How do you say “hello” in Arabic?
We don’t know either.
And starting next year, UC Santa Cruz students won’t have the chance to learn. A slow decomposition of the language program first led Arabic 1 through 3 off campus, to UC Extension from UC Berkeley, but the Berkeley Near Eastern studies department has dropped its financial support of the online course. And, as we’ve often seen with other programs, what leaves the classrooms does not often tend to return.
This is the latest development in the degeneration of UCSC’s language program. UCSC only offers 12 languages: Chinese, French, German, ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. However, many of these classes are consistently at maximum capacity, and all but Spanish and French begin yearlong sequences in the fall quarter.
UC Berkeley offers 13 undergraduate courses in Arabic. UCSC students pay the same as Berkeley students but have no opportunities to learn Arabic on campus. UCLA, at the same cost, offers more than 40 languages, from commonly taught languages like Spanish to more obscure languages like classical Uzbek. UCSC’s scant selection of languages offered is heavily Eurocentric, with the exception of only Chinese, Hindi, Hebrew and Japanese.
Clearly we can’t compete with the better-funded, larger campuses of UCLA and Berkeley. But Santa Barbara and Irvine, which have only 5,000 more students than UCSC, offer not just Arabic but lower- and upper-division Farsi and Korean. Irvine’s selection of languages includes Vietnamese and Tagalog, and choices at Santa Barbara include Yiddish and Tibetan. Considering UCSC’s scant choices, it’s not surprising that it is also one of the only UC campuses with no language requirement.
With no Arabic — and few courses on the Middle East and Islam — UCSC discourages a significant population of potential students from attending. Beyond having no opportunity to major in Middle or Near Eastern studies, UCSC students will find it difficult to study abroad or work in Arabic-speaking countries. Arabic is spoken by over 323 million people worldwide, and is the official language of 25 countries, the third most after English and French. By not giving foreign language study the importance it deserves, we limit students’ opportunities and discourage work in international relations.
Global awareness and interaction grow ever more relevant. The United States is unpopular in much of the world today. Its oft-perceived superiority complex is not helped by the lack of opportunity for students to engage with other cultures through language. It is important that Americans view themselves as citizens of a global society. The first step is giving UCSC students the chance to learn “hello.”