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Sahar Qumsiyeh sits in an open and tidy office on the second floor of the Thomas E. Ricks Building. She smiles as she talks about the Arabic course she is preparing to teach this fall. In Fall Semester 2019, a pilot course for Arabic will be offered at BYU-Idaho.

“I just had a few students ask me ‘Why don’t we offer Arabic?’ and I knew we needed to do it,” Qumsiyeh said. “With the refugees and so many things going on around the world these days, I think it’s good we can offer it for people who are interested.”

Sister Qumsiyeh has studied various texts to put together the curriculum for next fall’s first class.

The course was offered in the past but will now come back as this pilot course.

“Arabic 101 and 102 have been offered on campus intermittently for many years,” said Michael Paul, department chairfor the Department of Languages & International Studies. “Originally, the courses were part of the Ricks College Honors Program.”

According to Refugee Council, Arabic is the mother tongue of 215 million people in the world. It is the most common language spoken among refugees today. Students have an opportunity to learn a new language and expose themselves to a new culture. Arabic has been ranked as the second highest language in demand.

Arabic is nationally ranked as a “critical language,” meaning it’s one of the “non-Western European languages critical to U.S. national security” that the government awards scholarships for.

The class will be four days a week and is worth four academic credits. Qumsiyeh hopes to open students to Arabic culture around the world.

Learning a new language can help you academically and socially.

“I’m taking a Language Teaching Methods class and there’s a big list of what language does to your brain,” Qumsiyeh said. “It helps you think better, it helps you with math, which seems irrelevant, but just the way you help your brain develop that ability, so you actually become smarter. People tend to do better in certain situations and problem solve better than others. Aside from that, I would say as members of the Church we are asked to serve others and help, and I’ve come to learn that if you don’t speak someone’s language.”

Qumsiyeh studied in Turkey for her Ph.D. and the language barrier with Turkish sometimes prevented connections.

“Even though we spoke in English, there was something there that disappeared when they were able to speak their mother tongue,” Qumsiyeh said.

She believes the same is true for any language and that nuances of a culture lie in the intricacies of that language.

A decoration on Sister Qumsiyeh’s bookshelf includes the Palestinian flag.

“I’m hoping to do three things in the course,” Qumsiyeh said.

1. “Help the students learn how to communicate; sometimes with a beginning level class that’s hard, but I’m going to focus on speaking and helping them listen to Arabic and be able to speak it.

2. “I’m hoping that they would learn to read and understand written Arabic, because our written and spoken language are different. Our formal language in books is different from how people talk on the street. I’m going to do a flavor of both.

3. “I want to introduce them to the culture of the Middle East. There is so much confusion out there. People are labeling Muslims as terrorists because they don’t understand the culture, they don’t understand what’s going on, they don’t understand Islam. I want to give them a little flavor of what it’s like to be from the Middle East and help them understand people from the Middle East better.”


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