U.Va. introduces Swahili, K'iche' as language options

Courses offered in collaboration with Duke, Vanderbilt


Anne Rotich teaches Swahili to 23 students this year.

The University introduced two new language classes for the Fall 2015 semester — Swahili and K’iche’, a Mayan dialect.

Swahili is offered as a traditional class, but K’iche’ is being taught by an instructor at Vanderbilt and made available to University students through the Partnership for Less Commonly Spoken Languages. Students will attend classes taught over video link. The partnership includes the Univeristy, Duke and Vanderbilt.

Through the program, each university offers a different less-commonly-taught language. The University originally offered Tibetan while Duke offered Haitian Creole, and in 2015 the program was expanded to include Vanderbilt, which is offering K’iche’.

Swahili is the most commonly spoken language in Africa and K’iche’ is spoken by about 1 million people in Guatemala. In addition, K’iche’ is also the language of the Maya book of creation, said Allison Bigelow, the faculty coordinator for the program.

“It has a deep spiritual meaning [and] a vibrant literary tradition as well,” Bigelow said.

Miao-Fen Tseng, director of the Institute of World Languages, said she felt language is essential in order to shape students to become responsible global citizens.

“U.Va. is committed to globalization and international education,” Tseng said.”It is important to be equipped with knowledge in language to get involved in the global community.”

Learning world languages provides a way for students to reach this goal of becoming proficient citizens in the modern world, Tseng said. She said she felt people were being increasingly drawn into contact with other cultures, but this push toward global learning wouldn’t be possible if we only spoke English.

“We must prepare students to be linguistically proficient and culturally competent global citizens,” Tseng said.

related stories