SHANGHAI International Studies University (SISU) in Eastern China has introduced a degree programme of Kiswahili (BA in Kiswahili), being the only language from the African continent.
It is the first university in the eastern zone to teach Kiswahili, becoming a seventh foreign language taught by the university.
Speaking at the main campus recently, the head of the Swahili Department at the School of Asian and African Languages, Ma Jun, who learnt Kiswahili at the Institute of Kiswahili Studies (IKS) of the Dar es Salaam University for a year and a half, said Kiswahili is of particular importance, hence the reason to establish Kiswahili in the academic year.
He explained that the course has ten students who are in the first year currently and expect to receive more students in the near future. "All students are Chinese citizens.
The aim is to enable them know the international languages fluently so as to facilitate communication and integration. The students also learn other subjects. including economics, diplomacy, politics, culture, and English.
"In four years after they graduate, we are sure they will promote Kiswahili in other places, especially in universities," he said, exclaiming that people should not be surprised if, in the coming years, Kiswahili becomes popular in China.
He added that other foreign languages taught at SISU include Arabic, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Malay (Malaysia), Korean and Hindi.
The students' awareness to learn the language is great. Along with books, they have also been reading Kiswahili newspapers through the Internet, including HabariLEO.
This was observed during a discussion between a senior editor of HabariLEO, who is also the coordinator of East African news, with teachers and students of the university.
Ma explained that "The newspaper has been of great help to us as it writes fine Kiswahili. I began to read it in Tanzania, and now even my students are studying it."
However, the 25-yearold head of department, said the biggest challenge facing them is the access of Kiswahili books, especially on the Internet. "There is a demand of books, and it is hard to acquire them here as the process has a lot of procedures.
It would have been better if they were sold through the internet, " he said. He elaborated that at present, they have three teachers and will employ more when the demand increases.
Kiswahili courses in Chinese universities began to be taught in the 1960s by the Communication University of China (CUC), while Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) started in 1961.
Kiswahili, Tanzania's national language, is spoken by more than 100 million people across the globe, where most people are from East Africa; and it has also been made one of the official languages in the African Union (AU).