This module is designed to help learners of Swahili as a foreign language achieve Advanced Low proficiency on the ACTFL scale. For classroom learners, it is most appropriate for students who have already studied Swahili for two or three academic years, while self-directed learners and/or those who have spent a significant amount of time in East Africa may find it useful at earlier or later stages of study.

You may notice that this module uses more English than you typically find in Swahili materials at this level. My use of English is purposeful, with Swahili and English serving dynamic and varied purposes. There are five main reasons behind my code choices in this module:

First, one of the goals of the Mellon LCTL project for which this module was created was to share resources not only among teachers of any given LCTL (in this case Swahili), but also among LCTL teachers of various langauges, in order to foster the creation of additional materials. Keeping much of this module in English thus allows teachers of other LCTLs who don’t understand Swahili to use this module for ideas as they create their own language teaching materials.

Second, according to ACTFL, being able to follow simple written instructions is an indicator of the Advanced Low level of proficiency, so it would not make sense to expect you to be able to do this at the start of this module. By the end of the module, you will find the instructions in Swahili when that particular proficiency goal is targeted.

Third, students at high levels of proficiency should be engaging with authentic materials (Swahili texts created for real-world use rather than with learners in mind), not with textbook materials. The instructions here are designed to get you quickly engaged with the authentic texts herein (transcripts of Swahili conversations and interviews), so that you don’t waste too much time reading “textbook Swahili.”

Fourth, when instructions are in the target language, it is difficult to assess problems that arise in a learner’s completion of a given task. Is the learner unable to do the task, or did they simply misunderstand the instructions? My own students at upper levels of Swahili tell me how frustrating it can be to do an assignment incorrectly only to find out later that it was because they misunderstood the instructions. Avoiding this potential problem allows students to showcase what they can DO in Swahili, fitting for a proficiency- and task-based approach.

Finally, and most importantly, the idea that only Swahili should be used stems from (and feeds into) a false sense of how language works, a kind of “canned monolingualism” that resembles “teacher talk” more than it does how Swahili speakers talk in the real world outside of classrooms and textbooks.[1] Swahili speakers use different linguistic resources for different purposes, frequently switching among or mixing Swahili, other East African African languages, English, or Arabic, with the particular languages at play influenced by the context, the speakers’ ethnic or religious backgrounds, and their level of education.[2] Learners of Swahili need to be able to develop these skills as well.


  1. Levine, Glenn S. Code Choice in the Language Classroom. Bristol: Multilingual Matters, 2011.
  2. M. H. Abdulaziz Mkilifi, “Triglossia and Swahili-English Bilingualism in Tanzania,” Language in Society 1, no. 2 (October 1972): 197–213, doi:10.2307/4166684; Jan Blommaert, “Codeswitching and the Exclusivity of Social Identities: Some Data from Campus Kiswahili,” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 13, no. 1–2 (1992): 57–70; Alamin M. Mazrui, “Slang and Code-Switching: The Case of Sheng in Kenya,” Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere 42, no. June (1995): 168–79; John Fenn and Alex Perullo, “Language Choice and Hip Hop in Tanzania and Malawi,” Popular Music and Society 24, no. 3 (Fall 2000): 73(21); Thomas Geider, “Code-Switching Between Swahili and English in East African Popular Literature: David Maillu’s Without Kiinua Mgongo and Other Cases1,” Matatu, no. 31/32 (2005): 115–131,278; Christina Higgins, English as a Local Language: Post-Colonial Identities and Multilingual Practices (Bristol, UK & Buffalo, NY: Multilingual Matters, 2009); Christina Higgins, “‘Are You Hindu?’: Resisting Membership Categorization through Language Alternation,” in Talk-In-Interaction: Multilingual Perspectives, ed. Hanh Thi Nguyen and Gabriele Kasper (University of Hawai’i at Manoa: National Foreign Language Resource Center, 2009), 111–36; Rafiki Sebonde, “Code-Switching and Social Stratification in a Rural Chasu Community in Tanzania,” Language Matters 43, no. 1 (2012): 60–76, doi:10.1080/10228195.2011.627683.


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Dini Afrika ya Mashariki by Katrina Daly Thompson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.