Foreign Language Aids Cultural Immersion

As Americans, we do not need to learn a foreign language because pretty much everywhere around the world people are learning English.  The problem with that is you do not really understand what you are not getting.  Being a part of a culture and being able to participate, instead of just standing outside and thinking you know what is going on, will enable you to have a much deeper understanding and appreciation of this foreign culture.

When I took my first course in Middle East history, I did not speak Arabic nor had I ever been to the region.  Now I am hooked.  It was not until I took my first Arabic course that I understood that Arabic is not a single language, and that there are multiple dialects used in various parts of the region.  The Arabic spoken in Morocco, for example, is quite different from Arabic spoken in Syria, which is different from Arabic spoken in Iraq.  Whole words, sentence structures, and expressions sound different.  In learning Arabic I have developed a richer understanding of the politics, culture, history and economics of the Middle East region requires a facility in this important and beautiful language and the dialects.

I have studied and worked in the Middle East and last summer I took Arabic at Middlebury Arabic Language School.  This program is full immersion.  I signed a pledge and could only use Arabic for the entire 9 weeks of the program.  And we managed to learn an entire year’s worth of material during that time.  This was an extremely intensive course but one that I recommend for those who are serious about learning a foreign language. Many times students go overseas to study, and that is great, but often times they are surrounded by peers who speak English.  Finding a way to really immerse oneself in and struggle with the nuances and details of the language will ultimately lead to a better understanding of the culture and society.  In the case of Arabic, this language is also first step in understanding the Middle East and Islam.

I will return to Middlebury again this summer to complete their advanced Arabic language course.  I believe we need to build better understanding, cooperation, and programs between the United States and this part of the world – as well as many other areas too.  Unless we understand what they think and why they think the way they do, which means standing outside of us and getting inside of the local culture to see things through their eyes, we as Americans will not be able to have a constructive dialogue.  We will only be able to communicate with the minds but not the hearts of these people.  Learning a foreign language, such as Arabic, will help break stereotypes and misconceptions that are destructive to our future prosperity, global peace, and our national security.  I encourage other students at USF to consider taking their foreign language courses seriously so that they can do the same.

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