Swahili at the UO

At the University of Oregon, Swahili is offered at three levels: First year (beginners), 2nd year (Intermediate) and 3rd year (Advanced). Students may enroll in first, second and third year Swahili (per their experience) through the Swahili program in the Department of Linguistics. First & Second year classes are held in a traditional 5 hours per week, 5 credit format but 3rd year courses Winter & Spring courses are 4-credit, repeatable. First and second year Swahili courses satisfy the university’s 2-year BA foreign language requirement, while third year Swahili will also satisfy multicultural and Letters language requirements. Swahili courses also satisfy some of the requirements for the African Studies Minor.

Fall                             Winter                  Spring                                  Summer/Zanzibar*
SWAH 101                    SWAH 102             SWAH103                              SWAH 188
SWAH 201                    SWAH 202            SWAH 203                             SWAH 288
SWAH 301                   SWAH 302             SWAH 303                             SWAH 388

The first two years of the language prepares students to communicate in Swahili and in the 3rd, advanced level, students study advanced grammar in the Fall, including idiomatic expressions and complex sentence constructions as a preparation for reading Swahili literature in the Winter session. The Spring session tackles contemporary issues in the Swahili Nation using diverse sources of news (blogs, social media, podcasts, online sources and print media).

Swahili the Language

A Bantu language, Swahili is said to have been present on the East coast of Africa since the first century CE. Today, it is spoken in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo DRC and in parts of Somalia, Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi. Swahili is also spoken in the East African diaspora and is taught in over 100 universities outside of Africa. It’s one of the field languages of the UN, an official language of the African Union (AU), national and official language of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania in addition to being declared the official language of the new East African Community. The number of Swahili speakers is unknown but exceeds 150 million in most estimates. Not only is it the first language of millions of speakers, but it is the dominant second language for many other ethnic or language groups (e.g. the Maasai, the Kamba, the Datooga) throughout East Africa. Swahili refers to itself as Kiswahili, where the prefix ki- denotes ‘language of’ and the prefix Ki- is therefore prefixed before all languages (e.g. Kiingereza ‘English’; Kifaransa ‘French’; Kiarabu ‘Arabic’ etc).

Swahili at the UO

Swahili has been taught at the UO for more than 15 years now. Students started taking it as a self-study, non-credit course in 1998. Through the efforts of faculty in the African Studies Program and Yamada Language Center, Swahili was then offered more regularly through the World Languages Academy (WLA).  As interest continued to grow in Swahili, since 2012 the language has been offered as a regular course through the department of Linguistics at three levels (beginners, intermediate and advanced). In the first two years, learners focus on learning Swahili in context and get to be comfortable using and creating with the language.  The third-year advanced Swahili sequence teaches advanced grammar in the Fall, and in the Winter term students apply their skills to learning the rich East African literature (the Ushairi poetry and oral literature are especially famous). In the Spring, students get to tackle contemporary topical issues of the Swahili “Nation”. The first and second year of Swahili allow students to fulfill their foreign language requirements and core African Studies minor requirements. In addition, third-year Swahili satisfies the multi-cultural requirements.

Swahili presence and popularity is set to grow rapidly on campus. Since 2012 and in partnership with the Center for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS) we have offered a Swahili Startalk residential summer program to high school students across the nation and, together with Yamada Language Center (YLC), we engage with Oregon high school students at the annual Foreign Languages & International Studies (FLIS) Day through activities on Campus so they might consider taking Swahili when they enroll at the UO. Because the emphasis on learning Swahili is to use it to communicate, every Friday, students from all levels come together for coffee to talk and hang out with native Swahili speakers from the community in  informal Swahili circle conversation sessions. Students get to practice and improve their speaking skills through a variety of activities like word games, songs, videos, skits and stories.

We offer an intensive Study Abroad program in Zanzibar starting summer 2015, where UO students are exposed to native speakers of Swahili, are taught by native speakers and get to spend two months on the idyllic and historic island of Zanzibar. Students get up to a year’s worth of Swahili instruction in just two months! In this way, we hope to continue nurturing interest in Swahili and, at the same time, give students the opportunity not just to have a foreign language on their transcript, but also deeply satisfying knowledge and a meaningful appreciation of the language that can be functionally used in real life situations and in future careers. The next study abroad session will be Summer 2019.

In a globalized world, Study Abroad is an experience that transforms one’s thinking by opening your eyes and mind in ways that will change your outlook forever. Enroll now for that experience…