Recently, a group of Yalies interested in Arabic studies gathered to talk about Arabic at Yale. In meeting, many of us voiced our disappointment with Yale’s Arabic program. However, to make sure that the seven-or-so of us weren’t alone in our opinions, I agreed to interview more Yale students of Arabic to find out their views. Since then, I’ve had the chance to talk to 25 students — both undergraduate and graduate — who have taken Arabic at Yale. I hope to write about the results of those discussions later in the semester. However, one result of my research is certainly clear: Don’t take Yale’s Arabic summer session in Amman.
While I did not attend the program myself, I had the chance to speak to seven of the approximately 20 students who attended the program. I also confirmed the factual accuracy of this op-ed with all seven of those students before publishing this article. Of the seven, six had since dropped Arabic, and none agreed with the statement “I would recommend this program to another student who wants to learn Arabic.” One student, who was able to use Yale funds to cover the expense of the program, said, “If I had spent $10,000 on the program I would have punched someone in the face.” Another student, when asked if she thought the program was worth it, replied, “Not in terms of anything.” Why were students so dissatisfied with the program?
First, it was mismanaged. In Amman, there were supposed to be two professors. However, one of the Arabic professors — an Iraqi national — did not get her visa to Jordan before arriving at the airport. She was detained and sent back to the United States. For the entire Amman leg of the program, students had only one professor.
Second, the curriculum was not tailored to the learning environment. Students said that the professors had taken the L3/L4 curriculum and just compressed it into two months. This meant, as one student said, “We might as well have been taking the course in New Haven because we had to spend three hours in class and four to six hours after class doing work, and barely got to explore Amman.” Moreover, students said that the professors refused to change the curriculum so that they could learn the local dialect. As one student put it, “As we were learning in class how to say female camel in formal Arabic, I still didn’t know how to give my taxi driver directions — I usually just did it in English.”
Third, many students felt under-prepared for their return to Arabic classes at Yale. One of the main reasons cited for dropping Arabic was that the students could not keep up with other L5 students who had studied Arabic in other programs.
While it is true that it was the program’s first year, even if the program is half as bad this time around there are still better options. For about the same price point as the Yale summer session, I recommend looking into the Qasid Institute’s summer program in Amman or the School for International Training’s Intensive Arabic Language Series. For lower in the price range, look into summer programs at the University of Jordan or the University of Damascus. While Yale might give you one less credit for these programs, I promise you, you’ll learn more Arabic.
Michael Boyce is a senior in Branford College.