Arabic Language Study Flourishes in New Haven


It's the official language of 26 African and Middle Eastern Countries,and now Arabic is officially a language of choice in the New Haven Public Schools.

Seventh and eighth graders at the Mauro Sheridan School among the more than 200 students at eight city schools learning the language.

The sounds and alphabet are truly foreign to American students, but students seem to like the challenge.

 "It was kind of hard because you have to get used reading right to left instead of left to right," says Keegan Keller, who comes to the magnet school from West Haven.

"I really like the style of writing cause it's like calligraphy and you can make a word into a picture," says self-proclaimed linguist Avery Johnson.

The federal government has identified Arabic and Chinese as critical foreign languages for the future. The reasons why aren't lost on students like Leif Aronsen.

"If I wanted to be an FBI agent and they wanted me to go to the Middle East, I could do that because I know I could speak the language," says the eighth grader.

Abir Zenait is one of the six Arabic teachers in the New Haven Public Schools. She was born in Egypt and relishes to chance to share the words and history of her homeland.

"We're not doing just language learning how to say this, how to speak and how to write. We do the culture about the region and the countries who speak Arabic," she says. "We have differences because of the religion the customs, the norms, but in general we have more similarities than differences."

Last summer, New Haven won a 1.2 million federal grant to promote the study of the critical foreign languages. That money enables the city to fund teachers, materials and field trips that begin to start breaking down cultural barriers and negative stereotypes about Arab culture.

"We are building a greater climate of tolerance and understanding among our students," says Foreign Language supervisor, Karen de Fur.

For Abir Zenait any movement toward greater understanding is truly a point of pride.

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