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Student completes all available Arabic courses, adds sixth-year independent study

7/26/2017  8:00 am

Will Velez took his first Arabic course at the U of I in the summer of 2014 as part of Illinois’ Summer Institute for Languages of the Muslim World (SILMW), expecting it to be “like any other class.”

Instead, what he encountered was an intensive program that coupled rigorous language instruction with interactive cultural activities.

Because of the structure of the institute, he was able to take a year’s worth of elementary Arabic classes over a single summer, completing Elementary Arabic I and II.

Velez, a heritage speaker of Spanish from Glen Carbon, Ill., “immediately fell in love with the language and decided that I would take as many Arabic classes as I could over the rest of my college career.”

As a junior, he took intermediate Arabic I and II, and then took Advanced Arabic I and II the following summer. During his senior year, Velez took Topics in Standard Arabic I and II, and Colloquial Arabic I and II.

Velez, who majored in political science and Spanish, earned a bachelor’s degree in 2016 as a Bronze Tablet recipient (University Honors and inclusion on the Bronze Tablet are the university's highest honors for graduating students), with a minor in Arabic.

This past academic year, his first in the MA program in Middle Eastern Studies at Illinois, Velez completed Advanced Topics in Standard Arabic Language and Literature I and II. He also took Arabic-English Translation.

Thus he has now completed all the Arabic courses offered at Illinois, which has taken him through the fifth-year level. But he’s not stopping there, as he is currently arranging an independent study with Dr. Eman Saadah, Director and Language Coordinator of Arabic with the Department of Linguistics. The independent study will be done at the sixth-year level.

“While we’re still ironing out the details of my independent study,” said Velez, “it will most likely entail reading Arabic-language novels and analyzing them in essays written in Arabic.

“Another possible component is having a weekly discussion with an Arabic language partner, either on campus or online, so that I can continue to expand my speaking abilities.”

Velez also spoke to the influence Dr. Saadah has had on his education. “She’s been an enormous help throughout my entire Arabic language career,” he reflected. “Not only is she responsible for directing the entire program that has been such a benefit to me, she’s also been my instructor for several classes. She genuinely cares about her students and their language goals, which makes her an outstanding instructor.”

As if studying Spanish and Arabic wasn’t enough, Velez also decided to take Persian this summer “because it’s one of the languages spoken in my area of study—the Middle East.” Like Arabic, Persian is also considered a critical language by the U.S. Department of State, to which Velez plans to apply after completing his master’s. He plans a career as a foreign service officer. “It’s my hope that my proficiency in these three languages will help to set me apart during the State Department’s competitive application process.”

If his excellence in academics and languages at Illinois is any indication, the State Department will be more than happy to receive Will Velez’s application.

[For more about the Summer Institute for Languages of the Muslim World, visit: For more about the Arabic Program at U of I, visit:]