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Arabic is one of the most important languages for international relations today.
Aly Gulamhusein/the Gauntlet

Arabic courses considered for U of C

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The department of Germanic, Slavic and East Asian Studies is looking to offer Arabic language courses. Funding is still needed if the proposal for the courses is to be approved.

Students' Union vice-president academic Ola Mojaher said that students expressed a desire for Arabic classes and pushed for these classes to be available. Both students and clubs have come forward and asked why the University of Calgary doesn't offer Arabic courses.

"It's mostly students who aren't native speakers and don't have any knowledge of Arabic," said Mohajer.

The courses will not be offered in September 2012, and the timeline for when they will be available is still uncertain. The fundraising goal is $500,000.

There will also be a student survey to gauge interest.

"They need to make sure if they are going to take this leap, it's going to be well worth it," said Mohajer.

Dean of Arts Kevin McQuillan is on board for the courses.

International relations student Zain Jinnah, whose focus is the Middle East, started a petition two years ago insisting Arabic courses be offered.

He then started talking with department heads, asking why Arabic wasn't offered and wondering what they could do to make it available. He said it was futile then, but he thinks it's a great step that Arabic is now being considered.

"As an international relations student, my education was highly deficient," said Jinnah. "Arabic is one of the most important languages for today's political science and international relations students."

Jinnah pointed out that Italian is offered, yet remarked that Arabic is more widely spoken, and is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

"Is Italian as important in today's geopolitical scene or is Arabic?" asked Jinnah.

He also pointed out that with Calgary's energy focus, Arabic is a useful language to learn.

"It's really exciting," said su vice-president academic-elect Kenya-Jade Pinto, who included Arabic language courses as part of her platform.

Mohajer said that it is the third year that candidates running for the su have put Arabic on their platforms. Next year, Pinto wants to work towards fundraising and doing a survey.

"The reason I put it on my platform was because I recognized there was a need," said Pinto, which she gathered mainly from her international relations degree.

"I wanted to do three things. I wanted to travel, I wanted to learn Arabic and I wanted to study Middle Eastern relations. I was fortunate enough to do two of those things, but I wasn't fortunate enough to learn Arabic," said Pinto.

"There's this really high demand to teach kids Arabic in my community," said third-year English major Sondous Husien. "The Qur'an is Arabic, so a lot of converts I talk to want to learn it."

Husien thinks learning Arabic is becoming more popular with the general public.

"With all the things that are happening in the Middle East, it would be really interesting to learn about the culture," she said.

Mohajer said that 10 courses have been proposed, potentially including modern standard Arabic, classical Arabic and Arabic civilization.

"This is very fluid right now, we're still tweaking it," she cautioned.

The courses intend to attract students studying political science, international relations, religious studies, and engineering and nursing students. Nursing students have links with the campus in Qatar, where they may study.

"Our academic plan talks about internationalization and offering more variety for students," said Mohajer. "It gives us a competitive edge if we can offer Arabic."

McGill, the University of Regina and the University of Toronto offer Arabic, along with several other Canadian universities.

"Language offers a diversity to students," said Pinto. "If you would like to travel, language can give you that opportunity."

Second-year English major Metok Rubling said, "there's always room for learning more languages other than the typical languages like Spanish and French."

She thinks Arabic classes would help bring in more interest.

"I'm surprised that they don't even teach Hindi or Punjabi here," she said

Jinnah agreed, saying the U of C should be offering Hindi because it also is widely spoken in the world.

"I hope that this is just one step towards the university realizing they have to internationalize their curriculum a lot more," said Jinnah.

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