The Arabic Flagship Program, UArizona Attracts New Students and Provides Virtual Immersion Experiences

The University of Arizona was awarded an Arabic Flagship Grant for four more years, allowing for top-tier Arabic training – including virtual immersion experiences – to all Arabic learners.
Students in Meknes, Morocco
Arizona Arabic Flagship students during a study abroad trip to Meknes, Morocco, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the summer, students participated in interactive virtual tours of Morocco.

Over the summer, Arabic classes at the University of Arizona were three times their normal size. In addition to learning Arabic with new web-based materials, students could participate in virtual cultural activities with people in Morocco.

Such programming is possible in part because of funding from the Arizona Arabic Flagship Program, which has won a new $1.4 million grant for 2020-2024 – plus summer and year-long study abroad scholarships for each Flagship student – from the National Security Education Program. The federal program supports the learning of languages considered critical for U.S national security and economic competitiveness. 

The University of Arizona is one of only six institutions in the country selected to host an Arabic Flagship Program, which helps undergraduate students from diverse majors reach superior-level fluency in Arabic by graduation. Housed in the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Arizona Arabic Flagship Program is directed by MENAS Associate Professor Sonia Shiri.

“Language Flagship students belong to a distinguished national cohort of future leaders who possess language and cultural training that is rarely attainable at the undergraduate level,” said Shiri. “Our graduates find the Flagship Program prepares them for a variety of careers, and their advanced Arabic and global experience makes them desirable job and graduate school applicants.”

"The University of Arizona is committed to preparing students for success at the local, regional, national and global levels. To succeed in next-generation careers, students ideally will know a second language and have a deep understanding of and appreciation for the diverse cultures of our world," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "This funding underscores the strength of our Arabic program and will help support our students as they develop the skills in this critical area. I am incredibly proud we were selected to host this program and I am excited for what this will mean for our students."

The Arabic Flagship Program is one of several indicators of the excellence of the Arabic program at the University of Arizona. The university offers Arabic Project Global Officer, or Project GO, a federally funded program which improves the language competency, regional expertise and intercultural communication skills of ROTC students. A year ago, the university took over from Harvard as host of the Center for Arabic Study Abroad, or CASA, a national program considered the pinnacle of Arabic training.

The university also offers an Arabic major and a Jumpstart Arabic program for high school juniors and incoming first-year students.

Arizona Flagship students study a variety of colloquial Arabic dialects in addition to Modern Standard Arabic. The rigorous program promotes accelerated learning, and Flagship students receive one-on-one tutoring twice a week. Students are also paired with native speakers from campus who meet with them every week to practice Arabic in a more unstructured environment.

Flagship students can apply for Flagship scholarship money for a summer abroad or for their required capstone year of overseas study in Morocco. For this grant cycle, the University of Arizona is supplementing those funds, making participation nearly cost-free to qualifying students.

UArizona also partnered with the University of Hawaii’s Flagship Technology Innovation Center to create a technology-mediated program that teaches Moroccan Arabic to Flagship students before they go to Morocco. Shiri is the project lead and is piloting the course in the Arizona Arabic Flagship program prior to its use by the other five Flagship institutions.

Creating a Virtual Immersion Experience During a Pandemic

This summer, the Arizona Arabic Program attracted roughly 80 students from around the country in each of its two, five-week summer sessions, which was triple the number of students usually enrolled. Many students who normally would have studied abroad signed up, including Project GO students and students from other universities. The sessions also included students from the Jumpstart Arabic Program.

In response to this demand for Arabic, Shiri quickly adapted the curriculum to the realities of the pandemic by creating new web-based materials for three levels of Arabic. Self-paced learning outside the classroom was paired with active engagement in the virtual classroom.

Trying to replicate the cultural immersion of study abroad was an additional challenge.

Sonia Shiri
Sonia Shiri

“One of the things we wanted to solve was how to give students a taste of an overseas environment while they are sitting at home,” Shiri said.  “And that was something we wanted to solve not just for the Flagship students, but for all participants – the Project GO students, the Jumpstart students, and other independent students who came to us from all over the U.S. We decided to give everyone the opportunity to participate in the virtual cultural program we created.”

Shiri devised the cultural curriculum with Driss Cherkaoui, academic director of the overseas partner institution, Arab American Language Institute in Morocco, or AALIM, based in Meknes, Morocco.

In addition to attending guest lectures and film screenings, students participated in cultural clubs and interactive virtual tours of Morocco. The cooking and music clubs were led by instructors from AALIM, while the calligraphy club was led by Abdessalem Choura, a UArizona instructor. The interactive tours, led by AALIM instructors and local experts, took students in real time around the old medina of Meknes to acquaint them with its souks (traditional markets), historical landmarks, Andalusian architecture, art and traditions.

