Learning the language; Arabic

In between trying to remember the Arabic words for snowy and cold, Zak Khayat ate a sandwich, yogurt and orange.

As part of a pilot program at State College Area High School, Khayat and 12 of his classmates meet three days a week to study Arabic. The district is considering whether to become the first in Centre County, and one of only a few in the state, to add an Arabic language program to the curriculum. It’s also considering adding Mandarin Chinese at the high school, although school board members say budget constraints could halt both plans.

Most of the students now studying Arabic take the class during their lunch breaks and receive learning enrichment credit.

"The Middle East is really big in the news right now, so having people speak Arabic would really help," said Khayat, a high school junior who plans to become an engineer. He thinks Arabic would be an asset if he pursues a field connected to petroleum or natural gas.

He's also one of the few State College students with a personal connection to the language. His father, who emigrated from Syria to the United States for higher education, grew up speaking Arabic. Before enrolling in the high school class, Khayat knew a few phrases, such as "marhaban" (hello) and "kayfa halluk?" (how are you?).

It's a challenging language — different sounds, different alphabet — but the students enrolled in the pilot program think it'll help them in college and beyond, whether they're studying linguistics or working overseas.

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