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Swahili Language

Swahili is the most widely spoken African Language in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is the national language of Tanzania and Kenya, and is also spoken widely in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Comoros. Current estimates place the number of speaker at 100 million people. Swahili is the only language from Africa included among the official languages of the African Union and its status as a lingua franca in the east and central African region makes it an important language to learn. It is taught in more than 50 universities in US. It is also taught in many universities in Europe and Asia

Swahili belongs to the Bantu group of languages but it has borrowed a lot of words from Arabic. This has come about as a result of over 10 centuries of contact with the Arabian peninsular. Flourishing trade between the East African coastal towns and the Persian Gulf and Asia elevated Swahili as a trade language. Subsequent settlement by Persians and Arabs and their intermarriage with local women promoted a vibrant Islamic culture which has left traces in modern Swahili. A good example is the structure of classical Swahili poetry and the popular Swahili music genre known as Taarabu.

Nowadays, Swahili is used in various situations such as offices, schools, homes and mass media. Like other languages in the world, English is becoming the greatest donor to Swahili vocabulary, especially in the area of computer and technology.

Below is a list of Swahili Courses offered at Ohio University. Undergraduate courses begin from 100-300 level while graduate courses are the 500 level. Note that lower levels are a prerequisite for enrollment at higher levels.


  • Elementary Level: (SWAH, 1110, 1120, 1130, 5110, 5120, 5130) - Undergraduates enroll for 4 credits but graduate students may enroll between 3 to 5 credits. Additional workload is given for graduate students who take more than 4 credits. The elementary level introduces students to the foundations of Swahili grammar, and how to engage in basic conversations. The learners are also introduced Swahili culture through these classroom activities.
  • Intermediate level: (SWAH 2110, 2120, 2130, 5210, 5220, 5230) - The course introduces learners to other elements of Swahili grammar that are necessary for the comprehension and understanding of Swahili discourse. The intermediate level focuses on application of grammar in negotiation in real life situations. Listening, reading, writing and speaking are emphasized.
  • Advanced level: (SWAH 3110, 3120, 3130, 5310, 5320, 5330) - At the advanced level, the focus is on different aspects of Swahili literary discourse such as short stories, novels, drama, poetry and registers. Students also engage in more complex communication practices through discussions and debates on various issues with an African bias.
  • Special studies: (SWAH: 3990, 5990) - The course caters for students who want to undertake independent specific Swahili projects. This is a self designed course supervised by the instructor.

Why you should take Swahili

Students who complete two years of Swahili at Ohio University get a certificate of specialization in African studies. In addition students working towards a Certificate in International Studies can also take Swahili as part of their course requirements. Swahili is one of the African languages recognized by the college of arts and sciences for students graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in International studies.

Apart from satisfying the language requirement, students undertaking study abroad programs in East and Central Africa, will find the knowledge of Swahili offered in our program useful in their interactions and understanding of the culture of the local people.

For more information, please contact  the Linguistics department at