Georgetown Students Study Arabic in Jordan

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Georgetown students dance dabke during a visit of Umm Qays with young Syrian refugees. 27 June 2015. Photo credit. IRD Jordan
Georgetown students dance dabke during a visit to Umm Qays with young Syrian refugees. Dancers, left to right, are a Syrian youth, Zachary Currie, Andrew Wallender, Hamza Hussein, Maaz Ahmed, and Henry Woodrow. Photo courtesy of IRD Jordan.

For eight weeks in the summer of 2015, the ACOR Hostel was home to a group of 11 undergraduate students from Georgetown University while they pursued an intensive Arabic language study program  organized in coordination with the Qasid Institute in Amman, Jordan.

The  students all had completed at least one year of formal university level Arabic language study before enrolling in the intensive summer program, and the group represented both intermediate and advanced levels of Arabic acquisition.

The 2015 program was jointly managed by Georgetown professors Dr. Suzanne P. Stetkevych, a specialist in classical Arabic poetry, and Dr. Hanaa Kilani, professor of Arabic language. They were supported by graduate student assistant Francesco Sinatora.

The 2015 Georgetown group was serious, studious, and they appreciated the quiet of ACOR. Their experience in Jordan was defined by the dates for the fasting month of Ramadan, which began on 17 June and ended on 17 July.

An informal evening and an Arabic cooking class as the students prepare an Iftar dinner during Ramadan in the ACOR kitchen. Photo Georgetown.
An informal evening and an Arabic cooking class as the Georgetown students prepare an Iftar dinner during Ramadan in the ACOR kitchen. In the photo, left to right, are Julia Eckelman, Andrew Wallender, Tithi Patel, Hamza Hussein, Maaz Ahmed, and Zachary Currie. Photo courtesy of Georgetown.

There are many advantages to studying Arabic in Jordan intensively in the summer. For one thing, the students receive academic credit equivalent to two semesters of language study at home.   They get real-time exposure to the Arabic language — both the spoken Jordanian dialect and the Modern Standard Arabic that they study formally and that is used in the media. In addition to a rigorous program of study at the Qasid Institute, the students practiced their language three hours a week with a speaking partner.

The 2015 student group  rigorously observed a pledge to speak only Arabic while they were in Jordan. Dr.  Kilani believes that students who honor the language pledge and avoid using English as much as possible are revealed to have made more progress and acquired greater fluency at the end of the summer. Graduate assistant Francesco Sinatora said, “the Georgetown group had an ‘Arabic language only’ table in the ACOR dining room and we enjoyed very much how often the Arabic-speaking staff and residents at ACOR would join our table at lunch, to chat with the students and keep the conversation lively.”

A Bedouin guide in Wadi Rum interacting with the Georgetown group at the Rainbow campsite.
A Bedouin guide in Wadi Rum chats with the Georgetown group at the Rainbow campsite. (Photo courtesy of Georgetown).

A highlight of the 2015 summer program included a trip to the north of Jordan where the students met with a group of young Syrian refugees  in an exchange organized by IRD Jordan.   The students agreed that the most memorable experience was their trip south to visit Petra and camp in Wadi Rum during the Eid al Fitr holiday in July as organized by Petra Moon Tourism.

 Written by Sarah Harpending

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