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Need for specialised language courses

May 15, 2014 - 5:11:34 am

I always try to dig deep into the background of any US, Russian or European ambassador posted to Arab and Middle Eastern countries. Ambassadors posted to this region are always fluent in Arabic and well-versed in the region. By the same token, when I consider the background of ambassadors posted from any of these countries to the Near East, I notice that they are fluent in Farsi at the official and diplomatic levels.

When it comes to study and research, one can notice that Middle East studies centres at Western universities teem with students from these countries as well as from the rest of the world who seek to specialise in the Middle and Near East and learn the languages of the countries in these two regions.

Universities in the West have programmes for teaching the languages of the countries of these regions. These universities also offer their students the chance to spend three to six months in an Arab country like Egypt or Lebanon, and more recently some Gulf countries. Most major universities have departments or colleges for teaching foreign languages and arts.

When I look at Qatar, I find great diversity when it comes to subjects taught at the colleges of Hamad bin Khalifa University. These subjects are taught in specialised colleges. Since its opening, the University of Qatar has also made important strides in humanities and educational sciences. The university discontinued some specialisations, but a short time later started others in a good move that suits the requirements of the job market and the developmental needs of Qatar. 

Despite the efforts made in this regard, foreign languages as independent humanities specialiszations and study of different regions such as the Near East and Iran have not made much headway in higher education in Qatar.

The University of Qatar, for example, teaches English language and arts as a specialisation. Students of English arts, however, only study the French language in a superficial manner. Arabic is also taught as a specialisation, but students of Arabic are given superficial information about Farsi. 

There is no specialised course in the university about important regions of the world. 

Hamad bin Khalifa University recently opened a new institute for translation studies. The institute is important for building capacities in this country. It has a language centre, but it offers training in only our native tongue, French and Spanish. The institute needs to offer specialisation in other languages too, depending on the economic and cultural importance of the regions those languages are spoken in. 

Universities in countries around us have educational programmes in this regard. At the University of Tehran, for example, there is a major in Arabic language and arts. There are also colleges specialising in the teaching of foreign languages and arts. Eight languages are taught as majors while four more languages are taught as a second language with these majors. These languages are being taught in the light of bilateral agreements between the university and the governments of countries where these languages are spoken, such as China, Japan, Russia, Greece, South Korea, France, Colombia and Spain. 

At the National Australian University, the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (the Middle East and Central Asia) offers, apart from the main specialisation, a language programme about each Arab country, Turkey and Iran. The language course lasts a month and a half during the summer vacation of the university (in December and January) every year. The programme is proving very popular among students. 

At the diplomatic level, I hope that an agreement would be signed between Qatar University, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for grooming future diplomats so that these diplomats can be well-versed not only in diplomacy, which is always a part of the study of international affairs at the two universities, but in the affairs and languages of the countries in the regions they will be posted to. 

The international affairs departments at both universities offer comprehensive and general studies in these affairs, including politics and economics. In Washington, Georgetown University lies in close proximity to the Department for Middle East Studies. The centre is located in the middle of the university. This opens up a wide range of choices for the students. These choices are not available to students in other universities, including Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. 

This is why it is important for us, after meeting the basic requirements and needs, to tailor programmes in politics and international relations that groom researchers specialising in international affairs. These researchers would be a boon for international policy research centres in Qatar. They will also be fit to become diplomats well-versed in international relations. These people can best serve their country’s diplomatic missions. 

Apart from English, which is studied by almost all of us, it is important for Farsi to be at the centre of our studies, given the fact that Iran lies in close proximity to the Gulf. 

Farsi is spoken in three volatile countries, namely Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Hebrew has also been forcibly put at the centre of Arab political interests. We need to study Farsi as a part of our interest in countries that speak the language. As for Hebrew, we need to study the language of the occupier.

This is why we hope that the agencies concerned in our country focus on these issues so that our educational centres produce talent our country needs in the light of changes taking place in our region.