A number of schools from across Northern Ireland are getting involved in developing the teaching and learning of Arabic.
The move comes as a result of a report published by the British Council which ranked Arabic as the “second most vital language to the UK” over the next 20 years.
The findings were also deemed to show the gap between need and current provision, with Arabic taught in just 1% of UK schools.
Schools now educating pupils about the language include secondary schools Belfast Royal Academy, Methodist College Belfast, St Columb’s College in Derry, St Catherine’s College and St Patrick’s Grammar in Armagh, and Shimna Integrated College in Newcastle.
Armagh primary schools St Malachy’s, Saints & Scholars, and St Patrick’s are also taking part in the British Council’s Arabic Culture and Language Programme, as is All Children’s Integrated Primary School in Newcastle.
Schools previously involved include the likes of Antrim Grammar, and St Malachy’s College, Carr’s Glen Primary and Ben Madigan Prep in Belfast.
“Arabic is one of the world’s great languages,” Jonathan Stewart, Deputy Director of the British Council NI, said.
“Spoken by more than 400 million people, it has been the vehicle of many significant contributions in science and culture.
“An awareness of the language and culture can enrich the curriculum, but also improves our young people’s job prospects and increases business opportunities.”
One of the schools taking part, Shimna Integrated College, began running classes for Key Stage 3 pupils and members of the local community earlier this year.
Teacher Ian McMillan, co-ordinator of the programme and also the school’s Head of German, welcomed the initiative.
“I have wanted to get my pupils involved in Arabic for sometime,” Mr McMillan said.
“I started to view the language differently though after the Paris attacks – there was a lot of racial tension about and I saw it as a chance to educate our pupils about the Arabic culture and way of life.”
He added: “At Shimna, we are an integrated school and diversity is what we do so, for me, this was more than just about languages, there was a political purpose to it.
“Though the most important thing is for the pupils to enjoy it, and they really do.”
Pupil Natasha Manganaro said: “I find it difficult, but it’s fun! I hope the classes continue as I really want to keep learning more.”
Arabic teacher Rym Akhonzada, from Interlingua Language Solutions, also welcomed the development.
“I think as news is spreading, there’s becoming a lot more interest in Arabic from other schools,” she said.
“I’ve definitely seen a change in the pupils’ attitudes, here and in the other schools, towards Arabic.
“There’s definitely an increasing enthusiasm for it, and I can only see this continuing.”
Ms Akhonzada added: “I previously helped organise a conference exploring the future of Arabic in education at BRA (Belfast Royal Academy) and, due to demand, hope to do something similar this autumn.
“For me personally, it’s also great to be able to teach my own native language in what I now consider my home.”