Learning a language, mastering a skill

A closer look at an Arabic course that engages students in the community

Inas Hassan, Ph.D., is an affiliate professor of Arabic. In 2013, she founded the Arabic Language Club (Arabyola), for which she has served as the faculty coordinator since.

Loyola magazine recently spoke with Hassan about the language-based work that students are doing with the community through her service-learning course, Arabic 104: Elementary Modern Standard Arabic IV.

Hassan teaching her class as she writes on the whiteboard.

Why learn Arabic?

Currently, there is a large demand for people fluent in Arabic, including job opportunities. Arabic is used for prayer in the Muslim religion and is a bridge language. Learning how to speak Arabic is important because it is rich in culture and diversity. Many people don’t know that there are some similarities in structures and words between Arabic and English, Arabic and Spanish, Arabic and French, and even Arabic and Chinese.

How are you incorporating service-learning opportunities into your Arabic classes?

My Arabic 104 class incorporates a service-learning component by partnering with local organizations to help teach and translate in Arabic. Students who sign up for Arabic 104 have met their language requirements and can decide to participate in the service-learning project or complete an alternative project.

The alternative project tasks students to write a book about their lives—in Arabic. They have to use the past tense to talk about their childhood, present tense to talk about their experiences in college, and future tense to talk about what they will do after graduation.

The students who choose to take part in the service-learning component work with community partners to teach and/or translate in Arabic. I worked with the Center for Community Service and Justice (CCSJ) to launch this optional service-learning course in the spring of 2018. During the first semester, my class partnered with Beat the Streets, a Baltimore organization that works with Baltimore County Public Schools to organize after-school wrestling programs to teach students how to speak Arabic.

During the spring 2019 semester, we partnered with the Esperanza Center to translate into Arabic registration cards, health forms, United States entrance exams, and other forms that the Center offers their clients. My students work on a four-week basis of learning new vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation; translating the forms, and then presenting their work before we hand over the final copies to the Esperanza Center.

Why do you think it’s important to offer students opportunities to engage with the community?

First, with the Esperanza Center, it’s important to offer Arabic translation because they have so many refugees from Arabic-speaking countries, and these refugees seek assistance from the Center. The Esperanza Center provides great resources to people from foreign countries, such as attorneys, health facilities, and entrance exams. Most of the materials in the Esperanza Center are in English and Spanish. Translating the material into Arabic helps the staff communicate more effectively and be more approachable to clients. Even though some of the people who go to the Esperanza Center have some knowledge of English, they still need assistance and translation to their native language.

From a student perspective, it’s a very good opportunity to take advantage of a service-learning course. Students can learn about important components in language translation. The students are getting hands-on and practical experience. This is a proactive way of learning the language—and my students are making a difference in someone’s life.

How is Arabic 104 preparing students for the real world?

Every language is unique. It may be difficult at times, but learning a language is an excellent skill to possess. I tell my students to think of studying Arabic like a puzzle or game, because it takes a type of critical thinking that keeps your brain fresh and exercises your memory. Critical thinking skills will help students in any career.

The service-learning opportunities will help students travel, get internships, and gain valuable experience—which they can add to their résumés. They will help students apply for jobs with any language requirement.

Learn more about the department of modern languages and literatures and service-learning at Loyola.


Photo by Molly Cochran.