New language class teaches Arabic to Fisher students

Lunch at Sultan Lebanese Cuisine and Bakery was a class activity for the Arabic language class.

By Crystal Myers staff writer

Last spring the modern language department at St. John Fisher introduced a new two course language sequence in Elementary Arabic. LARA 111 was the first class offered in spring 2018 when Professor Souad Amrane joined the staff; another section of that and the follow-up class LARA 112 were offered this semester.


Souad Amrane writes in Arabic on the marker board in class. (Photo by Crystal Myers)

Souad is a native Arabic speaker from Algeria. She started teaching Arabic initially with her young children, but saw interest in her local Rochester community and sought to fulfill that need.

She began volunteering to teach Arabic classes for adults in the Islamic Center. Eventually this evolved into co-founding Westfall Academy, an Islamic school for preschool up to seventh grade on the first floor of the Islamic Center of Rochester on Westfall Road. She was a pioneer teacher for Islamic studies and French. Additionally Souad worked for BOCES Monroe as a translator for Arabic, English and French. She is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in Islamic Studies at Al-Madinah International University. She teaches Arabic at Fisher and at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva.

Her first set of students will complete the sequence this fall, the second set in spring. There are a total of nine students in the program. Souad is concerned that some students are intimidated by the complexity of the Arabic alphabet and newness of writing right to left. While any new skill has a learning curve, she believes that Arabic is not hard and that anyone can learn it.

Arabic is especially useful and in high demand. According to the Democrat and Chronicle the Rochester International Academy welcomed 80 Syrian refugees and 105 Iraqis in 2016. Having people who can communicate in the native language of new arrivals is integral for them to successfully transition to life in the US, especially within the fields of education and medicine.

Souad affirms this for pharmacy and nursing students who might be interested in taking Arabic, expressing that there is a high need in hospitals for Arabic speaking patients. Lauren Gertner, a senior international study major who is in the Arabic 2 class, has a friend in the Education program who has asked to learn basic Arabic in order to connect and develop relationships with native Arabic speakers/ESL students in the classroom.

The other component to language learning is cultural understanding. Students in the Arabic class have had the opportunity to experience Middle Eastern Food like shawarma, falafel, tabbouleh, dolma, kafta, kibbeh, hummus, baba ganouj and manakeesh at Sultan Lebanese Cuisine and Bakery. They additionally have had opportunities to attend events and salat al Jumu’ah (Friday prayer) in the Islamic Center. Ashley Sencion of the Arabic 2 class has called these experiences “eye opening,” and marveled at the complexity and beauty of Arabic culture within the language. Even the simple greeting, “assalamu alaikum” means more than just hello, it literally translates to “peace be upon you.”

Lauren Welling, an International Studies major, thinks it’s unique that Fisher offers the option. “Arabic is critical because not a lot of people speak it,” she said. Gertner believes that having knowledge of Arabic “will place you above others in the job market after graduation.” Alla Alsalahi appreciates being able to communicate better with his grandparents, who are native Arabic speakers from Yemen.

Whatever your reason for taking it, you can now take advantage of having the opportunity to study Arabic at Fisher.

Arabic classes took field trips to the Islamic Center of Rochester on Westfall Road. (Photo by Crystal Myers)

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