Why Study an African Language?


• Over one billion people live in Africa. It’s the 2nd largest and 2nd most populous continent on the planet and makes up 20% of the total landmass on earth.

• Six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies are in sub-Saharan Africa. These are Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia, and Nigeria. (The Economist, 2011).

• BU takes Africa seriously and has since 1953! The African Studies Center is one of the oldest and best regarded centers of its kind in the US, and with over 100 affiliated faculty who do research or teach about African issues it’s one of the largest. More than twenty different schools and departments at BU count an Africanist among their faculty. 350 courses with at least 25% African content are available in BU’s course inventory.

• The African Studies Center, West African Research Center, Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer Range Future, Center for Global Health & Development, Program for the Study of the African Environment, Groupe de Recherches sur l’Afrique francophone—all BU centers or programs with significant research interest in Africa.

• Boston University offers courses in 8 of the most commonly spoken African languages, making BU’s one of the largest African language programs in the United States.


• See the CAS Advising website for information on all the languages taught at BU.

• Ever heard of Ajami? Many African languages were written for centuries in an adapted Arabic script, mostly ignored by Europeans when colonizing the continent. Today BU is working to establish the first ever language programs in Wolof and Hausa that teach Ajami literacy. Mugar Library hosts the African Ajami Library, a digital collection of more than 5,000 Ajami manuscript pages.

• US Department of Education Title VI funding allows the African Studies Center to provide $273,000 in fellowships annually to graduate and undergraduate students studying African languages. BU supplements these awards with another $340,00 in financial aid. That’s enough to fund 14 grad or undergrad students for an academic year or summer program. Visit the Fellowships page.

• All eight languages regularly taught are “critical languages”, a designation of the US Dept of State, which means that special funding may be available for further language training. BU Study Abroad and the African Studies Center continues to develop opportunities for students to study their languages for a semester or year overseas.

• Courses in African languages are offered every semester, and instructors are exceptionally responsive to student needs in terms of scheduling. Students benefit from learning in small groups and an emphasis on spoken proficiency.

• The International Monetary Fund forecasts that Africa will have the fastest-growing economy of any continent over the next five years. Many of the new entrepreneurs of Africa are women. (Josh Kron, The New York Times, 10/10/12)

• African governments are prioritizing business-friendly policies. The World Bank ‘Ease of Doing Business’ reforms show steady progress among Sub-Saharan African countries. (Foreign Policy, 1/15/2013)

• Innovative services on mobile phones are extremely popular all over Africa, and Silicon Valley is paying close attention. (The Economist, 11/21/2012) Chinese telecoms giant Huawei launched a Windows smartphone tailored for and exclusively available in Africa. Gustavo Fuchs, director of the Microsoft Windows Phone division in the Middle East & Africa, estimates that there will be “tens of millions of smart devices available across the continent in the next couple of years.”

• According to a World Bank report released in October 2012, more than 20 sub-Saharan African countries, totaling more than 400 million people, have gained middle-income status, writes Josh Kron in The New York Times. “This year, the World Bank said, one-third of the economies of the 49 sub-Saharan African countries will grow at a clip of 6 percent or more; meanwhile, the number of people living in poverty has fallen roughly 10 percentage points over the past decade.” (10/10/12)

• For many reasons, African trade within Africa has been stymied. Opportunities are fast emerging to facilitate African trade within Africa, and regional integration is a strategic objective. (World Bank, “Defragmenting Africa” report, 2012)

• Innovations pioneered in Africa are going global. For example, 23-year-old Kenyan Ory Okolloh helped found Ushahidi, a Web 2.0 crowdsourcing software initiative “that changed the game in real-time tracking of emergency events via cyberspace. It was originally geared toward political violence after Kenya’s bloody presidential election in 2008, and now is used by Google.” (Josh Kron, The New York Times, 10/10/12)

If you are a student from another university in the Boston area (e.g., Brandeis, UMass, Harvard, etc.) you can also cross-register at Boston University and get full course credit at your home university.

For more information contact the director of the African Language Program, Fallou Ngom, at the African Studies Center, 232 Bay State Road Room 507, Boston, MA 02215, at 617-353-7305 or email.