Should more universities offer Arabic as a degree subject?

Elete Nelson-Fearon joins us as an intern, working alongside the Marketing and Interpreting Operations teams. In this blog, she tells us why it would be beneficial to students, businesses and the economy if more universities offered Arabic as a degree subject.

I study Spanish and Arabic at University, and when I wanted to study single honours Spanish I was faced with shortlisting 5 universities out of the 72 that offer Spanish. However, upon deciding to add Arabic, the decision was made significantly easier, as only 16 institutions offer Arabic at a Higher Education level, with many of those courses only offering Arabic as a minor component of a joint honours degree.

At the time I was glad, as I am dangerously indecisive so I had been relieved of a seemingly impossible decision, but I now realise how peculiar it is that fewer than 20 institutions in the UK offer an undergraduate course in the 5th most widely spoken language in the world.

Why offer Arabic as a degree subject?

There are 295 million native Arabic speakers in the world – that’s almost 5% of the global population. However, Arabic is often underserved on international websites, yet used by an already large, growing population, hungry to buy goods, with matching purchasing power.

More Arabic speakers are taking to the internet to purchase, learn and communicate – from 2001 to 2011 – the amount of online Arabic content grew 2501%. To give that some perspective, in the same time frame, online English content grew by 281%.

Benefits to learning Arabic at university

Firstly, if more institutions were to offer a course in Arabic, there would be scope for creating more tailored classes that cater to the different abilities of the students. In my class, many students already have at least an intermediate grasp of the language from the Arabic-speaking environment they grew up in, thus rendering a lot of the initial study irrelevant to them. Although it is useful to learn the grammatical rules and technicalities that may have been overlooked in a mostly verbal education of the language, I feel that many of my classmates would benefit from a class which was aimed at a higher level, perhaps conducted entirely in Arabic.

You wouldn’t expect post A-level Spanish students to be enrolled into a beginners’ class, but I think that for Arabic it is necessary as there are so few students in the whole of the department as it is.

How does language learning compliment other degree subjects?

With more students being encouraged to study a joint honours degree, it is necessary to consider subjects that complement each other in terms of their content and transferable skills.

Those with an interest in history would find the study of topics such as the Ottoman Empire and the Arab Spring is enriched by learning the Arabic language, and languages students would realise that studying Arabic reveals the many linguistic similarities between Arabic and European languages; grammarians would also delight in the intricate structure of the language.

Taking these reasons into consideration, and also considering the significance of Arabic speaking countries in current affairs, it is a wonder that the language isn’t enjoyed at university by more students, but it reflects a general decline in applications for languages at a higher level. Whilst I am glad to be more unique in my subject area, I do hope that Arabic, and languages in general, will have a popularity and appreciation that reflects their importance in today’s world.

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