The University offers various courses in Swahili and our Centre of African Studies is keen to encourage more people to take advantage of them.
Seline Okeno, our Teaching Fellow in Swahili, gives five top reasons you should learn the language:
1. It's easy to learn
Whatever your language background is, Swahili is fairly easy to learn. This is because the alphabet is largely similar to the English alphabet, making word recognition simpler. Swahili is also a phonetic language, which means that there is a one-to-one correspondence between what you hear and the written form, making spelling a breeze.
Speakers of languages such as Arabic, Portuguese, English and German will recognise some words borrowed from their languages. And then there are all those words you know already – like 'safari', 'Hakuna Matata' or 'Chai'. This means that no one begins with a blank slate on vocabulary!
2. It is a lingua franca
The countries of east Africa are home to hundreds of different ethnic languages and Swahili is the bridge language amongst the speakers. It is the national and official language of Kenya and Tanzania with millions of other speakers found in Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Growing in popularity, Swahili is also taught as an optional subject in some South African schools and as an elective course at the University of Ghana.
3. Helps you prepare for research in East Africa
Swahili is an essential language when working in East Africa or studying aspects of East Africa. It offers access to the Swahili culture and other East African cultures. Whether your field of interest is politics, history, anthropology, linguistics, technology, or business, Swahili’s long preserved history helps you to access the information you need.
Speaking Swahili will allow you to conduct your research all over East Africa with ease. You will be able to work across different communities and historical sites including UNESCO world heritage sites such as, Lamu Old Town, Fort Jesus, the cradle of humankind, Stone Town of Zanzibar, Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara Ruins.
And when you say 'Hujambo?' a welcoming smile will appear on the face of every local Swahili speaker. People will be happy to share information during interviews or just chats thus boosting your credibility as a researcher.
4. Discover a whole new world of entertainment
Did you know that there’s already so much Swahili around you? Discover meanings behind names from popular films like The Lion King, Sense 8, and social games like Jenga. Why do we say 'Kiswahili' in East Africa and not Swahili? Explore new music genres of East Africa’s urban music scene like Bongo Flava, Genge, Afro soul, and Taarab. You will gain a better understanding of traditions and current lifestyles of East Africans from such music.
5. Plan a safari!
Kenya and Tanzania are among Africa’s leading tourist destinations, and for good reason. Plan to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya - Africa’s two highest mountains - watch the great wildebeest migration from Kenya’s Maasai Mara or Tanzania’s Serengeti, or soak in the sun along the countless pristine beaches of East Africa.
Whether you seek an activity packed holiday or a relaxing holiday, East Africa has something to offer you in both the urban and rural areas. Escape the tourist areas by learning basic communicative Swahili. You will not only appreciate how smooth it is to navigate your way around when you can connect to the locals, but your pockets will also thank you in the end.
We have classes from beginners to more advanced level. We also offer Swahili as a credit level subject for existing University of Edinburgh students.