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Studying Arabic at Bryn Mawr

November 9, 2021 By Alex Kelly '23

A group of Arabic students recently visited Bryn Mawr's Special Collections to examine rare Arabic and Persian manuscripts, some dating back as far as the 10th century CE. This visit is an annual tradition for second-year students, and is a special opportunity for students to step beyond the textbook and learn firsthand about Middle Eastern artistic and literary traditions.

Bryn Mawr’s Arabic classes are taught five days a week, with two hour-and-a-half grammar sessions and three short drill sessions. While not a major, courses in Arabic fulfill the College’s language requirement and could count towards the Concentration in Middle East Studies Program. The language can be an ​added asset when studying archaeology, political science, art history, anthropology, and more.

“Our Bi-Co program is special, as it is small but rigorous,” says Manar Darwish, lecturer and program coordinator. 


Medieval Arabic Text

Close up of an illuminated manuscript from the collection

Learning Arabic at Bryn Mawr isn’t just vocabulary lists and grammar lessons. Darwish often calls for a break in the middle of class during which students are encouraged to share their favorite Arabic songs. There are also plenty of extracurricular activities for Arabic students: in addition to visiting Special Collections, students can attend movie nights, field trips, and concerts.

“Arabic is always thought of as hard to learn, but with perseverance, determination, and encouragement students become proficient in a time not much longer than that needed for other languages," says Darwish. "It is always heartwarming to see the students master the alphabet in a few weeks of the first semester, then to see them writing 10-page analytical papers by the time they graduate.”

In the summers, the Middle Eastern Studies department offers a yearly trip to Jordan. This trip involves intensive Arabic language study, field trips to exciting destinations around Jordan, cultural workshops, content courses on a wide range of subjects, and a five-week externship with a local Jordanian organization.

Arabic Language Program

Middle Eastern Studies Program