Live, Eat, and Sleep in Arabic

NYU Abu Dhabi's Arabic program is more than just a class.

Studying Arabic at NYU Abu Dhabi is more than just a class – it’s an experience. In fact, with a student body hailing from around 115 countries who speak 110 languages, the university has waived the second language requirement entirely. For some, it has been a journey that has taken them from having never heard a word of Arabic to unlocking an entire world enveloped in the fifth most spoken language worldwide. For others still it has uncovered parts of their background they had never known before.

For example, a Mexican student was surprised to discover from an Arabic professor that the name of the city he grew up in, Guadalajara, comes from the Arabic words meaning valley of stones. A graduating Belarussian student landed a research job working in a language she didn’t speak four years prior. And another student, in a rare happenchance, was able to study poems celebrating Africa written by her late father – the legendary Arab poet Mohammed Elfitori.

Regardless of their backgrounds, students enrolled in Arabic classes at NYUAD get an experience that has positioned the university as one of the best places to learn the language. Classrooms are tight and focused. Students are primed for an experience within their first few semesters that takes them around the Arab world and allows them to delve deep into the culture. 

“We get motivated students who want to study the language. We want students to really want to learn the language, we didn’t want students who come to class for a year to satisfy a requirement because that often breaks the quality down,” said Muhamed Osman Al-Khalil, associate professor of Arabic.

Students who commit and complete the minor in Arabic become capable in the language, able to read the classics, write an email, and speak to anyone on the street. But beyond that, it has also become one of the most unique language programs, offering students the opportunity to master Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and be fluent in one of three dialects: Levantine, Egyptian, or Emirati Arabic.

Studying one of the dialects gives students opportunities to experience the culture of that place. With trips to Jordan and around the Arab world, the program is as much an experience as it is a language class. Emirati Arabic is taught as a J-Term course, where students get a chance to travel to the traditional city of Al Ain and learn the dialect for two weeks.

But the language, Professor Al-Khalil says, is not easy and constant practice is needed. Some might find it challenging to immerse themselves in the language because Abu Dhabi is an international city where English is the de facto lingua franca. To help with that, NYUAD has dedicated staff that pair students with Arabic speakers, offer opportunities to converse with students from different universities, as well as provide chances to engage in Arab culture.

“We draw them out, and they get to build relationships with the surrounding community. The students get good at it if you start connecting them. Because they are young, you find they start developing relationships quickly,” Professor Al-Khalil said.  

Through NYUAD’s Arabic Studies program, Abu Dhabi has been put on the map as one of the major hubs for students who want to learn Arabic at levels that allow them to not only converse comfortably but also to create careers out of their added skills.  Each year several NYUAD graduates land jobs in the UAE and region benefiting from their Arabic language communication skills.