African Languages at the K-12 Level. ERIC Digest.
by Kuntz, Patricia
Although the teaching of African languages at the elementary and secondary
levels is rare, a number of schools offer one or more of the following
major African languages at these levels: Arabic (North Africa), Hausa (West
Africa), Swahili (East Africa), Wolof (Senegal), Yoruba (Nigeria), and
Xhosa and Zulu (South Africa). Strictly speaking, Arabic is a colonial
language brought to North Africa by Arabs from the Arabian peninsula. Through
the spread of Islam and the introduction of Quranic schools, Arabic has
flourished in Africa. U.S. universities and government agencies classify
Arabic as both an African and a Middle Eastern language.
American children whose ancestors spoke an African language often seek
to study it. These students include both recent immigrants and African
Americans whose ancestors were slaves. The latter often have limited knowledge
of their language heritage, because slavery discouraged the retention of
language and cultural identity. Given this loss, many African-American
students choose to study one of the more prominent African languages, such
as Hausa, Swahili, Yoruba, or Zulu. Recently, African Americans who promote
an Afrocentric curriculum have included the instruction of African languages
and their related cultures. In support of an Afrocentric approach to education,
new African immigrants frequently teach at places such as The Swahili Institute
Many immigrants from North Africa who speak Arabic have come to the
United States recently as scholars or professionals. These Arab Americans
tend to congregate in major cities, which enables them to sponsor Arabic-language
newspapers, radio, and television stations. Their children may attend private
or weekend schools to study Arabic and learn about Arabic culture.
LEGISLATION PROMOTING LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION
Since the 1970s, federal legislation has provided funding that K-12
teachers could apply to African language instruction. However, the lack
of grass-roots demands for such instruction has discouraged teachers and
administrators from offering programs.
Educate America Act of 1994. This Act designated that major disciplines,
including foreign languages, design national standards for instruction
at the K-12 level. To date, no teachers of African languages have participated
in the preparation of generic standards at these levels. However, Africanists
are in the process of developing proficiency guidelines for Hausa, Swahili,
and Yoruba. The Arabic instructor at North Atlanta High School (GA) has
worked in collaboration with universities funded by the Higher Education
Act (HEA) to create the Arabic ACTFL proficiency guidelines, and several
Arabic teachers hold certification in the ACTFL oral proficiency interview.
Foreign Language Act. In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed the Foreign
Language Act (FLA) to specify which languages were the most critical ones
for U.S. government interests. Legislators designated five languages of
which Arabic was one.
FLA also supported summer language programs. One program, the Critical
Languages and Area Studies Consortium (CLASC), provided precollegiate instruction,
teacher training workshops, educational conferences, and materials development
for Arabic. Another program, directed in 1990 by Mohammed Jiyad, provided
Arabic instruction for high school students at the Northfield-Mt. Hermon
School (MA). The course comprised 6 weeks of instruction, academic year
audio conferencing, and 6 weeks of study in Egypt. Most students achieved
an intermediate proficiency rating at the end of the program. Jiyad and
Mahdi Alosh (Ohio State University) prepared computer programs and textbooks
for the course.
Higher Education Act. As a result of reauthorization of the Higher Education
Act in 1972, the U.S. Congress stipulated that universities seeking federal
funding to promote less commonly taught languages should provide outreach
to K-12 teachers. Two funded universities have developed African language
instruction for this level. During the academic year, Yale University graduate
students offer after-school programs for high school students in Afrikaans,
Hausa, Swahili, Yoruba, and Zulu. Likewise, University of Wisconsin students
have taught Swahili in after-school programs, in summer programs, or at
West High School in Madison.
Presently, no state has a teacher certification program for African
languages; an African language certification augments another discipline.
Because of the turnover in appointments, few teachers of African languages
are members of foreign language organizations, and potential teachers vary
School administrators recruit teachers from four different groups. The
highest priority is given to language nationals (expatriates) with native
proficiency and a first-hand knowledge of the culture. A second group are
African nationals with language teaching experience. Frequently, an African
national has learned the target language in school. A third group consists
of current U.S. language teachers who hold a state license. The fourth
group comprises students (non-Africans) who have studied the African language
or who have worked in the country where the African language is spoken.
Although K-12 language instruction is not a high priority for all organizations,
interest is increasing. The National Council of Organizations of Less Commonly
Taught Languages (John Hopkins University, NFLC, 1619 Massachusetts Ave.
N.W., Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036), founded in 1991, encourages instruction
at the K-12 level. Members are charged to prepare a language framework
that takes into consideration precollegiate instruction.
For teachers of African languages, two organizations can provide support.
Teachers of Amharic, Hausa, Swahili, Yoruba, and Xhosa may obtain materials
from the African Studies Association (ASA) Outreach Council, Credit Union
Bldg., Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322. Members of the African Language
Teachers Association (ALTA), c/o Antonia Schleicher, 1414 Van Hise Hall,
1220 Linden Dr., University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706-1557, collaborate
with school districts to provide instruction in African languages. In addition,
ALTA has task forces for Hausa, Swahili, and Yoruba and publishes a newsletter,
Lugha, that carries news from the field of African language instruction.
