As the State Department funded 2011 Arabic Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program in Tangier draws to a close, it's time to reflect on what makes Tangier a special place to learn Arabic. Tangier is but one of several sites for CLS Arabic programs; there is our sister AIMS institute CEMAT in Tunis, but also programs in Fes, Muscat, and Amman, administered by CAORC, the Council of American Overseas Research Centers.
The flavor of spoken Arabic in each of these sites will be different, but the strength of the CLS approach is that it gets the students to use their Arabic, and perhaps worry less about distinctions between classical and colloquial.
The Tangier program has for years conducted its classes at the American School of Tangier, providing the students with a leafy campus and air-conditioning for their sessions with teachers, speaking partners, and tutors. AST, despite its new-town location, is a venerable institution, having just celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2010.
For the students who want to go a bit further back with American institutions in Morocco, there's the American Legation in the medina: you can't get more historic than that. We at TALIM are their local AIMS host. Beyond helping to make logistical arrangements, the Legation provides the students unique opportunities to engage with Moroccans they might otherwise not have met, and to participate in other TALIM programs.
Last year, we took initial steps to bring TALIM's other Arabic program – our women's literacy program – into proximity with CLS. Thanks to TALIM Associate Director Yhtimad Bouziane's efforts, this year has seen a blossoming of those linkages. As she did last year, Arabic women's literacy teacher Fatima Benguerch (top and bottom photos), a permanent member of the TALIM staff, has used the summer break to teach American CLS students, and is a valued speaking partner.
This year, when Yhtimad and Fatima enrolled the women of the literacy program for joint sessions with the CLS students, the excitement was palpable on both sides. Already, the medina women are "regulars" in these historic surroundings, and many CLS students appreciate the chance not just to tour the Legation during their orientation, but to return to it for a series of cultural and educational activities.
These have included the initial meeting over tea with their host families, lectures by leading Tangier experts on the city's history and the environment of the surrounding region, participation in Legation activities such as our July fundraiser and our reception for an American film maker. We have encouraged contact between CLS students and visiting AIMS Maghribi Grantees. Finally, a strong delegation of CLS staff, teachers, and students attended the annual Ramadan concert.
After this strong showing in 2011, we hope to involve even more students with TALIM's other programs next year. Already, students have shown a great interest in our research library, and a 2010 CLS graduate has plans to return to Tangier to work intensively with our women's literacy program. Of the 2011 cohort, one student is hoping to present a paper at next year's AIMS conference in Tangier on Berber language and culture.
When it comes down to it, that's the beauty of the CLS Tangier program: tapping into the language expertise offered by the faculty recruited specifically for this program; absorbing Moroccan culture in Tangier, a city ideally situated to offer a wide exposure to art, literature, and music; and partaking of the American-Moroccan heritage embodied in the Tangier American Legation, America's oldest diplomatic building, a symbol of its engagement with the Arab world going back to the late 1700s.
Arabic, it would seem, is in our DNA.
Gerald Loftus; Photos furnished by Tangier CLS Site Director Michael Allan