school year marks the first time the school has offered a language other than French, Spanish, German or Italian, said Joan Johnson, chair of the English and Humanities division at HCC.

"There is definitely a burgeoning interest in the language," Johnson said.

Arabic is challenging. Students are tasked with learning to read and write from right to left. They also must master a 28-letter alphabet that does not remotely resemble any English letter. But by learning the language, students might also broaden their understanding of a culture that is vastly misunderstood ever since the Sept. 11 attacks.


"Here we live in a Judeo-Christian society," said Arabic student Shelly Miller, 42, of Hagerstown. "I guess Islam has ... been on most of our minds since 9/11."

Motivations for taking HCC's introductory Arabic course varied, ranging from wanting to learn something different to wanting to add "knows Arabic" to a résumé.

Erik Gregg is an 18-year-old Hagerstonian who hopes to join the Army.

"I took Arabic because, logistically speaking, it'll be a more valuable asset in the military," Gregg said. "I'm hoping I'll learn basic phrases. I want to learn about the culture, as well."

Liz O'Connell said she wasn't surprised when her son, Reece, a 16-year-old who hopes to join the Navy, said he wanted to learn Arabic. But she was surprised to find out that classes were being offered at HCC.

"We had been looking all over, but there was no place that offered it," O'Connell said.

Miller said she signed up for Arabic in order to relate to a Senegalese woman whom she's tutoring in English as a volunteer for the Washington County Literacy Council. The Senegalese woman speaks Wolof and French - not Arabic.

"Before, I really couldn't relate to what she was experiencing, having to learn a language that was completely foreign," Miller said.

Also, come June, Miller hopes to write letters in Arabic to an Iraqi woman through Women for Women International, a global charitable group that provides support to women in war-ravaged countries.

"Language affords you the better opportunity to connect with individuals," Miller said. "It is the cornerstone of culture."

Whether the class will become a longer-term addition to HCC's language offerings depends on student interest, Johnson said. At HCC, new classes are introduced on a trial basis, with the new class offered at least three times before its final fate is determined.

Arabic is on the second leg of its trial run. The class was introduced during the fall semester, with an enrollment of six or seven students, Johnson said, and will be offered again in either the summer or fall.

While enrollment isn't the sole determinant for whether the class will be held beyond its trial run, Johnson said an enrollment of eight students or more is considered healthy.

"And just look at how many we have enrolled so far," she said.

Interested in learning Arabic?

Hagerstown Community College plans to offer another Arabic class in the summer or fall. For more information, call Joan Johnson, 301-790-2800, ext. 245.

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