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Summer Institute for the Languages of the Muslim World exposes high school students to Arabic

7/11/2017  8:00 am

{Photo caption: From left: Alex Eddings, Sophia Schmitz, Alex Caruana, Miles Howerton, Jessica Mora (kneeling), Devin Dadah, Andrew Foster, Enddy Almonord, and Grace Bowen attended the Summer Intensive Arabic Program for High School Students.}


Two high schoolers from Costa Mesa, California and Waukegan, Illinois gathered on the University of Illinois campus to get married this June — but only as a fun, learning experience, of course.

The mock wedding was one of the many activities that nine high school students from across the country were able to experience through the two-week Summer Intensive Arabic Program for High School Students.

“It’s the forgotten romance language, after all,” joked Andrew Foster, rising high school senior from Oakland, California.

The program is part of the Summer Institute for the Languages of the Muslim World, which is offered by the Less Commonly Taught Languages Program in the Linguistics Department. The high school program began in the summer of 2016.

This year the program received a grant from the Qatar Foundation International, which provided scholarships for board and tuition for the camp. The grant helped the camp grow as compared to last year, when six high schoolers attended.

“We started working tirelessly on the program since last year. It was advertised extensively to hundreds of high schools and through different websites,” said Eman Saadah, program director and senior lecturer in linguistics. “Our outreach effort was successful, and, coupled with the generous grant from Qatar Foundation International, we were able to admit more students into this year's cohort group.”

During one class, taught mainly by Abdulkafi Albirini, an associate professor of linguistics and Arabic at Utah State University—he visits Illinois to help with the program—the group learned about the differences between traditional Islamic and Christian weddings.

“The day of the wedding everyone brings flowers,” said Enddy Almonord, another student in the program. The group dressed in authentic Arab dress and spoke in Arabic to emulate the ceremony, which they filmed and posted on YouTube.

Throughout the camp, the group also learned basics of the language and culture, while activities such as cooking classes, movie-showings, and dance classes helped demonstrate the nuances surrounding the language. Upon completion of the program, the students earned two college credits.

“I think my favorite part of this was the cultural activities. We actually engaged and saw how the language is used,” said Jessica Mora, who will be a senior this fall in Waukegan, Illinois. “When we went to the mosque we could tell that a lot of the sayings in Arabic come from Islam and we were able to see how people use it.”

While some students have dabbled in learning other languages, most of the campers agreed their experience at the university amplified their knowledge.

“It took me a year to learn just a little bit of Mandarin, but throughout these two weeks I’ve learned way more Arabic,” said Devin Dadah, student from Costa Mesa, California. Foster even took an Arabic course at his high school, but said his progression was monumental this time around.

“One of the most helpful things about the camp was being able to learn the language in the context of other things,” Foster said. “We got lucky this year with the camp falling during Ramadan. Going to the mosque and learning different words, you kind of get to learn how the language is used in day to day life.”

Just like any other college course, the campers also completed homework each night with the help of two resident advisers and the program assistant.

“It really helps to have the RAs and PA,” Almonord said, with most of the students in agreement, calling them their “personal tutors.”

“I really like how the college curriculum is condensed because it moves faster than a typical high school,” said Alex Eddings, student in the program from Chicago. “You learn more and it sticks with you a lot better.”

--Story by Samantha Jones Toal, LAS News