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The modern dialects of Arabic are spoken by more than 280 million people, making Arabic one of the five most widely spoken languages in the twenty-first century. Modern Standard Arabic is the official language of 26 states in central Asia, western Asia, and northern Africa, that is, in the southeast Mediterranean region. Literary, philosophical and scientific work in the Arab world was composed in Classical Arabic for centuries, and it has also been the liturgical language of Islam since its inception in the seventh century.

Macalester regularly offers five semesters of instruction in Modern Standard Arabic. When coordinated well with study abroad, students can thus complete three full years of study.