Arabic is a very nuanced language, one that cannot easily be taught in a traditional classroom setting. After studying Arabic at the university level in the United States, I felt adequate in my ability to read and write. However, my actual communication skills were minimal. After a summer of studying at the advanced level in the CAMES program at the American University in Beirut, I felt that my skills had improved in certain areas. My proficiency in listening, reading and writing Modern Standard Arabic improved greatly. Nonetheless, the challenges of learning spoken Arabic in an orthodox classroom prevented me from fully utilizing my time in Lebanon. Outside of class, I reverted back to English. Despite the advanced level of my coursework, I was unable to converse with native Arabic-speakers. Having studied the language and culture throughout my college career, my advice to anyone interested in studying the region would be to study outside of the box – a program focused on communication, as opposed to the pedantic settings that emphasize ancient texts and translating academic sources. There is more to learn by experiencing Lebanon and its people through the language that they speak than studying a formal version of their language that is almost wholly unused.
Before you study aboard make sure you decide if you want to focus on MSA or the Spoken Dialect. It’s hard to do both in one summer. Once you have decided that make sure to find a program that will be the best fit for you.