The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
By Grace McNally, Staff Writer • June 13, 2024
Opinion | Long-distance friendships are possible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 6, 2024

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
By Grace McNally, Staff Writer • June 13, 2024
Opinion | Long-distance friendships are possible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 6, 2024

‘Learning the language of the African pride’: Pitt students study Swahili

A+student+attends+the+Swahili+conversation+hour+in+the+Global+Hub+in+Posvar+Hall.
Alex Jurkuta | Staff Photographer
A student attends the Swahili conversation hour in the Global Hub in Posvar Hall.

Filipo Lubua, a linguistics professor and the coordinator of Pitt’s Swahili program, said Swahili conversation hours venture beyond language exchange.

“Choosing to learn Swahili, the most widely spoken African language of African origin, you are learning the language of the African pride and future,” Lubua said. “Every language learned is a new lens through which to view and appreciate the vast embroidery of human experiences.” 

Every Wednesday from 3:30-4:30 p.m., students practicing Swahili and anyone interested can stop by the Global Hub in Posvar Hall for the Swahili conversation hour. The meetings are part of the Swahili level two course offered at Pitt under the Less-Commonly-Taught Languages Center, housed in the Department of Linguistics. It aims to provide an opportunity to practice Swahili in a less formal context, and it is supervised by the Swahili Fulbright foreign language assistant Benedict Omwenga Kachietano.

Swahili is one of the 14 languages offered in the Center, dedicated to “broadening the range of options in foreign language study for Pitt students and offering courses in over a dozen languages that you can’t study everywhere.” About 140 million East and West Africans in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and more speak Swahili. The language is also one of the working languages in the African Union, the intergovernmental organization in Africa.

The Swahili Department currently offers up to eight levels of Swahili, as well as elective classes on culture and study abroad opportunities in Tanzania. Studying in the department allows students the chance to earn a minor and learn Swahili and to also complete the Africana studies certificate, global studies certificate, Bachelor of Philosophy in international and area studies and the linguistics major requirements. 

The meetings don’t seem like homework but rather like conversations you could easily have at home over dinner. The hour goes by quickly through conversations about daily events, such as meals and news. The students are enthusiastic, repeating words to perfect pronunciation and understand the small morphemes that build the words. Their notes are filled with charts of vocabulary and sentences to practice. 

Learning a language is not just about learning vocabulary but about bridging cultures. Swahili is Lubua’s mother tongue, and he uses the language to connect to his roots from Pittsburgh. 

“Having lived abroad for almost a decade and a half, Swahili remains the language that bridges and connects me to my roots,” Lubua said. “So, teaching Swahili at the University of Pittsburgh is more than teaching a language, it’s sharing a piece of my home and heart with the world.” 

Through the conversation hours, Lubua said the Swahili department has focused on creating an approachable method to the language, focusing on daily conversations and confidence in speaking. 

“I expose them to real-life language situations and allow them to engage each other in that situation while having lots of fun,” Lubua said. 

The conversation hour is also a chance for heritage speakers to better understand the words they grew up with. Loi Martin, a bioethics student at Pitt, started practicing Swahili at the University to learn his family’s language. 

“I’m doing it because my family speaks Swahili, but I don’t, so I’m learning to speak. Half of my family is in East Africa, so I learned to speak with them,” Martin said. Martin tabled with the Swahili coffee shop at the Languages Coffeehouse

On the other hand, Swahili allows students to better enjoy their study abroad experiences. Isabel Brum Cancio, a graduate student in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, studied abroad in Kenya as an undergraduate before studying Swahili. While she picked up some Swahili, Brum Cancio wanted a chance to delve more into it. 

“I studied abroad when I was an undergraduate at Kenya, and [as] I spent the summer over there, picked up a little bit of Swahili, and since I’m doing international relations, I figured I should learn more,” Brum Cancio said. 

Lubua explained that teaching and studying a language distant from the Western world and culture can produce challenges for students and professors.

“One of the main challenges in teaching Swahili is the limited exposure many students have to the language and cultures of East Africa. Our students do not get as much exposure to the culture as they should, and this can cause them to miss some cultural nuances necessary for cultural proficiency,” Lubua said. 

However, the department has the help of native Swahili speakers through the Fulbright program. Fulbright foreign language assistants support students during conversation hours, building up their confidence in holding a conversation. 

“To overcome this [challenge], we’ve leveraged the presence of our Fulbright foreign language assistant from Kenya. Since 2015, Pitt has been fortunate to host a Swahili FLTA each year under the Fulbright exchange program, enriching our program with authentic insights and facilitating a deeper connection between students and the language,” Lubua said. “This collaboration has been instrumental in bridging cultural gaps and enhancing the learning experience.” 

Lubua said the department is quickly growing, and he’s enthusiastic about supporting study abroad opportunities, fellowships and language growth for its students. 

“The joy of teaching Swahili lies in the moments when students begin to understand not just the language but the tenet of the Swahili-speaking world,” Lubua said. “It’s about fostering a community of learners who appreciate the beauty of diversity and are eager to explore the world beyond their immediate surroundings.”

About the Contributor
Irene Castillo, Senior Staff Writer
Irene Sofía Castillo Maldonado is a junior history of art and architecture major with a museum studies minor and a Latin American studies certificate. She was born and raised in Puerto Rico, so you might see her long Spanish sentences slip through in her exhibition reviews. Aside from The Pitt News, she’s a researcher for anti-colonial practices in museums and art, as well as a firm coffee shop critic –– cortados are her favorite.