Studies & Degrees in African Languages

Choose where you would like to study African Languages:

AustriaCanadaIndiaNetherlandsNigeriaThe United States

Of all the seven continents, Africa is by far the most linguistically diverse, particularly the large region south of the Sahara desert. In this region, the cradle of the human species, some of the oldest and most interesting world languages can be found, including Swahili, Wolof, and !Kung-Ekoka, one of the many African “click languages.” Studying these languages, their history, and their relationships with one another has the potential to yield significant insights into the nature and evolution of human language. In addition, it can help forge links with local people throughout Africa, especially rural populations in places where European languages such as English and French are not widely understood.
Personal Qualities
  • A strong grasp of your native language and ability to understand grammar patterns
  • Patience and diligence – willingness to spend time memorizing vocabulary
  • Friendly demeanor and respect for others
  • Desire to travel, especially in under-developed countries

Study Options
Most African Languages majors are offered by linguistics departments, rather than language or area-studies departments. What this means is that the subject matter and required courses are likely to be more theoretical in nature than many other foreign-language majors. For example, someone majoring in Spanish would spend a significant proportion of their time learning about the culture of Spain and the Latin American countries, whereas someone who majors in African languages will be more focused on the structure of the languages themselves. If you are interested in learning African languages for their own sake or in order to develop a stronger understanding of language in general, then African languages is a good choice of major. If, however, your interest in studying African languages stems from a desire to learn about African history, politics, culture, or current events, then African Studies might be a better major.
That said, African Languages is often an ideal choice for a minor or a secondary major. Students of African Studies or African history may want to consider taking on an intensive course of study in African languages as well, since this will not only deepen their understanding of the region, but also help them in their job search. Of course, many people who study and work in Africa do not learn indigenous African languages, but rather focus on the European languages that are spoken in many African countries. These include French (North and West Africa), English (Southern Africa), and Portuguese (Angola, Mozambique, and coastal West Africa).
Career Options
Because this field is considered a sub-discipline of applied linguistics, African Languages majors typically go on to seek careers as academic linguists. This requires many years of study, usually leading up to a PhD. For those who opt for a double-major or a major/minor combination, however, the job possibilities are much more open. International development is a popular option, as there are numerous NGOs working in Africa who are in dire need of language experts. A combined knowledge of current issues and the ability to speak several African dialects enables graduates to work in extremely remote areas where others cannot go due to the language barrier.