Arabic 101?

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Interest in learning Arabic has soared since Sept. 11, says a Mideast specialist at Emory University, where enrollment in Arabic 101 has doubled, compared to the previous seven years.

Mahmoud Al-Batal, associate professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian studies, said that before Sept. 11, the number of Arabic programs had been growing steadily. But now Arabic courses at Emory are booked almost to capacity, which he cites as a trend at universities and colleges across the country.

The next problem, he said, is finding qualified Arabic instructors, who already were in short supply. "This is an area where instruction falls short, which I think can be blamed in part on a general lack of appreciation in the country's academic culture of the importance of language."

His Middle Eastern studies program has won a three-year federal grant, which is aimed at increasing faculty, course offerings, and community outreach. Al-Batal and faculty colleague Kristin Brustad are authors of several Arabic textbooks that are among the most widely used in the United States.

Many of the new recruits may have been inspired by last fall's events to look for careers in U.S. security agencies, Al-Batal said. Still others are aiming at academic careers in religious studies, literature and history, or to work internationally. Some want to learn for personal reasons, to connect to their cultural and religious heritage. And some, he said, may just want something different.

"There will probably be some leveling off of interest, but it depends always on the political and economic situation both at home and abroad," he said.