Professor Nabil Abdelfattah stood in the center of a circle of chairs occupied by over 20 students enrolled in his beginning Arabic course.
"Akhdar," he prompts, elongating each significant sound.
"Akhdar!" they repeat.
"Not Ahhk-dar," he corrects, "Aachhh…" he says again, emphasizing the throaty sound, "…daaaahr."
"Aachhh-daaaahr," each student responds.
"Good," Abdelfattah says, after students correctly pronounce the word. The students, representing a variety of majors and backgrounds, just learned the word for "green" in Arabic.
This is the first semester that Mills has offered Arabic as demands for college-level Arabic language courses rise. The number of students at U.S. colleges enrolled in Arabic language courses underwent a 92.3 percent increase between 1998 and 2002, according to a Modern Language Association survey.
Here at Mills, students' motivations for learning Arabic are varied.
Anu Bhatt, a sophomore and International Relations major, says that Arabic proficiency will prove to be a valuable addition to her course of study. "My major has a lot to do with the study of the Middle East, and knowing Arabic will come in handy."
Other students, like junior Chemistry major Maggie Reynolds, are attracted to Arabic because it's unique. "It's uncommon," says Reynolds. "A lot of people say they can speak Spanish, French or German, but how many can say they speak Arabic?"
And for some students, like Biology and Music major Linda Abdallah, studying Arabic is a way to connect with their cultural heritage. "I'm half Egyptian, and I've always wanted to learn a language that's part of my culture," says Abdallah.
Despite overwhelming student interest, Arabic is still awaiting approval for accreditation.
According to Provost and Dean of Faculty Dr. Mary-Ann Milford, the approval of this semester's Arabic course is essentially a matter of "putting it on paper."
"I don't see any issue or problem," she says. "We're very excited about our ability to offer the class and the fact that so many students are interested in it."