Arabic Studies

Desert sun; redit: Joe McGrann.

The Arabic Program offers skill level courses, ranging from the elementary to the advanced levels, and topics courses introducing the students to key themes, texts, and figures of the modern and premodern Arab world. Our mission is to help students attain proficiency in reading, writing, listening, and speaking the Arabic language. At the same time, since language reflects culture, we work with our students toward a higher degree of cultural proficiency. We achieve our goals through activities introducing the students to culturally authentic materials and by using a variety of resources, tools, and technologies. Arabic communication between instructor and students is a regular feature in our classes. While the primary focus in our courses is on Modern Standard Arabic, we integrate colloquial Arabic (Levantine or Egyptian dialect) into our language instruction at the skill level courses, in order to help our students develop a broader range of conversational skills.

Undergraduate Programs


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Q & A with Professor George Berg

The Arabic Program consists of four levels (academic years) of Arabic study: three levels of skill-level courses, Elementary (ARAB 102-103), Intermediate (ARAB 202-203), and Advanced (ARAB 302-303), which are taken consecutively and comprise the first three years of study. We also offer advanced-level topics courses (ARAB 426), which is a seminar style course in which the topics that are offered each semester vary. The topics introduced in the fourth-year courses focus on different aspects of Arabic cultures and the Arab world. Topics courses taught recently are, for example, ARAB-426 Modern Arabic Literature and ARAB-426 Intellectuals and Society in the Arab World.

The primary focus in our courses is Modern Standard Arabic (Formal/Written), which is supplemented with Colloquial Arabic in the three skill-level courses. Students are introduced to either the Levantine or Egyptian dialect and are taught to recognize the contexts in which each are used so that they can progressively become functional in both registers of Arabic.

No, our Elementary Arabic classes begin with the study of the letters and sounds combined with knowledge of how the target language is used in various contexts, both formal and informal. In the topics-level courses, students put into practice their accumulated knowledge of Arabic to engage in the discussion and analysis of complex texts, discourses, and ideas. It is truly quite remarkable how much students are able do with Arabic at the completion of each level of study.

Our skill-level classes are capped at 15 students and our 400-level classes are capped at 11 students. This allows for more student-teacher interaction and enables students to fully participate in their language-learning experience. It works out very well and, most importantly, benefits our students.

Yes, presently, students can study abroad in either Amman, Jordan or Rabat, Morocco.

Yes, students can choose to declare either major or minor in Arabic Studies. The Arabic Studies major involves four years of Arabic study through the three skill levels, after which, students take topics courses (400-level) in Arabic. They also complete a capstone project during the final year of study. The major is very comprehensive and prepares students to use Arabic after their undergraduate studies. Students can choose to major in Arabic Studies and in an additional major offered at AU. The department also offers a minor in Arabic Studies, which is comprehensive and includes coursework at all four levels of Arabic study.

A major or minor is not required to take Arabic at AU, in fact, we have students in our program with a diverse range of academic interests at AU. Arabic is a global language and an official language of the United Nations, so the reasons that students take Arabic are as varied as the ways in which they can use it.

There are numerous ways in which our students can utilize their Arabic language skills in their academic and professional endeavors, both during their studies and after they graduate from AU. Language study involves many aspects of learning with skill development as its central component. Therefore, students who learn Arabic can apply their language skills in a variety of contexts. Some of our students use their Arabic skills working with the U.S. government as analysts or linguists, to name just two; others work in the private sector as immigration attorneys, consultants, or translators; and some continue their Arabic studies in graduate school. These are just a few examples and are by no means the only ways that our students can use Arabic professionally. Our students at AU are highly motivated and very enthusiastic about learning Arabic. It makes for positive learning experiences in the classroom and it is truly a pleasure to teach them.

George Berg, Associate Director of the Arabic Program, answers commonly asked questions about the Arabic Program.

Student Testimonials

Alexis Braun

As a native Spanish speaker, I was looking to try something new during my time at AU. At American University, I was looking into studying the Middle East region as an International Affairs major. Learning Arabic seemed like an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding to the region as well as a deeper appreciation for the culture of the region.

What were your initial impressions of Arabic study and have they changed as you have continued with your studies?

When I entered the Arabic program, I was intimidated by a language that seemed so incredibly different from others. However, the professors at American University created a study environment that not only made the language attainable but enjoyable to learn. The language became more challenging to learn as I continued by studies, but the professors really nurtured a continued interest and desire to study the language. The depth and beauty of the language only became more apparent the longer I continued my study of Arabic.

Has your study of Arabic enabled you to apply for any scholarships or merit awards?

Gaining an understanding of the Arabic language has allowed me to apply for a variety of scholarships ranging from a Boren to the Fulbright. Through Arabic, my dedication to learning the language helped demonstrate my dedication and appreciation for the various scholarships I applied to. It has helped me win various awards such as the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute.

Are there any other ways that you have been able to apply your Arabic skills outside of the classroom while studying at AU?

When I studied abroad in Greece through AU, Arabic allowed me to participate in an internship program that helped Syrian refugees in Greece. Without my prior exposure to the language, I would not have been able to partake in this unique opportunity.

Do you plan to continue to develop and apply your Arabic skills following the completion of your undergraduate studies at AU? If so, in what ways might you use Arabic in the future?

As a graduate of American University, I am pursuing a law degree while taking additional Arabic classes to further my language skills. American University set the foundation for me to pursue a career in an international legal realm that requires a knowledge of a region’s language. In the fall, I will be attending NYU Law where I will be able to use my existing knowledge of Arabic to gain experience in international law.

Are there any other things about your study of Arabic that you would like to add?

What sets the Arabic program apart from other language programs at American University are the professors’ dedication towards the students. The Arabic professors are the best aspect of the program in my opinion. They are there not only as a teacher but as a mentor and guide towards learning and appreciating the language.

Tara Rao

I initially decided to study Arabic at AU because the language is spoken by many people around the world. Although there are many different dialects, the ability to communicate with people from so many different places offers the opportunity to make connections with others.

What were your initial impressions of Arabic study and have they changed as you have continued with your studies?

Before attending my first Arabic class, I was extremely intimidated by the Arabic language as it has a reputation of being an extremely difficult language to learn. Once I arrived at AU, the professors in the Arabic Program and the coaches at CLEAR were incredibly supportive and extremely patient. Although studying Arabic is still extremely challenging, I feel as though I have the support and resources I need to continue to develop my skills.

Has your study of Arabic enabled you to apply for any scholarships or merit awards?

Following my first year of Arabic study, I applied for the Critical Language Scholarship. I was awarded the scholarship and studied Arabic in Meknes, Morocco. I would not have been able to apply for this scholarship and succeed while participating without the support of my Arabic professors, who supported my application, prepared me for the program, and who continue to challenge my skills in the classroom.

Are there any other ways that you have been able to apply your Arabic skills outside of the classroom while studying at AU?

I have not been able to use my Arabic outside of the classroom while studying at AU. However, I have been able to use my Arabic while traveling and have made meaningful connections because of the ability to communicate through language.

Do you plan to continue to develop and apply your Arabic skills following the completion of your undergraduate studies at AU? If so, in what ways might you use Arabic in the future?

I hope to continue my study of Arabic following the completion of my undergraduate studies at AU. However, I am unsure if that will be through a formal program or through independent study.

Studying Arabic at AU


Students discuss what it is like to be part of the AU Arabic Language Program.