By Vanisha Rajesh
Dr. David Wilmsen, the new head of the American University of Sharjah’s (AUS) Department of Arabic and Translation Studies, wants to make the university a more desirable destination for foreign students wanting to study Arabic in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Having had the experience of studying away from home when he was a student himself, Dr. Wilmsen is planning to use his experience to make AUS attract more people from Europe, North America, Asia and even Australia to study Arabic here at American University of Sharjah.
He also wants to raise awareness within the AUS community about Arabic and translation studies to attract more students into the department. He especially wants to target non-native speakers of Arabic who do not know the university teaches Arabic as a foreign language.
Dr. Wilmsen earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of New Mexico, his master’s degree in near eastern studies from the University of Arizona, and his PhD in Arabic language and linguistics from the University of Michigan. He also studied at Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan, and at the Center for Arabic Studies Abroad at American University in Cairo.
Dr. Wilmsen’s professional history includes working at the American University in Cairo as the Director of the Arabic and Translation Studies Division, and as Associate Dean for Instructional Affairs. He also worked as a Visiting Associate Professor of Arabic at Georgetown University and as a Professor of Arabic at The American University of Beirut.
Dr. Wilmsen aims to get the department involved in teaching “heritage language learners,” a term he used to describe “people that have acquired Arabic as a native language or near-native language but who may or may not know how to read and write.”
He said completing this goal will involve many tasks. One of them is bringing the teaching of Arabic into the modern world.
“The language has been taught the same way for a long time. The method is old fashioned, and there are ways that could make it more interesting to native speakers of Arabic,” said Dr. Wilmsen. “The method [of teaching] the language is all that needs to be revised, but the language is basically a rich legacy. So I want to start equipping people who want to teach Arabic with more modern and effective teaching techniques.”
According to Dr. Wilmsen, “students who want a career in teaching Arabic themselves need to know that it is a skill with high ‘symbolic value’ but not necessarily the ‘instrumental value’ that translates into a job with a high salary.”
Some of the changes that may be implemented include teaching Arabic for special purposes such as Arabic translation and interpreting, Arabic writing for mass media, and Arabic and big data applications.
He added that Arabic is one of the most widely used languages on television. And high-tech professionals working in Arabic would benefit not only from knowing a particular dialect but also from the context derived from a knowledge of the Arabic heritage.
He appealed to all students to consider studying Arabic. “It’s a fascinating language. There are many dimensions and potential possibilities for study,” Dr. Wilmsen insisted.
The Department of Arabic and Translation Studies at AUS offers a Master of Arts in Arabic/English/Arabic Translation and Interpreting as well as a Minor in Arabic Language and Literature and a Minor in English/Arabic Translation.
Vanisha Rajesh is a student at American University of Sharjah.
Visit www.aus.edu for more information about American University of Sharjah