An Arabic minor is now being offered to students through Penn State’s School of Languages and Literatures in the College of the Liberal Arts.
Comparative Literature Department Head Caroline Eckhardt, who administers the new minor, said it was created to increase visibility of the Arabic program to advisors, students and the campus.
"It's quite unusual for a university to offer a minor in Arabic, and having it at Penn State is an advantage for our students,” she said.
She said the university has a “robust” enrollment in Arabic, with estimated 180 to190 students taking it this fall.
As of Monday, all six sections for ARAB 001 (Elementary Modern Standard Arabic I) were full, she said.
To many students, the opportunity to learn Arabic will give added weight to their credentials when applying for jobs with the government, non-profit organizations and academia, Christopher Long, associate dean of undergraduate studies for the College of the Liberal Arts, wrote in an email.
But to Penn State student Chris Tutolo, the study of the language of his Syrian heritage — which he described as one of the most beautiful languages he has encountered — is more than just another line on his resume.
“It was a way to speak to the others in my family and made it especially interesting for me to pick it up,” Tutolo (junior-international politics) said.
Tutolo, who also plans to minor in French, said he was ecstatic when he found out he could add a minor in Arabic as well.
“It’s an opportunity to learn a different language other than French and Spanish that every school offers,” he said.
Eckhardt said she expects students from all majors to be interested in the new minor “whether they are heritage learners or are interested in the language for cultural reasons or for careers in business, government, public service, science and health fields, [and so on]."
Both Eckhardt and Long agreed that having the credential of the minor will give students applying to scholarships and fellowships, like the Rhodes Scholarship and Fulbright Program, where knowledge of non-western languages is an advantage.
Eckhardt first proposed the minor in 2007, and since then the University has been working to increase the number of faculty available to teach Arabic, Long wrote in an email.
Support from federal grants obtained by the Department of Comparative Literature, the Center for Global Studies and the School of Languages and Literatures has partially offset the cost of the added instructors, Long wrote.
Penn State’s STARTALK Arabic Academy, which allows students in high school and college to take courses in Arabic over the summer, also has received federal grants for the past three years, Eckhardt said
“Because Arabic is not yet widely taught in high schools, students interested in it might not be able to take it before coming to Penn State,” she said. “Our minor therefore begins with Arabic 001 and Arabic 002, the introductory courses. We encourage students to consider taking them during the summer, when they are offered as 4-week intensive courses, as well as during the fall or spring."
The minor’s three-year curriculum will include six courses in modern standard Arabic as well as a third year course where students will fine tune reading, writing and cultural skills, she said.
Tutolo said the study of Arabic is rather difficult and requires motivation from students.
“It’s a lot like learning two different languages because there is a huge difference between what is spoken and written,” he said.
But to Tutolo, his fascination with the language “supersedes” its difficulty.
He said he hopes to use his knowledge of Arabic after graduation in working as a translator.