Why many Americans want to learn Arabic?

Today, while I was at Starbucks a Saudi student came by and we had a quick chat about what each is doing over the Christams holiday. After he left the smart looking senior American man who was sitting in front of me asked “Arabic or Farsi?” I answered “Arabic.” I waited a moment, hoping for his follow up question but he returned to his laptop instead. I wanted to start a conversation so I asked him “Do you know Arabic?” His answer was quite unexpected. He said “I wish!” and continued to say “It is a talent that brings lots of money these days.” I said “Ya, I have seen many Americans learning Arabic. You know… [I wanted to say after September 11 but I stopped talking].” We both then returned to our laptops.

It is a fact though that after September 11, 2001, many Americans preferred to learn Arabic more than any other language. Universities everywhere in the USA started opening more classes for teaching Arabic. Some universities which never offered Arabic course started new ones. Also, more American students wanted to spend a semester or two in the Middle East than before 2001.

Americans have different reasons for learning Arabic after 2001. Here are a few reasons:

  1. Know your enemy – The impact of the 2001 on Americans was equivalent to the Pearl Harbor attack. Americans were shocked and wanted to know more about their enemy and the people who hate them that much.
  2. Job security – Knowing Arabic is a guarantee for getting a job with the American government.
  3. Good Samaritan – Some Americans felt that the actions of their government do not present their  personal beliefs about Arabs, Muslims or Islam. So, they thought learning Arabic and spending a semester or two in the Middle East would help them learn more about the Arabs’ culture and also show Arabs the good side of American citizens.
  4. Curiosity – Arabic was, since 2001, and maybe still a hot language to learn at least in America.

Do you think there are more reasons for Americans to learn Arabic?

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4 thoughts on “Why many Americans want to learn Arabic?

  1. I love that you had a mini-conversation with someone at Starbucks. Good for you asking a follow-up question! I wish there had been more to it, but I understand men wanting to get back to their computers. :)

    I think some want to read the Quran which may be part of #1 and #4 depending on the person. I know for those curious about Islam and possibly wanting to be Muslims, learning Arabic is likely important.

    I learned the letters at one time – how to write them and so forth. But I have forgotten now since I didn’t review them after I felt it was hopeless and gave up. I suppose I’m not one of those who appreciates the struggle of learning. Maybe in another life ….

  2. Yes, I don’t know how I forgot that. Some Americans wanted to read the Quran in Arabic. For whatever reason.
    I have heard many Americans say Arabic is a very difficult language to learn.
    I am not sure if you know this or not but Russian diplomats working in MENA countries can speak fluent Arabic. I have even heard Russians speaking Arabic without being able to recognize whether Arabic is their first language or not. Yes, they are that good, or maybe evil, when it comes to foreign politics.
    To show you how good they are in Arabic language their Arabic TV channel, Russia Today, has many Russian hosts and anchors who can speak fluent Arabic. The TV doesn’t need to hire Arab hosts or anchors.

  3. I’m an American who learned Arabic around 20 years ago (way before Sept. 11). In my case, I was strongly attracted to the language and the “exotic” culture of the Middle East. Taking Arabic classes put me into contact with Muslims, and I eventually became a Muslim. I married into an Arab family and now live in Jordan.

    1. Thanks for sharing your reason for learning Arabic.
      “I married into an Arab family”
      I guess you have been quite some time in Jordan to know you don’t marry an Arab man but you marry an Arab family :) Individualism has no place in the Arab culture, right? :)

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