Report from Arabic: Asalamu-Alaykum from the VAMPY Arabic Class!

Noah Stevens

by Noah A. Stevens

VAMPY students enter the program with a variety of talents — some are gifted musicians, some have a knack for numbers, and some are brilliant writers. Some students, however, discover at VAMPY a new set of skills they might not have yet had the opportunity to showcase. This is precisely the story of the students in the Arabic class at VAMPY this year.

The Arabic class has thus far been preoccupied with unlocking the students’ natural language ability and harnessing it to learn a language used by 420 million people. Many students in the class had a background in learning a foreign language, among them Spanish, French, German, and Chinese. None of the thirteen students had any experience with Arabic prior to the first day of class; however, this did not deter them from immersing themselves in the joyful experience that is learning a new language and exploring the culture that accompanies it.

All within the first day, students learned to offer typical Arab greetings, began introducing themselves in Arabic, and began writing in Arabic. Impressively, by the end of the first week, the students were able to engage in basic conversation with their peers and even read a paragraph written completely in Arabic! This is a tremendous feat considering students had to dedicate themselves to learning a new alphabet (including some tricky sounds not present in English) and teach themselves to write right-to-left in a short period of time. Nevertheless, the class quickly progressed from sounding out individual letters to forming words, crafting sentences, and then breaking down a full paragraph.

Students on a visit to the Islamic Center of Nashville’s new Bellevue campus. They learned about Islam, its similarities to other major faiths, the Muslim experience in our region, and the faith’s connection to Arabic. Pictured (L to R): Philip Khenner, Dexter Vilt, Finn Graham, Joanna Jose, Bailey Chafin, Zachary VanderMolen, Alex Ladd, Karina Sheth, Diego Garcia-Harrington, and the Center’s Director of Operations, Dina Imamovic-Sirois.

While growth in the students’ language ability has undoubtedly outpaced that of the average learner of Arabic, they have also learned about the Arab world and gained cultural knowledge that is inextricably tied to the language. Led by Lhouie Guerwane, an instructor of Arabic and native of Morocco, and me, a graduate in international affairs, Arabic, and Middle East studies, the students have developed insight into the geography of the Arab world, Islam, Arab traditions and customs, and the government and politics of a region too often misunderstood in the United States.

As a student of the language myself, I am heartened to see students so excited to learn Arabic. Even when they make mistakes speaking or writing, they are eager to correct themselves and try again. I am confident the students will improve their language abilities exponentially by the conclusion of VAMPY, and I am excited to see them take their newfound skills out into their communities and into the world.