Why learn Arabic?

For the past ten years the Western interest in the Arab World has increased substantially for a variety of political, economic and individual reasons.
Current events, such as the Palestinian war with Israel and pressure on young people, especially young men, have encouraged people to learn more about Arab culture.

It was important that the Nobel Prize was given to the famous Egyptian, Nagib Mahfouz, in 1988. This showed that Arabic literature is not limited to The One Thousand and One Nights. Likewise the image of the Arabs in the desert with their camels in the West remains a cliché. Real life is far from the widespread belief of the majority of the Western world.

Nagib Mahfouz’s acceptance of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988 was one of the first events that transformed Western thinking about the Middle East. Mahfouz’s portrayal of Arab life broke stereotypes held by certain Westerners regarding Arab culture, which were far from reality.

This early success was followed by a vast diffusion of the history, politics, sociology, and culture of the Arab world. Quite naturally this diffusion of knowledge led to a new interest amongst Western scholars to study Arabic.

In the Western world there are many successful centers of learning where they can study Arab civilization and language. Many of the early Arabic studies programs arranged language study in the same manner as European language studies.

Unfortunately, this tradition of schooling, heavily emphasizing grammar, did not produce competent Arabic linguists.

While their preparation prepared academics and students adequately in studying Arabic lexicology, they could not properly use the language. Their elementary spoken skills, consisting solely of “good morning” and “how are you” did not suffice for complex social interaction.

The obvious solution was to study Arabic in the Arab world. But selecting a country proved challenging as the Arab world comprises 22 countries with multiple spoken dialects. Students of the language selected an Arab nation based on personal interests and often studied formal Arabic and the nation’s spoken dialect, simultaneously.