Friday Feature: Interview with Khalid Madhi, SMC Arabic Language Director

June 30, 2017


Khalid Madhi, PhD is the Language Director of the Arabic Academy here at SMC. Today, I had the pleasure of speaking with Khalid about his MIL experiences, both past and present. This is Khalid’s eighth summer with Middlebury Interactive Language Summer Academies. Over his first two years, Khalid worked as an Arabic teacher before transitioning to his current role as LD. Here is what Khalid has to say about his experiences at MIL, the importance of high school language learners, and the first week of the Arabic academy here at SMC:


Why MIL? What keeps you coming back for summers with the Arabic academy?


“For most of this 8 year period [that I have been with MIL], I was a doctoral student in Chicago. But I was also teaching at different universities in Chicago, and as of 2 years ago, I started teaching at a high school in Ohio. During the year, I teach political and social science. [Teaching with MIL] is a great ‘break’ for me to connect with my native tongue through teaching. But it is also a great opportunity to share my native tongue with students who are eager to learn. I often think of my students as particularly courageous for choosing to learn Arabic. It has a different script, sound system, and uses different muscles for pronunciations not found in English. It’s hard to master. Reading script from right to left is already a challenge. My students are courageous for taking on that job of learning a completely new language that doesn't have cognates with European languages. What keeps me coming back is that high energy of the students. Generally our academy is one of the smallest, so it's a small family.”


Why is it important that high schoolers to learn Arabic, and that we have opportunities to teach high schoolers Arabic?


"Arabic is widely known as one of the least-taught languages in the US. Over the last decade, the interest in Arabic has been increasing, but unfortunately interest starts at the college or university level. A lot of Arabic language learners at the university level have, for the most part, one goal - to work for a government agency. Those jobs are legitimate uses of the language. But I like us to encourage our students at an early age to learn the language for other careers; for business, scholarship, ethnographies, anthropology, journalism, or sociology where they can use their language skills to immerse themselves in societies. Or they can simply [learn Arabic] to appreciate the literature and poetry. So we like to encourage them to consider all the fascinating and diverse uses of our language -- and we don't want to wait until the first or second year of college!"


How was the first week in the Arabic Academy?


"It’s fascinating -- I don't recall a group that was as cohesive, as respectful, and as supportive of one another. We also take pride in having one of the most diverse language groups across all academies. This group is super energetic and committed to the language pledge, and the necessity of the language pledge. It’s a small group, so it really feels like a family. It was easy to get to know everyone very quickly.


Last night we had a tea time, or Café Arabiyya. We actually had students take orders at tables then go back to the kitchen and communicate with each other - for example, saying I need 3 green teas, 1 water, and a pastry. They interacted and explained the menu all in target language. By the end, we were running out of time - it was time for them to go to their rooms and go to bed. That tells me that they're enjoying every moment. They're constantly doing something - they're busy all the time. So I'm really happy to see that they were even enjoying the very last program of the night. The energy is high. We are trying to keep them interested and busy!" 


Assistant Arabic Language Director Courtney adds:

“This first week has been remarkably successful. It has been great to watch the progress of the beginners in particular.”


Parents, family, friends, and readers: please remember that the first calling home time is TOMORROW. For information on calling home times or tips on calling home conversations to maximize learning, check out our recent blog posts from Brenna Rice and Clara Hoellerbauer. 

For today's photos of students, please check our Facebook page

Calling Home Times: A Reminder from Brenna Rice, Office Manager at SMC Maximizing Your Learning: Calling Home Tips from Clara Hoellerbauer (SMC)