“The traditional herbal medicine bazaar was surprisingly the most popular destination,” Shiri noted.

Shiri added, “The biggest challenge was the technology failing on us, like in the bazaars deep in the middle of the old town, where the walls are really thick adobe. Our partners bought a new wi-fi booster, which helped.”

Attracting New Students

The Arabic Jumpstart Program has been a pipeline for students coming to the University of Arizona and joining the Arabic Flagship Program. The Jumpstart Program allows high school juniors and seniors to take an intensive Arabic summer course for college credit at a reduced tuition rate. Incoming UArizona students can receive a scholarship from the Flagship Program to supplement their tuition and fees for the summer session and are assigned tutors and mentors.

This year 31 of the 33 Jumpstart students came from outside Arizona. Six of the Jumpstart students have enrolled at the University of Arizona this fall as Flagship students, and two are the first ever to start in fourth-year Arabic.

Claire Holloway started this fall as an Arizona Flagship student after two summers of participating in the Jumpstart program. She is majoring in Arabic, PPEL (philosophy, politics, economics and law), and Middle Eastern and North African studies and wants to pursue a career in diplomacy or international law after graduation.

“I had always wanted to join a Flagship school and complete my capstone year in Morocco, and I ended up choosing the UA because of the amount and quality of programs offered,” Holloway said. “There is the Jumpstart program of course, and the UA now hosts the CASA program. In addition, Flagship gives us small-group tutoring sessions which provides us with the one-on-one assistance we need. I'm so glad to be a student with the Arizona Flagship program!”




The desire to collaborate across departments to create lasting impacts is at the heart of the Arizona Arabic Flagship. The Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language and Literacy (CERCLL) and the Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching (SLAT) continue to be important campus units for collaboration on advances in language pedagogy. From May 26, 2015 to June 5, 2015, the Arizona Arabic Flagship in collaboration CERCLL and SLAT held a Flagship teacher training workshop entitled: Innovative Technologies for Advanced Language and Cultural Learning. The workshop was supported by a Flagship teacher training grant awarded to the Arizona Arabic Flagship and CERCLL in fall 2014. X faculty members from partnering Flagship and Project GO institutions from around the country applied, were accepted, and participated in the workshop. The two-week workshop was held on the University of Arizona campus at the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies. The second week of the workshop series was open to all full-time K-12 language educators and was heavily advertised. Four of the UA program’s Arabic instructors served as facilitators in the workshop and supported other participants.

One of the many highlights of the workshop series was the address given by Andrew Comrie, UA Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs & Provost, who came to the department to meet and speak with the workshop participants, including the many Flagship and Project GO representatives. Provost Comrie reiterated the University’s appreciation of and commitment to the goals of the Flagship program. It was a firm display of the University administration’s institutional commitment to the Arizona Arabic Flagship.

The program for Innovative Technologies for Advanced Language and Cultural Learning included:

Flagship Workshop Schedule, May 26-June 5, 2015

Week 1: May 26 - May 30

Integrating Technology to Effectively Build Advanced Linguistic and Cultural Proficiency

May 26
Setting the Scene: Technology and SLA - Potential Roles for Flagship and Project GO, Introduction 
Sonia Shiri (University of Arizona) 

May 26-27
Promoting Linguistic, Cultural and Symbolic Competencies with Filmclips 
Mark Kaiser (University of California Berkeley)

Presenter's Biography

This workshop will focus on filmclips and will consist of the following three parts:

“Film in the Foreign Language Curriculum” (Lecture and Discussion) 
This session will discuss the use of film and film clips in the foreign language curriculum. After a brief overview of why film should be (and historically has not been) a centerpiece of the curriculum, this presentation will focus on film's potential for developing students' linguistic, cultural and symbolic competencies, identifying specific tasks that can be employed in the classroom and as homework. The session will conclude with an overview of the Berkeley Language Center's Library of Foreign Language Clips.

“Working with Film Clips” (Workshop) 
In this workshop participants will explore the LFLFC. They will learn how to search for clips corresponding to a thematic unit or speech function, to annotate the clips, and incorporate them into a lesson plan. Participants will create their own lesson plans in small groups and at the end of the session they will share it with the larger group.

“Creating Clips” (Lecture and Workshop) 
This session will demonstrate how the LFLFC can be used to create new clips, focusing on techniques for cutting clips (length, scene capture, overlaying clips) and tagging clips (clip title, tags for spoken vocabulary and cultural, linguistic, and discursive content, clip description, year portrayed).

