Arabic program fills growing niche at Texas State

By Philip Hadley
University News Service
November 1, 2007

A class of eight students sits in a semi-circle listening intently as their instructor proclaims “Ahlan wa Sahlan” and motions for them to repeat. The students collectively recite the phrase, which means “welcome” in English.

The Arabic program at Texas State University-San Marcos wants to welcome students to a foreign experience this spring. Amjad Abunseir, coordinator of the Arabic program, says because of globalization, the great interest in Arabic and Arabic culture in the United States and the involvement with Iraq, students should give a second thought when choosing how to fill their foreign language requirement. Not to mention the great business opportunities in the Middle East.

“Many students take Spanish,” Abunseir said. “I think they should try something different. The world is becoming a small village... people need to be informed about other cultures. America's involvement in the Arab world requires people to be informed.”

The program promises a spectrum of cultural education and activities in addition to Arabic language and grammar. It also features a Middle Eastern culture club that is planning a host of events.

The Arabic language will be useful to those who are majoring in international studies and have an interest in the Middle East. It is also important to students studying business, history and many other topics.

“Students will not only learn about the language, but also about different cultural aspects including food served in the Arab world,” Abunseir said. “We also learn about Eastern dance and belly dancing.”

In higher-level Arabic, students will be trained to improve their four major skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Because the class is offered through the office of extension, people can take the class without being a student of the university. Abunseir encourages community and ROTC members who are military personnel to attend, like Howard Cook, 28.

“I’m not a student here, but I work for the National Guard,” Cook said. “I’m taking this class to become familiar with the Arab language and culture incase I have to go back to Iraq.”

Abunseir says the language is not as difficult as most assume, and many of his students do very well. Andy Cotton, international studies junior form Cypress, is one of those students. He says like most foreign languages, studying is the key to success.

“It has been difficult to learn but it’s starting to make sense now,” Cotton said. “This is my first Arabic class, so having a good teacher like Amjad has been helpful.”

Abunseir does not believe in the total immersion method of teaching. His introductory classes are taught half in English and half in Arabic. He has taught Arabic at the University of Texas for five years and says compared to other schools, Texas State’s Arabic program is relatively small. He attributes this to the lack of its exposure.

“I use the latest teaching methods to help students grasp the language faster. If students put in the time and effort they will excel,” he said.

Abunseir has confidence that the program will become as competitive and popular as programs at other schools.

“My teaching methods were received well at UT,” he said. “I’m sure the program has the potential to grow and become more successful and competitive than the UT program.”

Abunsier says the students and staff at the office of extension have aided the growth of the program.

“I would like to thank the chair of the department of modern languages Robert Fischer and the director of the offices of extension James Andrew, including the wonderful staff and student workers for their continuous support,” he said.

Abunseir grew up in Madaba, Jordan, and immigrated to the United States when he was 24. He completed his master’s degree at the University of Colorado and became motivated to help others learn the Arabic language as American interest in the language emerged. 

“I love teaching Arabic for all levels,” he said.

For more information about the Arabic program contact Abunseir at or call (512) 245-1745, or visit