Two organizations link teachers of Arabic: The Middle East Studies Association
(MESA), University of Arizona, 1232 North Cherry Ave., Tucson, AZ 85721,
and the American Association of Teachers of Arabic (AATA), Brigham Young
University, 280 HRCB, Provo, UT 84602. Both support materials development
and language acquisition. The MESA Outreach Council provides resources
for teachers seeking instructional materials for Arabic. AATA publishes
"Al-cArabiyya" and "AATA Newsletter" for teachers to share ideas about
instruction. Members can also network through Arabic-L (mail service) and
an AATA electronic homepage.
Often, teachers of African languages must create their own teaching
materials, and they may also have to contend with multiple-level classes.
The Foreign Language Institute and the Peace Corps have developed African-language
instructional materials for adults, but teachers must adapt them for their
young students. Overseas summer language programs can provide teachers
with opportunities to enhance their language proficiency, increase their
knowledge of the culture, and collect authentic materials. The National
Endowment for the Humanities, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Information
Agency, and National Council for U.S.-Arab Relations provide summer curriculum
National Foreign Language Resource Centers. All of the National Foreign
Language Resource Centers (NFLRC) have projects concerning Arabic instruction.
For example, the Ohio State University NFLRC developed an Arabic program
for certified secondary school teachers. This program, like CLASC, is a
three-year sequence and leads to state certification in Arabic.
Electronic resources. Teachers can utilize electronic media in African
languages to expand language and culture contacts. For example, electronic
mail service in Afrikaans, Swahili, and Yoruba provides opportunities for
maintaining reading and writing skills. Voice of America broadcasts by
short-wave radio and offers text on a homepage in Amharic, Arabic, Hausa,
and Swahili. Computerized and video lessons are also available for some
For 15 years, African languages have been offered at the K-12 level
in the United States. These courses attract students of African heritage
and others seeking a multicultural education. Unfortunately, many of these
programs lack basic requirements such as qualified teachers, facilities,
funding, textbooks, and regular classes. African languages are rarely part
of the regular, institutionalized foreign language offerings. In a few
cities, however, administrators encourage African language instruction
and have mobilized community support, parental involvement, and cooperating
principals and department chairs, and encouraged teacher collaboration,
accountability, relevant curricula, and pedagogical flexibility. These
programs have adequate instructional materials, learning time, effective
teaching practices, and curricula designed by scope and sequence. With
more such programs for precollegiate students, U.S. citizens may become
more knowledgeable of the African continent, its languages, and its 55
SELECTED LIST OF PRIVATE SCHOOLS THAT TEACH ARABIC
California: Institute of Islamic Studies (Los Angeles)
Harambee Institute (Berkeley)
Georgia: Sister Clara Muhammad School (Atlanta)
W. Deen Mohammed High School (Atlanta)
Illinois: Islamic Information & Dawah Center (Chicago)
Mosque of Umar (Chicago)
Ohio: Islamic School (Canton)
Maryland: Muslim Community School (Potomac)
Massachusetts: Northfield-Mt. Hermon School
Michigan: Chaldean Education Center (Detroit)
Iraqi United Youth and Dar al-Arkan (Dearborn)
Michigan Islamic Academy (Ann Arbor)
Genesee Academy (Flint)
New Mexico: Khalid Islamic School (Albuquerque)
Tennessee: Tennessee Foreign Language Institute (Nashville)
Virginia: Islamic Saudi Academy (Alexandria)
Washington: Islamic School (Seattle)
Wisconsin: Masjid Sultan Muhammad School (Milwaukee)
SELECTED LIST OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND ORGANIZATIONS THAT
California: Montessori Center School (Santa Barbara)
Berkeley High School
Connecticut: Hill House High School (New Haven)
Hotchkiss School (Lakeville)
District: District of Columbia Public Schools
Georgia: North Atlanta High School (Atlanta)
Illinois: A. Phillip Randolph Magnet School (Chicago)
Maryland: Prince George's County School District
Michigan: Cass Tech High School (Detroit)
Greenfield Union Elementary School (Detroit)
Martin Luther King High School (Detroit)
Fordson High School (Dearborn)
Lowrey Elementary School (Dearborn)
Hamtramck High School
Minnesota: International School of Minnesota (Eden Prairie)
Missouri: Southeast High School (Kansas City)
New Jersey: Nassau Elementary School (East Orange)
New York: East High School (Rochester)
Ohio: Academy of World Languages (Cincinnati)
Louisville High School
Mifflin International Middle School (Columbus)
Texas: Awty International School (Houston)
Dunbar Middle School (Fort Worth)
Wisconsin: Martin Luther King, Jr. School (Milwaukee)
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