The African Language Program

Language Coordinator: Mariame Sy

The African Language program at MESAAS offers regular classroom instruction in three African languages: Swahili, Wolof, and Zulu. These three languages together cover wide geographical areas in East, West and Southern Africa. They also distribute over three main language groups (Atlantic, Bantu, and Chadic) in two major language families in Africa (Afro-Asiatic and Niger-Congo).

African language courses are offered every semester up to three levels (elementary, intermediate, and advanced). African languages can be used to fulfill a language requirement and complete an undergraduate major in MESAAS or in African Studies, or obtain an African Studies Certificate or satisfy language requirements for the MESAAS M.A. or Ph.D. at the graduate level.

About the languages

Over the last twenty years, interest has grown in the United States in artistic, cultural, political, and religious aspect of the African continent. As a result, many African languages are now taught within American foreign language programs.

The languages offered in the African Language Program in MESAAS have increasingly drawn interest because of their importance inside, and visibility outside the continent. Swahili, Wolof, and Zulu all serve as lingua franca for a large number of people within Africa, and among sizeable expatriate communities in Europe and North America.

Swahili serves as a regional lingua franca throughout Eastern and Central Africa. Although the language is principally spoken in Tanzania and Kenya, it is also widely understood in parts of Uganda, and some parts of Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, Zambia, and Malawi.

Wolof, the main lingua franca of Senegal and The Gambia, is spoken as a first or second language by the majority of populations in those two countries in most social contexts. It is also spoken by a significant minority in Mauritania.

Zulu is the language with the largest number of speakers in South Africa, and the dominant language in KwaZulu-Natal, the largest province in the country. Additionally, it is spoken by populations in Malawi, southern Swaziland, and Lesotho.

About the program

It is the philosophy of the program that any serious understanding of Africa begins with language study. Our courses therefore expose students to authentic multimedia materials that allow them to work toward both communicative and cultural competence, while developing the four major skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing). The overall aim of the program is to help students gain the linguistic skills necessary to function in all areas of practical need. Our curriculum and proficiency goals for each year are designed based on the guidelines of he American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages.


Elementary level

  1. Recognize all contrastive sounds and distinguish question and answer intonation.
  2. Express basic feelings and needs, as well as ask and answer questions related to these needs and feelings.
  3. Understand short utterances, and express basic courtesy.
  4. Correctly spell, read, and interpret written text in areas of practical need covered in the material.
  5. Begin to develop basic cultural insight.

Intermediate level

  1. Understand, and interpret both written and spoken language in a variety of situations.
  2. Elaborate on descriptions, and discuss likes and dislikes.
  3. Comprehend speech on familiar topics, discuss opinions, and cultural differences
  4. Recognize various types of spoken and written language.
  5. Expand cultural knowledge.

Advanced level

  1. Create detailed descriptions using complex sentence structures.
  2. Narrate events.
  3. Understand, and interpret complex culturally charged language such as that generally found in tales, or historical narratives.
  4. Present an analysis of an authentic oral or written text to an audience, respond spontaneously to questions, and formulate and defend a position.
  5. Further knowledge into the histories, politics, and social settings of the speakers of the language of concern.