Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any courses in Colloquial Arabic? If so which dialect is taught (Egyptian, Levantine, North African, etc.)?

MESAAS offers a course entitled Spoken Arabic I, in the Fall, and II, in the Spring. The course has been focussed on Levantine Arabic, spoken in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and parts of Jordan, but can rotate dialects depending on students’ interests. This course requires two years of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or a beginner level of an Arabic dialect to be evaluated by the instructor before admission to the course.

What is MSA and how useful is it for my research or work in the region?

Like most academic institutions worldwide we teach Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), which is the language of media, literature, and education across the entire Arab World. Any highly educated native speaker is proficient in MSA. Although people do not speak MSA at home or in the street, courses, sources, archival materials, lectures, literary and academic works, newspaper articles and news broadcasts are in MSA.

I am a native speaker of Arabic. I already speak a dialect, but have never taken Arabic formally. Should I take an Arabic class? And if so, which course should I take?

You should take Arabic because, although related, Colloquial Arabic and MSA differ in many respects. All native speakers of Arabic study MSA at school. You should take Arabic for Heritage Speakers. For more information and a definition, please click here.

I know the Arabic alphabet, but I haven’t studied any Arabic formally. Which level should I take?

You have to take First Year Arabic I. Knowing the Arabic alphabet because you studied or know another language, such as Persian or Urdu, which uses the same writing system, or because you learned to recite the Qur’an, does not mean that you pronounce the sounds correctly or that you know how to speak, read, and write Arabic.

Can I take First Year Arabic I or Second Year Arabic I in the spring semester?

Yes. You can take the first two years of Arabic by starting in either the fall or spring semester. Third and Fourth Year courses start only in the fall and continue in the spring.

I have studied Arabic at a university or school other than Columbia. Which level should I enroll in?

You need to take a placement exam to determine the appropriate class for you.

What does the Placement Exam consist of and how can I take it?

The Placement Exam is very similar in content and format to a final exam. It is made up of three sections: Reading Comprehension, where you are asked to read a passage and answer questions, a grammar section, and a composition section where you write a short essay on one out of a few topics you can choose from. The exam takes about two hours. For the first two weeks of classes, your instructor will evaluate your level in speaking and monitor your general progress to make sure that you were placed in the appropriate level. If you were not, you will be informed before the drop deadline.

The Placement Exam is usually taken the week before classes start. Dates and rooms are posted here.

To arrange for a Placement Exam outside of these dates, please contact Professor Nouhi.

I have completed Third Year Arabic. What is the next course I should take?

You should take Fourth Year Arabic. The Fourth Year level consists of two courses: Modern Prose I in the fall, and Modern Prose II and Classical Prose in the spring. Although these are independent courses, we recommend that you take them in that sequence.

Are there any classes I can take beyond the Fourth Year level?

Fourth Year classes may be retaken, if the content changes. Please consult with the instructor. In addition, you can take graduate seminars, such as Readings in Classical Arabic. At least one seminar will be offered every semester.

I am considering taking an intensive summer program. What should I do?

You should contact Professor Taoufik Ben-Amor. There are a number of intensive programs you can apply to, including the Columbia Arabic Summer Program (CASP) in New York, and the Columbia Arabic Summer Program in Amman, Jordan (please see the list of programs under Web Resources). You need to do some research on these programs and make sure that the number of hours of classroom instruction and credits they offer are accepted by Columbia. Some programs do not prepare you adequately for the next level at Columbia, and you will have to redo a level. At any rate, you will be required to take a Placement Exam and show proof of attendance and transcripts from the summer program before you are admitted into a course at Columbia.

I have studied Arabic at an institution other than Columbia University and would like to transfer credits. Whom should I contact?

Please contact Professor Taoufik Ben-Amor. You need to bring your transcripts, samples of homework, tests, and the textbook you used if it was developed specifically for the program you attended.

I have already studied Arabic and would like to waive the University language requirement. What should I do?

You need to take an Arabic Proficiency Exam.

What does the Proficiency Exam consist of and how can I take it?

Contact Professor Taoufik Ben-Amor to arrange for a Proficiency Exam. The Proficiency Exam varies in content depending on undergraduate or graduate requirements. For undergraduates, it is similar to the Placement Exam (see above) to demonstrate competence equivalent to four semesters of the language as mandated by the University language requirement. For doctoral students, it consists of a selected text, generally in your area of specialization. You are expected to answer in writing some questions about the text, write a short essay on a related question, and translate a portion of the text into English (or possibly another language you share with the instructor giving you the test). The exam takes about two hours.

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