Ohio Wesleyan University students are starting a Swahili club to spread word about the language to incoming students due to the fear of the language losing traction.
Colleges around the nation are dropping in the number of foreign language classes, majors, and minors offered, and fewer students are taking the limited options available.
Sophomore student Fiona Minton is one of the few students trying to start this club.
Minton took two semesters of Swahili her freshman year and tried to take a third as well.
To get people interested in the club, she went to a popular social media app, YikYak. This worked and five people expressed interest in joining the club. Once she put an ad into the OWU Daily, even more people were interested.
Minton’s fellow classmate, junior Ryan McKee, is also helping put together the club and broaden the opportunities for Swahili at the university.
In McKee’s eyes, the club would do more than just provide an extra space for students already taking Swahili but allow new people to become interested as well:
“It gets some basic Swahili out there and I think some students will want to learn Swahili to learn Swahili, and not because they don’t want to learn Spanish,” he said.
Minton also references the motivation most students take toward Swahili, claiming it is “known as the easy language.”
As with most foreign languages at Ohio Wesleyan, students need to write a request to the professor’s department for an upper-level course if they want to continue learning about a language past the basic level, and if enough students are interested then the class is offered. However, this was not the case for a third-level Swahili class.
McKee explains how he wrote the request for the department of Black World Studies since there were six people interested, but the request was denied as the department claimed they did not have the budget for another Swahili class this year.
Foreign language classes being denied the opportunity to be offered is concerning given the reduced number of foreign language classes offered.
Kathleen Stein-Smith, writer for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, found that researchers for the Modern Language Association discovered that 651 foreign language programs have been dropped in colleges from a study done in 2019.
The number of people taking foreign language classes at the college level is dropping as well. Only 7.5 percent of students take a foreign language class in college (Stein-Smith, 2019).
Dr. David Counselman, chair of the Ohio Wesleyan World Languages Department, was shocked by this information. However, he is not worried about Ohio Wesleyan given the language requirement for incoming freshman.
“My sense is that there may be a connection between the decline and the percentage of universities that have a requirement,” said Counselman. In his eyes, the university is safe from this rapid decline.
Though Ohio Wesleyan is not heavily contributing to these statistics, the concern around Swahili is something to look out for. With the club on its way to being established, students will be introduced to this newer language and generate more interest so the Swahili program at Ohio Wesleyan can grow.