By Laura Butler

In many other countries, children begin learning languages other than their native tongue when they enter kindergarten. The United States is slightly behind that learning curve, and has earned a bad reputation for lacking in cultural diversity.

But now, students at Eastern can further open their minds to different dialects, cultures and peoples by taking two classes in the foreign language department, Introduction to Arabic and Islamic Culture and Civilization.

According to Ezra Engling, chair of the foreign language and humanities department, Introduction to Arabic was removed from the course lineup in 2006 due to faculty staffing issues within the department.

Engling said the classes have been brought back because of student requests.

“Students are becoming more and more aware of the need for foreign language study,” Engling said.

The criminal justice and military science programs also made requests for the classes to be reinstated.

The department originally scheduled only one Introduction to Arabic class for this semester, but because of the large number of students who registered for the class, the department added another, which Engling said has filled just as quickly.

One of the e-mails Engling received requesting the class was from student who had served in Iraq who will receive a promotion if he studies beyond the dialect he picked up during his tour.

“The fact that occupations are offering incentives to their employees for studying Arabic shows a need for an increase in the understanding of the Islamic culture and Arabic language,” Engling said.

Arabic is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, but the United States only had eight Arabic speakers at the highest levels of proficiency in 2004.

Since then, the Association of American Universities, under the direction of and through funding from the national government, has developed a plan to remedy the shortage of Arabic speakers.

The end result is an initiative known as The National Security Language Initiative, a plan designed to “dramatically increase the number of Americans learning critical need foreign languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi [and] Farsi.”

The plan, which is already being implemented in many schools around the country, begins foreign language instruction at the kindergarten level and continues through formal schooling.

According to the initiative, the ability to communicate in other languages in order to “engage foreign governments and peoples” is an important part of post-9/11 security as well as a necessary measure to convey respect for other cultures.

Engling shared similar thoughts concerning the importance of learning Arabic.

“We are able to know and learn new things about the rest of the world through languages,” he said.

“We can’t afford to not know everything we can about the world we live in.