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Jocelyn Bowie
College of Arts and Sciences

Last modified: Monday, December 20, 2010

IU establishes Swahili Flagship program for undergraduate education

Dec. 20, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington today announced the establishment of an undergraduate Swahili Flagship program, to be led by Alwiya Omar, clinical associate professor in the Department of Linguistics.

The Swahili Flagship, with a three-year grant of $600,000, will be IU's second such advanced language program, joining the Chinese Flagship that was begun in 2008. It will be only the second African Languages Flagship in the nation.

"One of the most important things that we can do for our students is to equip them with the language skills necessary to compete in a global economy," said Patrick O'Meara, IU vice president for international affairs. "The new flagship program will serve to enhance Indiana University's stature in the teaching of foreign languages."

Alwiya Omar

Photo by Jocelyn Bowie

Alwiya Omar

Swahili, or Kiswahili, is the language of more than 70 million people in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, as well as in parts of Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Comoro Islands. Swahili is the lingua franca of many of these countries and is an official and national language of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Swahili is also used as one of the working languages of the African Union, and it is taught in institutions of higher education in many parts of the world.

"The College is recognized around the world as a major center for the study of languages," said David Zaret, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "Establishing this Swahili Flagship illustrates our strong commitment to foreign languages, and will provide our students with a great set of skills and experiences. I congratulate Dr. Omar for her successful grant application and her vision."

"To paraphrase a report from the National Security Language Initiative," added IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Karen Hanson, "we must equip our students with the ability to engage foreign governments, businesses and peoples, in order to encourage reform, promote understanding, convey respect for other cultures, and to teach the world about America and Americans. The Swahili Flagship will be a major contribution to IU's efforts in this vitally important area."

Omar, an expert in the field of Swahili language pedagogy, will serve as director of the Swahili Flagship; she will collaborate with other Swahili instructors as well as a team of support specialists.

IU has a strong African language program, housed in the Department of Linguistics. Swahili tops the list, with high number of enrollments at all levels. At IU, Swahili is taught to undergraduate and graduate students from elementary to advanced levels. Undergraduate students may take Swahili to fulfill IU's language requirement and they also have the option to minor in the language. Undergraduates also study Swahili to participate in study abroad programs in Eastern Africa and to prepare for careers in governmental and non-governmental agencies.

The Swahili Flagship, and the innovative Swahili curriculum that will be developed, will fulfill the objectives of the Language Flagship:

  • For students to attain superior level of proficiency
  • To revise and develop the program at all levels to enable learners with opportunities for advance language learning
  • To promote and improve on teaching excellence in the target language
  • To stimulate institutional support and long-term commitment to reforming language learning
  • To articulate domestic programs with high-quality overseas study
  • To improve national capacity in critical languages.

The Swahili Flagship at IU will collaborate with American Councils for International Education Swahili Flagship office at the Zanzibar State University in Tanzania to provide IU Swahili Flagship students with study abroad opportunities.

The program is part of the Language Flagship, a partnership among the federal government, education and business with the goal of producing graduates who command a superior level of fluency in one of many languages critical to U.S. competitiveness and security. The federally funded initiative was established in 2000 and is a component of the National Security Education Program (NSEP) at the U.S Department of Defense.

For more information on the Swahili Flagship, see For more information about the Language Flagship, see