Student learning Arabic gets six week language adventure in Morocco

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- More and more American students are studying Arabic. It’s among the fastest growing high school language programs nationally. This week’s FOX 4 Young Achiever is right in the middle of that trend. And he leaves next week on a summer adventure of learning where Arabic is all he will speak – and where he’ll prepare to be a future global leader.

Like Japanese, Korean and Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese, Arabic is considered one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn. But after two years of studying Arabic with teacher Annie Hasan at Shawnee Mission West High School and going with her on a language and cultural exchange visit to Qatar this spring, rising senior Adam Wilkerson says he’s getting the hang of it.

“I feel like I have a good grasp on reading and writing and communicating in Arabic,” said Adam, this week’s FOX 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever. “I think I’d be able to communicate with a native speaker pretty well.”

Adam is on social media with Arabic-speaking friends in the U-S and Arab countries. And he spends time on various Arabic news websites to help him pick up the language faster and get better informed on Arab issues, current events and culture.

“I feel like it stems from I’ve always been interested in international politics and how nation’s interact and the dialogue between nations,” said Adam. “And I think that Arabic kind of stems out of that since it covers such a huge part of the world with so many different nations and that it’s such a vibrant part of the world where there’s constant political evolution.”

Adam is taking a giant leap forward this summer in his goal of mastering Arabic. He’ll travel to Morocco in North Africa where he will live and study for six weeks, learning Arabic and immersing himself in the culture and everyday life of that Arab nation.

“For Adam, to be able to study in Morocco, he’s going to feel it,” said Annie Hasan, Adam’s Arabic teacher at Shawnee Mission West High School. “He’s going to live it to the very authentic experience. When Adam is in a marketplace in Morocco, he’s going to smell certain things. He’s going to hear certain things.” Adam will go to Morocco on scholarship, selected by the U.S. State Department for its National Security Language Initiative for Youth program. Part of the purpose of the program is to prepare young Americans to be global leaders.

“My expectation is to no longer think in English before I have to translate that sentence into Arabic and then speak it to a level where I can just click right into Arabic, said Adams. “And then just get my point across. That’s my ultimate goal with this.”

And Hasan says Adam is the perfect high school student to get this experience, both for his own goals and to represent the U.S. abroad.

“I think Adam is going to be one of the best ambassadors that they have chosen for this program,” said Hasan. "He knows enough that he’ll create more of a bridge than anything else. He’ll provide the human element that programs like this seek out. They want to bridge communities. They want to bridge cultures. And they want to create a better understanding.”

Adam gets it.

“As time goes on, these countries are just going to become more and more important,” said Adam. “We need to have people that can speak the language, understand the culture.” To be a living bridge between countries and cultures at a critical time in history.

According to the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian are the easiest languages for native English speakers to learn, taking an average 600 class hours to achieve proficiency. That’s because of their closeness to English. Arabic and the East Asia languages, by contrast, take an average 2,200 class hours, nearly four times longer. That’s because of Arabic’s lack of vowels and it’s totally different alphabet. And the East Asian languages require memorization of more than 1,000 unique characters.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.