October 16, 2020 at 5:08 pm

Spring 2020 | Start Learning Swahili, a Vital Economic Language

Asmaha Mhande Heddi, portrait

Asmaha Mhande Heddi, Coordinator of the Swahili Language Program

Ohio University students can sign up for Elementary Swahili in Spring 2021—and get started on a language soon to be spoken by much of the world’s population.

“Studying Swahili is not only a fantastic journey into a diverse and dynamic culture, but it is vital to the economic and political future of this country. Studying Swahili now is as important as studying Chinese was in the 1990s,” says Dr. David Bell, Chair of Linguistics. “And we have our group of young, vibrant Swahili instructors—Asmaha Mhande Heddi from Tanzania, Yaw Adutwum Awuah from Ghana, and Seline Ayugi Okeno from Kenya—who are ready to give you the necessary skills to communicate throughout the African continent.”

Swahili instructors Seline Ayugi Okeno and Yaw Adutwum Awuah

Swahili instructors Seline Ayugi Okeno and Yaw Adutwum Awuah

Quartz Africa says that by 2050 more than half of the world’s population growth will be in Africa, forming the future’s largest workforce in the world. Swahili is spoken across East Africa. It is mostly spoken in Kenya and Tanzania as a national and official language. It is also used in Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Comoros Islands. Smaller numbers of its speakers can be found in Rwanda, Burundi, Northern Zambia and parts of Mozambique.

“It’s a great opportunity for students who deferred their language classes in fall to catch up,” said Heddi, coordinator of the Swahili language program in the Linguistics Department.

“At the beginning of the semester, we were getting a lot of feedback from students who wanted to put off the start of their elementary Swahili classes because of COVID 19 but didn’t want to wait a whole year until Fall 2021. So we decided to offer SWAH 1110 (beginning Swahili) in Spring 2021. And there will be an option to complete the second elementary class SWAH 1120 in summer depending on student demand,” she said.

  • Get started this spring with Elementary Swahili, SWAH 1110, with class Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 2-2:55 p.m.

What Students Say about Learning Swahili

It’s not just the economic importance of Swahili that motivates Ohio University students.

“I find it very beautiful. I enjoy this class because we are always practicing each new skill that we learn every week. It is great to also have students with a similar passion of learning in this class because it creates a vibrant environment. I would recommend any student to take this language,” says Deika Ahmed, pre-law business major.

Elijah Jonas, Communication, Games and Animation major, comments, “I’ve really been enjoying Swahili because of the way that the language is structured. I struggled with German for years, but I’ve found that Swahili is much easier to feel out as you go. Maybe it’s just because the teacher is better but learning Swahili has been a really positive experience for me that is equal parts challenging and rewarding.”

For Madeline Brown, majoring in Linguistics and Anthropology, “learning Swahili has deepened my knowledge of African (especially Kenyan and Tanzanian) culture. As part of that, I am applying for a Boren scholarship to Tanzania as part of the African Flagship Program.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed the Swahili courses because they focused on language learning for practical use, not just memorization,” recalls Alexandra Koran, who earned a B.A. in Global Studies Africa and Geography in 2019. “In class we would play games, act out skits, and participate in other fun activities that enhanced our ability to use the language. After just one semester, I felt confident enough to speak with native Swahili speakers at OU and in the Athens area.

“Learning Swahili was a gateway to numerous opportunities for me. Upon graduating, I was selected for the Critical Language Scholarship Program to study Swahili in Tanzania. Shortly after, I worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Rwanda. I continue to use Swahili in my work and daily life. Learning Swahili has connected me with amazing people, influenced how I view the world around me, and was certainly my favorite part of my undergraduate career.”

Why Study Swahili?

Today, African languages like Swahili are more in demand than ever before as the world becomes more globalized. Knowledge of Swahili opens doors to many opportunities both locally and internationally.

  • Students can enroll in Swahili courses to complete their language requirement for graduation. Also, students who are working toward related certificates or degrees in International Studies can also take Swahili as part of their course requirements.
  • Students enrolled in Swahili courses are eligible for a number of opportunities such as scholarships, grants, and other funding related to language learning and travel. Some of these Swahili related funding opportunities include: the Gilman International Scholarship, the Boren Awards African languages Initiative Scholarships and Fellowships, the Critical Language Scholarship Program, FLAS Fellowships and the Group Projects Abroad Fulbright Hays Swahili Program.
  • Swahili is one of the few languages that qualifies students for the Critical Languages Scholarship. CLS is a scholarship program provided by the U.S. government through the departments of State and Defense to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering foreign languages that are critical to the national security and prosperity. Students awarded with CLS study in Arusha, Tanzania for eight weeks, learning one full academic year of Swahili.
  • Swahili will provide students with a unique experience and insight into the Swahili and East African culture at large and also present the chance to be part of a strong global community of over 100 million Swahili speakers.

For more details, please contact Asmaha Mhande Heddi at or Dr. Bell at




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