May 28
Interpreting Digital Images: Fostering Critical Media Literacy in the Foreign Language Classroom 
Beatrice Dupuy, Kristen Michelson and Elyse Petit (University of Arizona) 

The 21st Century Skills Map for foreign language learning foregrounds the need for students to be able to construct meaning around representational forms found in digital media. A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies (ML) offers a useful framework for structuring learning tasks which aim to foster interpretation of messages in multimedia texts, and develop critical media literacy through understanding of codes and conventions, values and viewpoints. In a ML perspective, skills are seen as complementary processes, where writing and speaking facilitate reading, listening, and viewing of digital images. Presenters demonstrate the teaching and learning of these interrelated skills using an ML framework in service of promoting critical media literacy by presenting a module on contemporary identities in France in which digital infotexts, cartoons, and posters are central, and by sharing sample instructional tasks as well as student artifacts and reflections. Finally, they engage participants in designing ML tasks for a lesson to use in their own contexts.

May 29-30
Learning Tools, Social Media and Intercultural Communication in the 21st Century 
Mohamed Ansary (University of Arizona) 

Presenter's Biography

Participants in this workshop explore a variety of strategies and technology-based tools that are designed to build students' communication skills and to encourage personal responsibility for learning within the language classroom. These strategies are closely tied to the application of 21st Century Skills with a focus on Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity. Participants also explore ways to become globally connected educators and support their students gain intercultural competence.

Week 2: June 1 - June 5

New Literacies in the L2 Classroom: Developing Advanced Language Users through Digital Media

June 1
Hybrid L2 learning: Lessons Learned and Helpful CALL Tools 
Robert Blake (University of California, Davis) 

Presenter's Biography

New technologies are increasingly part of today´s L2 curriculum, creating a need for all language professionals to become aware of what lessons have been learned with respect to CALL and what tools are available. This sessions will present the curricular components for implementing a hybrid or completely virtual L2 course and showcase several CALL tools that can be used to advantage by L2 learners. 

June 2
Developing Digital Game-mediated L2 Literacies 
Jonathon Reinhardt (University of Arizona) 

Presenter's Biography

This workshop will focus on the activity of digital game adaptation and design as a means of developing L2 literacies, for both instructors and learners. Participants will begin by exploring a variety of digital game types and learn about creating game-enhanced L2 learning activities with commercial and educational games using the literacies framework developed as part of CERCLL’s Games to Teach project. Participants will learn about the concept of game-mediated literacies as comprised of system, play, and design literacies, and as a way of interacting with, through, and about the L2. Participants will then be introduced to several new user-friendly online digital game makers that can be learned by teachers to make games for their students, and for learners to make their own games for L2 learning, thereby developing the literacies that potentially afford better L2 learning.

June 3
Maximizing the Pedagogical Implementation of Social Networking Sites 
Osman Solmaz (University of Arizona) 

Presenter's Biography

The goal of this workshop is to familiarize participants with the ways they can harness the potential of social networking sites (SNSs) for L2 teaching and learning. The session will start with an introduction to a variety of interactive web technologies particularly focusing on SNSs, the theoretical and practical research on SNSs in educational contexts. Following this section, theoretically and practically sound ways of SNS integration into the language classroom will be introduced, and participants will have a hands-on experience on these activities in the workshop. After the introduction of a pedagogical guideline developed for the integration of interactive web tools into L2 classroom, participants will develop their ideas and sample activities for their learners and themselves. Overall, this workshop will contribute to the professional development of participants by assisting them to better understand the nature of SNSs and how their potential can be maximally harnessed.

June 4-5
Improving L2 Literacy with Social Reading Tools 
Carl Blyth (University of Texas at Austin) 

Presenter's Biography

Today, e-reading devices allow users to comment on a text and to share those comments with others. The result is a new literacy practice calleddigital social reading. In brief, digital social reading is the act of sharing one’s thoughts about a text with the help of tools such as social media and collaborative annotation. Luks (2014) defines this type of reading as an “Internet-based activity in which a group of people collaboratively reads, annotates and comments upon a shared text; in more language-teaching parlance, one could say that it constitutes a during-reading activity” (p. 8). This workshop describes and demonstrates the pedagogical affordances of social reading. In order to understand more fully these pedagogical affordances, audience members will interpret various online texts using eComma, a free web-based application for social reading. Participants will also become familiar with other free Internet technologies that promote “any time, any place” reading.



