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Teaching of African languages will begin in Russian schools


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The government of Russia will start teaching three major African languages in select schools in Moscow beginning this year, as the country seeks to deepen ties with the continent, in the face of increased international isolation it faces over Ukraine invasion.

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More than 200 million people speak Swahili

The languages, including Swahili and Amharic widely spoken in Eastern Africa, and Yoruba spoken in Nigeria and neighbouring countries, will be taught in four yet to be disclosed schools beginning September 2023, according to Alexei Maslow, director of the Institute of Asian and African Studies, Lomonosov Moscow State University.

The African languages will be taught as part of a special program of the IAAS-MSU, and is meant to help forge closer ties with the continent, the Russian news agency Sputnik reported last week.

The announcement made during a Sputnik international roundtable on Russia-Africa relations focused on ‘prospects for economic cooperation’ attended by academics from universities in the two places.

It elicited excitement in some circles in both Russia and Africa, with the Russian embassy in Uganda happily tweeting the news. “Starting this September, students from four schools in Moscow will begin learning African languages – Swahili, Amharic and Yoruba”, it announced.

When actualised the move will reportedly make Russia the first European country to teach African language in its public schools.

“An abrupt turn to Africa requires a completely different type of specialists who could work directly with the economy and with modern political and economic elites, and most importantly, would realise that Africa is not just one big continent, but in fact, a patchwork of diverse national, ethnic, religious and linguistic traditions,” Maslov told the event.

“An abrupt turn to Africa requires a completely different type of specialists”

Swahili also known as Kiswahili is one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa, and is commonly used in East Africa countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 200 million people speak the language. In Kenya and Tanzania it’s the official language and the African Union has also adapted it as an official lingua franca.

On the other hand, Yoruba is mainly spoken in West African countries of Nigeria, Benin and Togo, where over 50 million speak it. The Amharic language is spoken in the horn-of-Africa countries of Ethiopia and Eritrea by over 50 million people.

Some 30,000 African students are studying in Russian universities and over 100,000 of them have shown interest in studying there according to the Study in Russia organisation, Racus. The country has stepped up recruitment campaigns in recent years, using affordability and quality as the selling points.

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