By DIONE HODGSON.
For years Arabic has been a language considered too complicated and too unusual for most, isolated to special interest schools and learning institutions.
Educational institutions across the country have seen massive increases in prospective students looking to broaden their horizons and aid their career ambitions by studying Arabic.
Charlene Darmadi, an education officer at WEA Adult Learning said they have seen a notable increase in interest for their beginners’ class.
“For the first time we had a full class in 2011, and we have seventeen students enrolled so far for this year,” Ms Darmadi said.
This is in comparison with previous years, where the enrolment numbers had never reached more than ten.
The trend has continued across the eastern states of Australia, with a number of leading universities citing massive growth in this language.
Professor Anne McLaren’s 2011 report Asian Languages Enrolments in Australian Higher Education 2008-9 illustrated that Arabic was fast becoming a fixture within many universities.
The report found that between 2001-2009 enrolments increased six fold at Australian National University, and doubled at both the University of Melbourne and University of Sydney.
Salwa Tawadrous, a tutor at the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Professional and Continuing Education, has taught the language for a number of years and is not surprised at its increase in popularity.
“The interest in learning about Arab countries and their associated culture has dramatically increased in the last few years,” Mrs Tawadrous said.
“This in turn has promoted people’s interest and awareness of the importance of learning the language itself.”
As well as increased media attention in recent years, Mrs Tawadrous believes there are many reasons why people are choosing to learn Arabic.
“People learn Arabic for wide range of reasons – they may have Arabic descent or (be) marrying into a family with Arabic decent,” she said.
“However, we have many students of non-Arabic descent learning Arabic for a different reasons, including improving their career prospects, travel, interest in history and ancient religions.”
Sian Cain, a journalism student at the University of South Australia has studied Arabic for three years as part of her degree.
In her beginners’ class there were more than 30 students, with their career paths ranging from politics to business.
She said there were many reasons why she chose to study Arabic over simpler European languages.
“I thought the Middle East was becoming more and more interesting in a position on the global stage, so as a journalist, I see myself going there much more than going to France or Italy,” Ms Cain said.
“It is also a big draw-card on my resume, because it is going to become far more important to be able to relate to people from that part of the world.”
The Middle East is fast becoming a region of vast investment and employment opportunities for Australia, as the world focuses on their large oil reserves and ever-growing wallets.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, a political and economic union including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabic and United Arab Emirates now has 63 million people and controls 40 per cent of the world’s known oil reserves.
This means that the region now has considerable economic and political power, and Australians must seek to broaden and strengthen their ties.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, there was AU$8.740 billion in trade between the two countries in 2010, mostly from key markets including passenger motor vehicles, agricultural exports and various services.
This trend is likely to continue as the two bodies work towards a Free Trade Agreement, first introduced in 2007.
Chris Heyson, Executive Officer of Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry in South Australia, said while speaking Arabic is not essential to do business in the Middle East, it does have its advantages.
“It is a big advantage in establishing relationships, not necessarily to speak it fluently, but to show that you’ve made the effort to learn some of the essential greetings and be able to speak a few sentences,” Mr Heysen said.
“If you make that attempt, you will establish those essential relationships a lot more quickly and more easily.”
The Federal Government has also noted the importance of Asian languages including Arabic, as well as critical shortages of speakers in some areas.
A Flood Report, released in 2004, showed that Australia had a critically low number of Arabic speakers in the intelligence and military community, as well as in the media.
This was highlighted in 2006, when Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, Australia’s most senior Muslim cleric, declared in a sermon that immodestly dressed women who do not wear the Islamic headdress are akin to meat that is left uncovered in the street.
It took weeks for the story to rear its head, mainly because no one could translate his speech from Arabic.
To address some of these issues, the Federal Government released in late 2011 it’s The Shape of the Australian: Languages program, which aims to promote languages across the country.
The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority will work with states and territories on national curriculums, beginning with Chinese and Italian, before moving onto other highlighted languages, including Arabic.
Peter Garrett, Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth said the program would aim to bring languages to every child in the country.
“This is part of a renewed national focus on the learning of languages other than English,” he said.
With more than 300,000 Arabic speakers in Australia, and millions more around the world, Arabic is fast becoming a popular choice for students to choose as they seek to gain employment in an ever-tightening market.
For those who find the idea a bit daunting, private tutor Dr Imran Ahmad said there are a few easy ways to get people started.
“Arabic is a much more consistent language in terms of pronunciation than the English language,” he said.
“Just watching Arabic Sesame Street is a good place to start.”