Mahmoud Abdel Fattah Hassan has come to Reno from Cairo, Egypt, and earlier this month he saw real-life snow for the first time.
But more than that, the Fulbright scholar and new University instructor is hoping that his presence in Reno will help educate northern Nevada about its role in an increasingly global community and economy by teaching Arabic — a language that is not widely taught in Nevada.
“The most exciting thing about this matter is that American people will know more and more about my country, my people and my culture,” Hassan said. “To add to this, it is a great opportunity to be in the United States of America in order to be a good ambassador of the United States of America when I come back to my country.”
Hassan is teaching in Reno thanks to a unique intersection between the missions of the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright Program, which is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those of other countries, as well as the Northern Nevada International Center (NNIC). The NNIC works to build bridges of understanding between the people of Reno and people from other places.
Carina Black, director of NNIC, explained the relationship and why Hassan has come to Reno. Among other things, NNIC introduces language classes where there is an expressed interest, need and niche. The center operates after-school programs in 20 local schools for all interested community members.
“Many students came to me and asked why the University didn’t offer an Arabic language class,” Black said. “That went on for so long that I finally said, ‘All right, I’m going to do something about it.’”
Registration for the newly introduced Arabic language course is open to the public and is available on the NNIC website until the first class on Jan. 28. The course costs $375 plus the cost of three books (approximately $50) and runs until May 9.
These classes are not accredited; however, after successfully completing four Arabic language levels, students may have language requirements waived by the University’s Foreign Language Department.
The three Arabic language levels to be taught are each a stepping stone for the other. Students learn letters and sounds, vocabulary and expressions, as well as the fundamentals of the Arabic language and culture.
“In my point of view, language and culture cannot be separated,” Hassan said.
Black added, “We have a very wide variety of people who attend our classes, not just for University students. We’ve had high school students, (and) a 76-year-old. A wide variety of people attend our classes.”
Data released in November by the Modern Language Association indicated that the American college student enrollment in language courses other than English increased broadly since 2002, and are at their highest level since 1960. The data showed that for Arabic, the number of colleges and universities offering the Middle Eastern language has nearly doubled, from 264 in 2002 to 466 in 2006. Arabic is now one of the top 10 most studied languages, the survey said.
Black said the NNIC believes that learning a foreign language and culture contribute to a student’s competitiveness when looking for a job. She also mentioned that a few industries where knowledge of multiple languages and culture is a major benefit, including business, government and military science.
Black said that in 2007, of the approximately 1,000 U.S. Embassy employees in Baghdad — the largest of the U.S. embassies — only six of them spoke Arabic.
By offering the Arabic language course, Black said, “We want to ensure that we’re keeping up with the wave of political and economic development.”