Tunisia’s Bourguiba school gears up for summer session
TUNIS - Established in 1964, the Bourguiba Institute of Modern Languages is one of Tunisia’s oldest and most storied educational establishments, priding itself in promoting the Arabic language and establishing cross-cultural connections the world over.
At its onset, the school was run largely by US Peace Corps volunteers who taught English. It soon developed into a hub for foreigners seeking to learn Arabic. Today, the school boasts students from across the globe seeking to improve competency in languages ranging from English to Turkish to Chinese.
The core of the Bourguiba school’s mission is teaching Arabic as a foreign language, for which it has gained a reputation as one of the premier institutes in the region.
“(The Bourguiba school) has a long experience,” said Imed Ben Ammar, the school’s director. “It is the place for teaching Arabic as a foreign language.”
Tunisia is not the only Arab country with a successful Arabic language programme. Jordan’s Qasid Arabic Institute and Egypt’s International Language Institute are also highly regarded. However, the Bourguiba school’s wide-ranging connections and relatively open outlook make it a popular destination for students and professionals looking to live and learn abroad.
“People know that Tunisia is an open place and the Bourguiba school is no exception,” said Ben Ammar. “People are welcomed here.”
Valerie Mayot, a French student at the institute who has lived in Tunis for years, agreed that the Bourguiba school is an “exceptional” place to study. “I know Tunis well and I like this country,” she said.
Even as Tunisia has weathered extremist threats and social and political turbulence since 2011, interest in the school has remained constant, Ben Ammar said.
After terror attacks rocked Tunis on June 27, killing one and injuring eight, the school received no cancellations for its summer session.
Traditionally, most foreign students at the Bourguiba school have been European — predominantly Italian, Spanish and French, said Ben Ammar, but recently, it has begun to receive more students from China and South Korea, perhaps a reflection of deepening ties between the two regions.
“The trend is probably related to 2011, when interest began to grow in the Arabic and the Islamic world,” Ben Ammar said.
Interest in South-east Asia is growing in Tunisia as well. In 2018, the Bourguiba school received official accreditation to teach Korean.
It has also built connections with Romania. Through Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, the Bourguiba school collaborated with the Romanian government to create a Centre for Romanian Culture and Science “to enhance the teaching of Romanian language.”
But for most Tunisians, English and German classes remain a priority because they are critical for many professionals seeking to further their careers abroad.
While the Bourguiba school maintains partnerships with leading universities and institutions, including the Arab World Institute in Paris, it remains open to the public, part of its mission to make high-quality language training available to all who are interested.
“We are open to the public,” said Ben Ammar. “Anyone can e-mail to sign up.”
Mayot, who works with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said her courses have helped her develop skills needed for her job.
“I’ve been taking intensive classes every day (since October) and I am very satisfied,” Mayot said before a morning class. “I have exceptional teachers and I think the quality of classes here is exceptional… I’ve had the best teacher in the world here.”
“(For my work), I need to be able to quickly understand Arab newspapers and news in Arabic and I am progressing very quickly.”
Outside of the academic year, the Bourguiba school offers intensive courses during July, including 100 hours for Arabic learners and 80 hours for students of other languages.
It provides access to various socio-cultural activities, including workshops in Tunisian art, music, dance and cuisine and guided tours and trips to key sites throughout the country.
The school’s main Tunis campus, in the heart of downtown on the Avenue de la Liberte, was bustling on a recent hot morning. Drawing eager students from around the world, it is a source of pride for much of the Tunisian public who see it as a reflection of the country’s commitment to education, progress and cultural enrichment.