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Instructor brings Twi language to life

By Jennifer Cochran

From the moment Kofi Agyekum enters the room it is clear he is a teacher through and through. He explains himself thoroughly. He makes good use of the chalkboard. And his enthusiasm for his material is infectious. A senior lecturer of linguistics at the University of Ghana, Legon, Agyekum spent this summer at Ohio University teaching Akan/Twi, the major language of Ghana, at the Summer Cooperative African Language Institute (SCALI).

Kofi Agyekum"My best times are when I'm teaching," says Agyekum. "It increases my experience." He enjoyed teaching students on their own soil as a SCALI instructor and appreciates the access he had during his stay in Athens to the resources at Alden Library and other materials he would not have been able to secure back home.

Agyekum has also been a self-described "crusader" for Ghanaian language since he saw how much Norwegians treasured their mother tongue. When he returned to Ghana after spending four years studying in Norway he established a program at one of Ghana's radio stations to translate the newspapers into Akan/Twi so that news would be available in people's native language, not just English. He says this program caught on and has now been replicated at other radio stations. He is also coordinating an Akan dictionary project through a partnership between the University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway and the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

Kate Patch, a graduate student in anthropology from Michigan State University, says Agyekum's Akan/Twi II class was excellent and exceeded her expectations. She works in Ghana on issues of gender and development and has enjoyed having a professor who shares her interest in anthropology, but from a linguistic perspective.

Although he has taught Akan/Twi to American students in Ghana through several exchange programs, Agyekum says SCALI provides a unique environment for language instruction since it involves more time for language lessons. Since SCALI students are not learning the language as part of an immersion experience in Ghana, he ensures that students have the opportunity to practice in the classroom. Agyekum says his students are highly motivated and dedicated since they have chosen to study Akan/Twi. He believes the students' language study provides them with insight into the lives of other people and other languages as well as a better understanding of the English language.

Agyekum has studied and taught at the School of Ghanaian Languages as well as at the University of Ghana, Legon where he studied linguistics, political science and Russian as an undergraduate. While an undergraduate he spent a year studying in Moscow and later traveled to Norway where he earned a master's degree in linguistics. After returning to Ghana he worked as a lecturer and earned his Ph.D. in linguistics. In addition to teaching Akan/Twi, he also now teaches courses in language and culture and literature. Agyekum has been published extensively in refereed journals in Ghana and internationally.

Students engaged in the study of 15 languages at SCALI, spending four hours in class each day. The intensive seven-week institute provides the equivalent of one year of language instruction with exposure to the culture and traditions associated with the chosen language. SCALI is funded by the United States Department of Education and is offered collaboratively by the Title VI National Resource Centers for African Language and Area Studies.

Instructors came to Ohio University from universities across the country and the African continent to teach Akan/Twi, Hausa, Kikongo, Kinyarwanda, Luganda, Chichewa/Chinyanja, Pulaar, Somali, Sudanese Arabic, Swahili, Tigrinya, Wolof, Xhosa, Yoruba and Zulu. These instructors come from Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Jennifer Cochran is assistant director for communications and graduate studies for the Center for International Studies.

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