African Language Instruction: Bridging Communities in Champaign County
(Story by Ashley Sheriff)
Mabinty Tarawallie, a community collaborator and Master’s student in the University of Illinois’ School of Social Work, was inspired to develop African language learning clubs at Champaign-based elementary schools after attending the Leadership Center’s Ignite program. This 8-hour event helps participants cultivate the necessary skills to plan and initiate their own formal organizations and programs. Mabinty reflected on her identity as an immigrant from Sierra Leone and her experiences when she was an elementary school student in Champaign County who rarely encountered positive African-centered content in curricula. She resolved to facilitate an inclusive, welcoming space for participating elementary students to learn about African cultures, histories, and languages.
This program came to fruition in the fall semester of 2012 with a Swahili-language club at the Garden Hills Elementary School and a second Wolof-language club at Booker T. Washington Elementary School. Both clubs are headed by volunteers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who either formally teach, or are enrolled in African language courses. Swahili and Wolof are two widely-spoken languages that serve as lingua francas in countries on the African continent’s East and West coasts, respectively.
Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, originates from the Arabic word “Swahel” that means “coastal.” It is one of many Bantu languages spoken mainly in East African countries such as Kenya, Tanzania (including the Zanzibar archipelago), Uganda, and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Swahili remains an essential language of commerce, instruction, politics, and news outlets. Furthermore, The African Union--an intergovernmental organization aspiring to promote cooperation, solidarity, and sustainable development among African States--designated Swahili as one of its official languages.