Appeal for Arabic
Mutiny.That was the word Elsaid Badawi used to describe the state of the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) when he arrived at AUC in November 1969.The students had locked themselves in a room and declared,“Our contract is to study Arabic, not to study with teachers!” Badawi, who was recruited by CASA’s director to quell the student rebellion and revamp the curriculum, stormed into the hostile classroom and immediately made it known that he was a professor of a different stock.“I see all of you here,” he said.“You are all college graduates, and if you think I’m going to teach you Arabic, you are mistaken. I am simply a resource for you to learn Arabic.”
Four decades later, Elsaid Badawi is still a professor with CASA, an organization that honored his service earlier this year by presenting him with the CASA Lifetime Contribution Award. Modest about his achievements, Badawi declared that all of the other CASA professors and students deserve the same recognition.
Originally a professor at Cairo University, Badawi jumped at the opportunity to join AUC.With the motto “languages are to be learned, never taught,” he became CASA’s curriculum adviser in 1970. His approach to ensure his students learned the language was to give them stacks of reading material in Arabic to improve their comprehension –– up to 15 books each semester, three short stories and a play to read each weekend.
AUC rewarded his successful resuscitation of the CASA program by offering him tenure after only two years. In the years since, Badawi’s involvement has shifted to various other positions, including executive director. In addition to this, he has authored two widely acclaimed Egyptian publications: Mustawayat Al-Arabiyya Al-Mu’asira fi Misr and A Dictionary of Egyptian Arabic:Arabic-English. He recently republished Modern Written Arabic: A Comprehensive Grammar and Dictionary of Qur’anic Usage.
Today,CASA is famous in the United States and throughout the world as one of the best language-study programs. Badawi attributes the success of the program to the type of students it has always attracted, which he also says is what motivated him to stick with CASA over the years. “CASA students are incredibly eager to learn, very worried about the grades they get and take studying very seriously. The secret to CASA’s success is the willingness to trust the students to commit the time and effort required to learn Arabic,” he said.
Similarly, the students testify t_o Badawi’s commitment. Aysha Selim ’85, who is currently studying for a master’s at AUC in Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language,was grateful for Badawi’s belief in her.“If it hadn’t been for him, I would have probably not continued,” she said.“I was behind my colleagues, but he could see through me and believed in me. In just a month, I had caught up and he said to me,‘You have an instinctive feel for the language and intelligence that make up for lack of grammatical knowledge, and this is what language is all about.’Another professor would have probably judged me on grammatical knowledge and failed me.And now two years into the program, I’m invited to attend the MESA conference on Arabic language in Boston.This it what makes him [Badawi] special and different.”
By Jeffrey Bellis