PORTLAND, Maine — With a new course launched this fall, Portland’s Deering High School became the first public school in Maine to have an Arabic language class, the city school department announced this week.
The new class joins a University of Southern Maine Mandarin Chinese course hosted at Deering in the school’s suite of world language offerings. Both are open to qualifying high school students.
The Arabic class is taught by Abdullahi Ahmed, a Deering science teacher from Somalia whose schooling through college was done in the language.
About 290 million people worldwide are native Arabic speakers, including majorities in Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Arabic is also one of about 60 languages spoken by students of Portland Public Schools in their homes, with just less than 5 percent of the district’s 7,000 students calling Arabic their home language.
That’s more than the number who speak French — 1.73 percent — or Spanish — with 2.95 percent.
“One student in the class, who previously lived in Iraq and Egypt, can read, write and speak Arabic fluently,” reads a school announcement of the class, in part. “Several others have varying abilities in the language and two are rank beginners. That’s a challenge, especially given that students must master a new alphabet and learn to read in the opposite direction than English — right to left, rather than vice versa.
“Ahmed has students use their iPads to practice writing a few new words every day,” the announcement continues. “He tailors assignments to their language abilities. On one recent day, beginning students practiced reading and saying numbers from one to 20, while others worked on inserting verb tenses into sentences. Ahmed plans to teach students about Arabic cultures as well as the modern Arabic language.”