Why study Arabic?
1. It helps you gain insights into the cultural, religious, and political forces that influence the Arab world.
2. It helps you better interact with speakers of Arabic, who can best explain individual experiences, backgrounds, traditions, etc.
3. It may help you learn other languages, especially other Semitic languages; many words of Semitic languages are derived from Arabic. Further, mastering Arabic increases one's confidence and may make learning other languages less intimidating.
4. It places you among the estimated 300 million speakers of the language. According to the University of Texas, Arabic is the fifth most commonly spoken language in the world (preceded only by Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish, and Hindi/Urdu).
5. It places you among the ever-growing number of college students studying Arabic. From 2003 to 2007, enrollments in Arabic courses increased by 126%. And for the first time in 2007, Arabic made the list of the top 10 most-studied languages at U.S. colleges (Modern Language Association of America).
In what fields could an Arabic language background serve you well?
- Foreign correspondent
2. International finance
- International banker
- Political risk analyst - gather information about a country and determine causes and sources of
- Contract consultant
- Corporate consultant
- Manager of government relations for oil companies
- Marketing analyst for export companies
- Secondary school teacher
- College professor
- Foreign-service officer
- Development program officer
- Intelligence analyst
- Government relations specialist
How serious is the government in seeking and training employees who speak critical foreign languages such as Arabic?
Very serious. Since 2001, the government has emphasized the importance of recruiting employees with backgrounds in Arabic. Despite their recruiting efforts, roughly one in three officers in language-designated positions has not met foreign language speaking and reading proficiency requirements for his/her position (Sept. 2009 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office). Further, FBI statistics from 2006 indicate that just one percent of the FBI's 12,000 agents have any familiarity with the Arabic language. Such shortfalls may be jeopardizing national security and hindering intelligence-gathering efforts, according to the GAO. The government, therefore, has added incentives, changed policies, and established a more visible presence to recruit individuals who have developed-or will develop-proficiency in supercritical languages like Arabic:
1. The CIA's Corporate Language Hiring Bonus Program
New hires with sufficient foreign language skills qualify for this bonus, the amount of which is contingent on (1) the employee's tested proficiency, (2) difficulty of the language, and (3) criticality of the language. The bonus maxes out at $35,000.
2. The Corporate Language Program
This program offers payment to current employees who maintain language proficiency to perform their jobs most effectively.
3. Raised language requirements for CIA employees
In 2010, CIA director Leon Panetta raised language requirements for employees working toward promotions. Heavier emphasis is now placed on keeping language skills current, and if after one year promoted officers do not meet foreign language requirements, they will return to their previous rank. Having changed policy, the CIA hopes to double the number of employees who are proficient in a second language by 2015.
4. Rejection of long-used assignment schedules
In the past, CIA authorities drafted assignment schedules that saw field officers rotating out of regions just as their language skills had solidified, placing them in regions wherein those language skills were less relevant (if at all). However, in 2005, CIA director Porter Goss put an end to assignment schedules.
5. Revision of background check policies
In 2005, the CIA revised policy to reduce the amount of time spent on resolving issues of security. Lengthy security checks (upwards of 18 months) deterred potential applicants from applying.
6. Job fairs
To recruit foreign language speakers, the CIA hosted approximately 800 job fairs in 2005. The CIA continues to host job fairs around the country.
The government funds many programs to increase the number of students who study critical languages, in the hope of recruiting proficient employees. The Boren Scholarships, for instance, are funded by the National Security Education Program and are worth up to $20,000 in exchange for a year abroad plus one year of service within a U.S. National Security agency. Open to undergraduate and graduate students, these scholarships focus on geographical regions and languages that are critical to U.S. security. Boren Fellowships are also available to graduate students pursuing degrees in high-needs fields like Arabic. Eligible students may study abroad, though it is not required. Further, fellows may participate for up to two academic years for a maximum scholarship of $30,000. Service within the National Security sector is expected to equal the term of the fellowship. For more information on Boren Awards, visit www.borenawards.com.
Graduate and doctoral students are also invited to apply for Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships (FLAS), which are funded by the Department of Education. Eligible students will participate in language studies and research directly relevant to critical languages. Scholarship aid comes as a stipend for $7,500 per semester for the one-year FLAS program, or $2,500 for an intensive summer program. Visit www.ed.gov/programs/iegpsflasf/index.html for more information.
What other scholarships may I take advantage of?
1. The Qatar Scholarship Program
Arabic language students may master their skills under this intensive program at Qatar University in Doha for an academic year. It is a non-degree program, but students will receive a certificate upon completion of the academic year. Credit will also be awarded. The scholarship includes tuition; room and board in university dorms; round-trip airfare; local transportation; and books. Visit http://ccas.georgetown.edu/academics/scholarships/qsprogram/ for more information.
2. AL Muammar Scholarship for Journalism
If you're pursuing degrees in both Arabic and journalism, you should consider this $5,000 scholarship sponsored by the Arab American Institute Foundation. Applicants should be committed to journalism and possess a sensitivity to Arab American issues. Community involvement and initiative in social advocacy and civic empowerment are required to apply. Applicants must demonstrate journalistic and academic ability, as well as financial need. Visit www.aaiusa.org for more information.
3. Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship
This scholarship is intended for U.S. undergraduates who plan to study abroad. The average award is $4,000. Recipients with backgrounds in supercritical languages like Arabic are then eligible for an additional $3,000 Critical Need Language Supplement from the Gilman Scholarship Program. Visit www.iie.org/gilman for more information.
4. "Dream Deferred" Essay Contest on Civil Rights in the Middle East
Interested students should visit www.hamsaweb.org/essay and view the writing prompts. One grand prize winner will receive a $2,000 scholarship. One second place winner will receive $1,500. Three runners-up will receive $500 each.
5. Critical Languages Scholarship Program
This culturally enriching program offers undergraduate students language instruction overseas. The program lasts from seven to ten weeks and is fully funded by the government in an effort to increase the number of students who become proficient in critical languages such as Arabic. Visit www.clscholarship.org for more information.
The five scholarships listed above are strong options, but they are not the only options. With a little research, you will surely come across other valuable scholarships.