Swahili courses coming under their own course code this fall, a first for UBC

Next year, students will be able to take two beginner level Swahili courses, SWAH 101 and SWAH 102 — the first time an African language will be offered under its own course code at UBC. 

Dr. Joash Gambarage, sessional lecturer in the department of linguistics, will be teaching both of these courses. 

SWAH 101 and 102 will introduce students to the language, but also to Swahili’s broader cultural significance. As a native Swahili speaker from Tanzania, Gambarage offers a deep understanding of the language’s significance. 

“It’s the lingua franca of the African Union,” said Gambarage. He cited UNESCO, explaining that Swahili is among the ten most widely spoken languages in the world with over 200 million speakers. 

“You [can] actually learn and speak Swahili perfectly well within two months,” he said. Gambarage noted Swahili’s simplistic linguistic structure, contributing to its growing use around the world.  

For the last few years, UBC offered a Swahili course as ASTU 204, “Topics in Interdisciplinary Arts Studies - SWAHILI I.” Chair of the African Studies Minor program Dr. Suzanne James said this course code hid it from potentially interested students.

“Who would possibly go look for Swahili under ASTU?” she said. These new courses will have their own course code, SWAH,  and will officially fall under the African Studies program. Currently, the course is in its final stages of approval. 

“It’s basically rubber stamping at the Senate level … But it is definitely scheduled for September,” said James. The goal is to receive formal Senate approval this month, allowing students to register for SWAH 101 and 102 for the fall. 

James explained that this creation has been something program coordinators have been discussing for at least 10 years. Now, students who are aspiring to learn more about African culture and heritage can do so through the Swahili courses. She explained that the 101 and subsequent 102 courses will allow students to take the beginner course in the first term, and continue the next course in the second term. 

These new courses signify the gradual expansion of the African studies minor program in hopes that it will one day become a major program. 

“It feels like the beginning for us,” James said.  

A new curriculum

Gambarage received his bachelor of arts in education, making him a teacher by profession. 

“I have worked to develop the curriculum that is very interesting,” he said. To make learning Swahili as simple as possible, he composed three original songs, a noun class song, a pronoun system song and a tense song. These songs employ African beats and rhythms to enhance the learning experience. 

“After a few weeks, [students] know how to sing the noun class songs very easily … I have tried it and it works, no one makes grammatical mistakes,” he said. With his linguistic expertise, he is able to break down the internal structures of Swahili sentences and words, making “learning so fun and easy.” 

“We laugh, we make mistakes, but we repeat and do it all over again,” he said. 

Gambarage has taught Swahili in both high school and university settings and is currently working towards establishing Swahili as a foreign language in the BC secondary school curriculum. He said he hopes to give immigrants coming from Swahili-speaking countries studying in BC the environment to apply their knowledge. 

Along with Gambarage’s songs, he will also introduce material such as Swahili greetings and a translated version of rock paper scissors. 

“It’s a very interesting and exciting curriculum that I want to put out there for people to join me,” he said.