UA Expands Arabic Instruction After Being Named Flagship Program

The UA has launched the Arabic Flagship Program as part of a national initiative that aims to train more people to speak Arabic, considered a "critical" language for national security.
By Lori Harwood, UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Feb. 4, 2014

Arizona Arabic Flagship Program students  Michael Guyer, Jaime Zettlemoyer, Joshua Larson, Megan Kleinwachter and William Schlanger were among those who recently took part in a full day of standardized Arabic exams, which will decide whether they qualify

Arizona Arabic Flagship Program students Michael Guyer, Jaime Zettlemoyer, Joshua Larson, Megan Kleinwachter and William Schlanger were among those who recently took part in a full day of standardized Arabic exams, which will decide whether they qualify for scholarships to pursue intensive summer or year-long study abroad. (left to right)


With newly awarded federal funding, the University of Arizona has launched a program to prepare undergraduates to reach superior-level fluency in Arabic, which will allow them to engage confidently with academic, business and political partners in the Arabic-speaking world when they graduate.

The UA was one of five universities selected to participate in the Arabic language flagship program. The others are Michigan State University, the University of Maryland, College Park, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas at Austin.

The Arabic Flagship Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, which supports the learning of "critical languages" such as Arabic, because these languages are considered critical for U.S national security and economic competitiveness, and because not many people have been trained to speak them.

During the spring 2013 semester, the curriculum for the Arizona Arabic Flagship Program was developed and instructors were hired. The first cohort of students began in the fall.

"We have seen a rapid spike in progress among students who have joined the program in the summer and at the start of the fall semester," said Sonia Shiri, the academic director of the program at the UA and also an assistant professor of the School of Middle Eastern & North African Studies. "Now they are much more confident speakers."

The Arabic Flagship Program is administered by the Washington, D.C.-based National Security Educational Program and the Institute for International Education. An overseas study component of the program is administered by the American Councils for International Education.

At the UA, the program is housed in the School of Middle Eastern & North African Studies, which is part of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. The school, which received $660,000 for the first two-year cycle, will receive an additional $900,000 for the following three-year cycle, which is contingent upon Congress reauthorizing the funding.

The program is open to all UA students – regardless of the area they're studying.

"You are learning Arabic by practicing Arabic," said anthropology major Meagan Kleinwachter, who hopes to use her Arabic skills to help her to be a better doctor one day.

In the past the UA taught standard Arabic and offered only one dialect. Now, in addition to standard Arabic, the UA teaches three dialects: Levantine, Egyptian and, starting this semester, Moroccan. MENAS also offers two "conversation circles" each week for each dialect and for standard Arabic. Students converse and sometimes play games, dance, sing songs, watch movie clips and eat Middle Eastern food.

Flagship students receive one-on-one tutoring twice a week. Shiri monitors the tutors, who give her weekly reports on how the students are doing. Her goal is to constantly tweak the learning strategies so that students are not merely repeating what they do in class.

In addition to funding new instructor positions, the grant to the UA is being used to provide teaching assistants for all Arabic classes.

Shiri thinks the strategies used in the Flagship program can also be adopted by other language programs as has been demonstrated on other campuses.

"As we continue to grow, we would like to see the Flagship experience and the love of language learning shared by Flagship and non-Flagship students alike," Shiri said. 

Students who complete the Flagship program receive certification indicating their level of expertise. No government service is required of students and no conditions are placed on the institution regarding the curriculum or its implementation.

Shiri is continuing to accept students into the program on a rolling basis. While freshmen and sophomores are preferred, students can join the program at any time during their academic career.

Also, ROTC students are encouraged to apply to the program. Cadets in the program who are receiving any ROTC scholarship are eligible to receive full funding for the program's summer programs abroad.

Also in the program, students are paired with native speakers from campus, who they meet with every week in a more unstructured environment.

"In the beginning of the semester, my language partner and I went to a restaurant and he taught me how to order in Arabic," said Honors College student Jaime Zettlemoyer, who is majoring in anthropology and Middle Eastern and North African studies.

"Then we went to a church service that was entirely in Arabic," Zettlemoyer said. "It was fascinating, and I met a lot of people."


Qualified students receive scholarship funding for a summer abroad, or for their required capstone year of overseas study in an Arab-speaking country. However, the scholarship does not cover all the overseas study expenses, which run close to $32,000. Because many students do not have the means to make up the difference, the Arizona Arabic Flagship is seeking donors who would like to help.


Sonia Shiri, as academic director of the Arizona Arabic Flagship Program, is responsible for the overall vision and direction of the program. She is in charge of designing and implementing the curriculum, training the instructors and advising and monitoring the progress of the students. Students interested the program should contact Shiri directly at 520-626-7667 or soniashiri@email.arizona.edu

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The School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies has one of the top Arabic programs in the United States and includes the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, a Title VI National Resource Center. Last year, MENAS also received a Project Global Officers grant, which is designed to teach ROTC students Arabic as well as the cultural norms in Arab countries. Two of the ROTC students who participated in Project GO have joined the Flagship program.




Sonia Shiri

The Arizona Arabic Flagship Program



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Lori Harwood 

UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences 



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