Swahili language program is one of two in Canada

York is one of only two universities in Canada to offer students the chance to add Swahili to their language repertoire. 

As many as 70 million people speak Swahili, mainly in East and Central Africa. It is the official language of Tanzania and Kenya and is spoken in countries ranging from Somalia in the north to South Africa. It is also spoken in the Gulf States of Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Introduced three years ago, York’s non-degree language program in Swahili offers introductory and intermediate courses taught by Oswald Almasi.

Left: York’s East African Students Association gala in February

"Known by native speakers as Kiswahili, Swahili is one of Africa’s most important lingua francas," says Pablo Idahosa, program coordinator of York’s African Studies Program. Thirty-four students have signed up for the program this year and enrolment is across the board, from undergraduates in fine arts to graduate students in international development, he says.

York University has always been known for its emphasis on providing international languages for its students so they can explore the world beyond Canadian shores. The Swahili language program was introduced for this purpose.

"Language is a central component of York’s international strategy, and one of our goals has been to diversify the language options available to students on campus, " says Paula Wilson, acting associate vice-president international at York University. "It’s important that all York students have the opportunity to benefit from an international experience, yet we are very aware of the fact that most of our students will choose not to participate in opportunities to study or work abroad while they are with us. Thus, internationalization at home is a critical part of our internationalization efforts, and language study is one way to give students a global perspective while they remain on campus. The addition of Swahili to our language offerings is exciting and innovative – a perfect fit for York."

The introductory course aims to give students the ability to carry on a basic conversation. The intermediate Swahili course aims at improving the students’ reading, writing and conversational skills. It also exposes students to cultural and traditional aspects of the Swahili language through reading basic texts, listening to recordings and viewing videos. Near the end of the course, students get a chance to display their new language skills at special events.

One such event was the East African Gala held in February 2007. Swahili-speaking students from both courses demonstrated what they learned throughout the year. Organized by the East African Students’ Association (EASA) at York, the gala featured dance, music, food, fashion, language, poems, skits and narrations.

Click here for more information about York’s Swahili program.