Friday, February 25, 2005

World -- After U.S. push, study of Arabic up by 92 percent, tops Hebrew

World -- After U.S. push, study of Arabic up by 92 percent, tops HebrewU.S. pushes Arabic: Study of language now tops Hebrew

WASHINGTON — The United States has designated Arabic a strategic language and promoted its instruction in schools throughout the nation.

Officials said federal funds for international education programs, including Arabic, have increased by 33 percent since 2001 to $103.7 million in 2004. They said the U.S. Education Department has also provided opportunities to finance students and educators to learn Arabic in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia.

The result has been a sharp rise in Arabic courses and school enrollment over the last six years. Officials said Arabic has now replaced Hebrew as the main Middle East language taught in schools.
Still, Americans struggle with the challenges of learning Arabic, deemed by the Education Department a "super hard" language that requires more than 2,200 class hours to achieve relative fluency. The Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics said that despite increased federal funding only 70 U.S. elementary and secondary schools — most of them private Islamic schools -- have been teaching Arabic.

As part of its efforts to promote Arabic, the government has overseen an effort to develop standards for learning Arabic in the United States. Officials said a report on standards would be published around April 2005 and tested in Dearborn, Michigan, the location of the largest Arab-American community in the United States.

"We're living in a global society," Wilbert Bryant, deputy assistant secretary for higher education in the Education Department, said. "We must be able to speak the languages of many countries. The only way is to start at K-12. It's the only way to remain competitive and retain our position as the superpower in the world."

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