Fluid Fluency

African language program will enhance course offerings and bolster department's status

The Department of African and African American Studies has found a creative way to offer students a wide array of African language classes. The recently unveiled African Languages Program is a welcome addition to the department that will enhance the academic experiences of students at Harvard, and other departments should monitor this program and mimic its success.

In addition to teaching languages widely-spoken in Africa such as Hausa, Swahili, Xhosa and Zulu every year, the department will respond to student interests to hire native speakers on an as-needed basis to teach African languages not currently offered. The teachers must have college degrees, and John M. Mugane, the director of the African Languages Program, will oversee the teachers to ensure accountability.

This innovative program provides a cost-effective way for the department to expand its course offerings—accomodating year-to-year fluctuations in the languages students want to study without hiring and paying full-time professors who would be underutilized some semesters. The program will also make it vastly more feasible for students to pursue thesis research—and study abroad opportunities—in regions that have native languages Harvard does not currently teach.

The program’s success is already apparent. To date, 12 students have requested an opportunity to take Igbo at Harvard, in addition to eight who want to study Twi and five who plan to take Zulu.

This program should also provide some consolation to students who had planned to take advantage of the offering of Igbo at Boston University. That program, which had previously been available to Harvard students, has regretably lost federal funding. Harvard has correctly prioritized the study of Africa as a necessity independent of federal funding, and the language program strengthens that commitment.

African Studies Committee Chair Emmanuel Akyeampong has declared that “with the launch of these courses, we hope to become the leading institution in North America in the study of Africa.” This innovative program is certainly a decisive step in that direction.