Immersive Arabic summer classes return to UM campus - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Immersive Arabic summer classes return to UM campus

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Dennis Bragg photo. Dennis Bragg photo.

It's said the best way to learn a language is to completely immerse yourself into a foreign land for an extended period of time.

A group of high school students isn't spending the summer overseas. But they are dedicating three weeks of their summer on the University of Montana campus to learn as much as they can about Arabic.

Since 2008, students from here in Montana, and all over the U-S, have come to UM for the MASI, or Montana Arabic Summer Institute. They live on campus, diving head first into what's known as one of the "critical languages."

"One of the things we are very proud of is that we are the only program here in Montana. And you don't find very close programs around Montana that offer Arabic in summer." UM Arabic Section Head Dr. Khaled Huthaily said.

But it's not just classroom learning. Dr. Huthaily, his wife and the other instructors transport the students to the Arabic world, including some fun.

"We know that during these three weeks it's difficult to teach every single thing," Huthaily said. "So we make sure that we're introducing that fun element into it."

Wednesday, the classroom was a whirl of color, as the students ignored the heat and had a blast experiencing one of the most remarkable elements of Arabic culture, the love of dance.

"The students will learn about the body parts and the numbers. So as they dance, and they move their arms, and their legs they will also be using Arabic within that environment," Huthaily said.

"I definitely feel like I gain a new understanding when I learn about a different kind of lifestyle. And it's definitely way different than the American lifestyle," Big Sky High School Senior Elizabeth Nemetchek said.

"I think it's important to understand a culture, understand what they do, what's different from how we do it," Oklahoma student Israel Fuller said.

For some MASI students, this has actually led to careers overseas. Others are still exploring their options...

"I was looking at a career in Political Science, or as a diplomat. But really the language, or any critical language learned makes you extremely adaptable," Texas student William Watkins said.

"I was digging for critical languages because there in need now. So I came across Arabic, and came across the MASI Program here. So that's what prompted me to fly out from Naples, Florida all the way up here," Florida student Thomas Gorman said.

Above all, the course is about opening doors of understanding and opportunity.

"So you understand your culture. You understand the other culture. Then you will realize and see there is a way that we can narrow the gap between them," Huthaily said.

"The more you communicate, the more you understand each other, the more we're going to be able to have a world where we can have cultural and personal exchange. And once you open up the doors to somewhere else, you open yourself to so many more things," Hellgate High School Senior Kaylee Peters said.

The critical languages program is the outgrowth of an initiative started during the Bush Administration, and funded with help from the State Department and the National Security Administration.

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