Don’t be surprised if you hear Sam Sfeir say “keef halak” while walking through Parkdale Mall in Beaumont. Sharing phrases like “How are you?” is one way Sfeir greets friends and students in Arabic.

Often, while working as a senior manager at Radio Shack, former students or people who want to practice their Arabic stop by and talk with Sfeir, who will teach a course in Arabic at Lamar Institute of Technology beginning May 19.

People eager to take his course include a university professor, former military personnel, homeland security students and even someone who worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, said Jim Doane, program director of Homeland Security at LIT.

At 19, Sfeir came to the United States from Lebanon. Sfeir, a graduate of the University of South Louisiana-Lafayette, is fluent in English, Arabic and French. With over 21 years of experience in sales management, Sfeir has been recognized as an outstanding store manager and  a trainer for Radio Shack. He worked for the company in Lafayette, then Baytown, before the company moved him to Beaumont 20 years ago.

For many, learning Arabic is a good financial decision. Plus, Sfeir and his wife make the class fun.

“There are many job opportunities (for people who speak Arabic) in the Middle East, and here, with the CIA and the government,” Sfeir said. And, many of those jobs pay very well. But, he said, it is important for his students to understand the culture as well as the language.

 When he teaches the class, it gives him the opportunity to educate his students about the Middle East. “It’s different then what you see on television,” he said.

There are differences in the language, the food, the way people dress and even the way the language is read. Sfeir said Arabic is read from right to left, as opposed to English which we read from left to right. Arabic is similar to the Latin alphabet, and it also has masculine and feminine words like Spanish. One thing that helps his students most is giving them examples of different Arabic dialects.

Sfeir, 48, brings videotapes of people from different parts of the Middle East speaking Arabic as an example of how different the language can sound from one part of the country to another.  For example, he said, Arabic sounds different in Egypt than it does in Iraq. And, because of dialect, it also sounds different in Iran.

But his class isn’t all work and no fun. He and his wife, Randa, set aside a special day when they prepare food from the Middle East to share with the students. Students even get into the action. Students who have been to the Middle East share their experiences with the newer students, Sfeir said.

Another class day, students dress like people from different parts of the Middle East. This gives students an idea of how diverse the people of the region are from one another.

Sfeir’s goal is to open the eyes of his students. He hopes he can help them be more open-minded about our neighbors in the Middle East. The Middle East is like any region. All countries have good and bad people, he said.

This is his second year to teach the course, and his wife has worked as a substitute teacher. Now, he said, they hope to teach an advanced Arabic class.

The course begins May 19 and concludes June 27, with classes from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The basic Arabic course costs $250. It will introduce students to the language and will help them learn vocabulary, basic grammatical structures and useful phrases and sentences related to daily life.

For more information about the course, call (409) 880-8293.