Need for specialized language courses
I always try to dig deep into the past of any American, Russian or European ambassador serving in Arab and Middle Eastern countries. Ambassadors stationed in this region are still fluent in Arabic and know the region well. Similarly, when I consider the backgrounds of ambassadors serving in any of these countries in the Middle East, I notice that they are fluent in Farsi at official and diplomatic levels.
As far as studies and research are concerned, it can be noted that the Middle East studies centers of Western universities are full of students from these countries as well as from the rest of the world who seek to specialize in the Middle and Middle East and to learn the languages of the countries of these two regions.
Western universities have programs for teaching the languages of the countries in these regions. These universities also offer their students the opportunity to spend three to six months in an Arab country such as Egypt or Lebanon, and more recently some Gulf countries. Most major universities have departments or colleges for teaching foreign languages and the arts.
When I look at Qatar, I find great diversity when it comes to the subjects taught in the colleges of Hamad bin Khalifa University. These subjects are taught in specialized colleges. Since its opening, Qatar University has also made significant progress in the field of humanities and education. The university discontinued some specializations, but shortly after launched others in a good move that meets the demands of the labor market and the development needs of Qatar.
Despite efforts in this regard, foreign languages as independent humanities specializations and the study of different regions such as the Near East and Iran have not made much progress in higher education in Qatar.
Qatar University, for example, teaches English language and arts as a major. English arts students, however, only study the French language superficially. Arabic is also taught as a specialization, but Arabic students are given superficial information about Farsi.
There are no specialized courses at the university on major regions of the world.
Hamad bin Khalifa University recently opened a new institute for translation studies. The institute is important for capacity building in this country. It has a language center, but it only offers training in our mother tongue, French and Spanish. The institute must also offer specialization in other languages, depending on the economic and cultural importance of the regions in which these languages are spoken.
The universities of the countries around us have educational programs in this regard. At the University of Tehran, for example, there is a major in Arabic language and arts. There are also colleges specializing in teaching foreign languages and the arts. Eight languages are taught as majors while four other languages are taught as a second language with these majors. These languages are taught under bilateral agreements between the university and the governments of the countries where these languages are spoken, such as China, Japan, Russia, Greece, South Korea, France, Colombia and Spain.
At the Australian National University, the Center for Arabic and Islamic Studies (Middle East and Central Asia) offers, in addition to the main specialization, a language program on each Arab country, Turkey and Iran. The language course lasts one and a half months during the university’s summer holidays (in December and January) each year. The program proves to be very popular among students.
At the diplomatic level, I hope that an agreement will be signed between Qatar University, the Foreign Service School of Georgetown University in Qatar and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to prepare future diplomats so that these diplomats can be versed not only in diplomacy, which is always part of the study of international affairs at both universities, but in the business and languages of the countries of the regions where they will be assigned.
The international affairs departments of both universities offer in-depth and general studies of international affairs, including politics and economics. In Washington, Georgetown University is near the Department of Middle Eastern Studies. The center is located in the middle of the university. This opens up a wide range of choices for students. These choices are not available to students from other universities, including Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar.
This is why it is important for us, after meeting the basic requirements and needs, to adapt programs in politics and international relations that train scholars specialized in international affairs. These scholars would be a boon to international policy research centers in Qatar. They will also be able to become diplomats versed in international relations. These people can best serve the diplomatic missions of their country.
Apart from English, which almost all of us study, it is important that Farsi is the focus of our studies, given that Iran is close to the Gulf.
Farsi is spoken in three unstable countries, namely Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Hebrew was also forcibly placed at the center of Arab political interests. We must study Farsi as part of our interest in the countries that speak this language. As for Hebrew, you have to study the language of the occupier.
This is why we want the organizations concerned in our country to look into these questions so that our educational centers produce the talents that our country needs in the light of the changes taking place in our region.