Honors student learns Arabic in a year

Nov 12, 2013

Jacob in MoroccoJacob Thompson is a fast learner. A senior Honors student, Jacob picked up a new language in less than a year, and it wasn’t an easy one to learn.

Thanks to a scholarship from the U.S. State Department, Jacob is now one of nearly 300 million people worldwide who speak fluent Arabic. To qualify for the Critical Language Scholarship Program, he had to have one year’s worth of language instruction. Through the scholarship program, he followed that with a boot camp of sorts, traveling to Tangier, Morocco, for eight weeks in the summer for the ultimate language immersion program.

“We had to sign a contract that we would only speak Arabic while we were there,” said Jacob, a political science major who will complete his Heidelberg coursework in December. “Trying to maintain the language pledge was tough.”

To prepare for the program, Jacob spent the fall semester a year ago in Washington, D.C., completing a Secret Service internship, taking Arabic language courses at George Washington University and studying with a private tutor, all in preparation for his travel to Tangier.

“The eight weeks in Morocco was so intense that it encompassed an entire year of coursework,” explained Jacob, who also speaks a bit of Spanish. The first couple of weeks were challenging but by the end of the experience, he felt comfortably fluent with his new language skills.

Since 2006, the Critical Language Scholarship Program has offered intensive overseas study in the critical need foreign languages of such as Arabic, Bangla, Hindi, Punjabi, Turkish and Urdu. In 2013, approximately 600 scholarships were awarded for 13 languages. The program provides students with 20 hours of language instruction each week, along with co-curricular activities, language partners, cultural activities and excursions.

Through the scholarship program, Jacob spent his time at the Arab American Language Institute of Morocco. “I always wanted to learn a really different language,” he said. “Hiring for political science majors with and without a critical language is like night and day. (Arabic language skills) will be more applicable to the government work I want to do.”

To date, he’s applied for several Department positions. That would be his “dream job,” especially if it involved assignment to northern Africa. He looks forward to his transition to the working world and the challenges that await.