COLUMBIA — A bread salesman is tried for bribing patrons by slipping cash into the bread he sold them. A man picks a toy doll over three real women in a satirical version of "The Bachelor." A date, originating online, fails and their friends get together instead.
These were the plots for a series of skits presented recently at MU — in Arabic.
"Elementary Arabic Presents: An Evening of Student Composed Performances" was a one-act play and three skits were performed for the public by Zaid Mahir's Elementary Arabic II class at the MU Student Center.
For Mahir, the performance was not only an accomplishment for the students but also was an example of the merit of Arabic studies.
"I would like it to be seen as a signal to people that Arabic should be a full program," he told the audience before the performance began.
The interest in Arabic courses at MU remains high, but there has been no discussion on the administrative level to expand the current program, Mahir said. As MU's only Arabic instructor, he has taught Elementary Arabic I and II since fall 2007 when the classes were first offered by MU faculty exclusively.
The classes were offered the previous year but were taught by an MU graduate teaching assistant three days a week and a live link-up with a professor at another university the other two.
One section of each class is offered. Elementary Arabic I takes about 20 students and is always full, with a waiting list, Mahir said. The classes are part of the German and Russian Studies Department.
"In spite of the interest and the people who need Arabic, they find themselves at the end of Arabic II with no options besides finding private tutors," he said.
Mahir said MU should begin offering intermediate-level classes and eventually evolve into a full-fledged program with classes on culture and advanced language.
The number of students who want to sign up for Elementary Arabic I would justify having two sections, he said, and between 75 percent and 80 percent of students take Elementary Arabic II after finishing the first course.
Sammie Hill, a student in Elementary Arabic II, is majoring in journalism and peace studies. "I'm currently planning two study abroad trips to supplement the education that I can't get on campus," she said.
Estimates on the number of people who speak some version of Arabic range from about 250 million to 340 million.
Students are attracted to studying Arabic for several reasons, Mahir said. One reason is that the Arabic world is so diverse that there are several versions of the language. There also is a strong global context for learning it.
"We are looking at a decade, if not more, of changes in that part of the world that are going to have a huge impact," Mahir said. "You don’t need anyone to tell you how important it is we expand, especially in this historical moment."
This triggers interest among students bound for certain professions, notably anthropology, international studies, linguistics, journalism and literature.
"It's amazing that MU in Columbia has not joined the train," he said.
Hill said there are students who don't start the program at all because they know they can't finish it at MU. "I think it's a shame that we strive to be such a global university and we're missing out on that part of the world," she said.
Meanwhile, the recent performance was a point of pride for the students.
"Arabic is a very hard language," said Benjamin Dixon, a political science and philosophy major. "I feel like we have learned a lot to put on a program like this."
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