The Languages of America in the 21st Century

Hosted by the Global Association of Promoting Swahili (GAPS or CHAUKIDU), African Languages Teachers Association (ALTA), National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages (NCOLCTL)

The annual CHAUKIDU/ALTA/ NCOLCTL was held at the Hilton Hotel Washington Dulles Airport, on April 23-26, 2015

The National African Resource Center secretariat that is home to the executive director of both the ALTA and NCOLCTL highlights the less commonly taught languages in its conference, making many language instructors and stakeholders consider it a landmark annual event. It is especially so because of the wide number of topics covered; the gathering together of leading scholars and junior academics, policy makers at senior and junior levels, officials of global language institutions such as ACTFL, and language specialists from the private sector; and the opportunity for students at the PhD level to present their research.

The main focus of the conference was to encourage debate on issues of relevance for the less commonly taught languages. This year, the conference had more than 200 presentations. It also had at least 3 plenary speakers, more than 10 invited lecturers, and around 70 presenters in invited sessions and panels. The program covered virtually all areas within second language acquisition and applied linguistics in general: technology in language pedagogy, language learner motivation, learning styles, online language teaching, current research trends in LCTLs, American students of foreign languages, proficiency testing and evaluation, heritage language learners, teaching grammar in context, foreign languages and cultural proficiency, the film industry and language teaching, and many others. The full program, with downloadable files for most papers and presentations for the contributed and invited sessions and round tables, is available at

Some highlights of the conference

  1. In a case study paper that was presented about why Americans learn Arabic the paper tried to explore if cultural diversity has an effect to encourage Americans to learn Arabic as well as to know what the main motivation is of Americans to learn Arabic. The purpose of the study was to make the American students realize the importance of enhancing the cultural diversity initiatives taken by the society to learn Arabic. The research question of this research was “Why do Americans learn Arabic?” The findings from the study were that Americans’ motivation to learn the Arabic language are: cultural identity, academic purposes, and traveling abroad. The major problem that is faced by the American students in learning Arabic is based around which dialect they need to base on in order to use Arabic in both spoken and written forms. The second challenge was that Arabic is a diglossic language and there is a huge difference between formal and informal Arabic.
  1. Another case study by a presenter from Indiana University looked at difficulties in teaching Less Commonly Taught Languages at a state university. Specifically, the researcher analyzed challenges faced by graduate students hired by that university’s Critical Languages Program when they provide instruction in such languages as Arabic, Portuguese, Russian, and Swahili. Data collected from interviews with these graduate students, as well as with the director of the program were analyzed using NVivo to identify phrases that suggest both common difficulties and possible strategies to overcome such difficulties. The outcomes provided insights to IU and other state universities on possible strategies to enhance the teaching of Less Commonly Taught Languages.
  1. Another study demonstrated how instructors of Korean language could closely monitor students’ progress in learning specific target forms/features and in using them in real-world communication by incorporating audio portfolios in their curricula. Each task in this audio portfolio project was designed to elicit the production of the target forms in the context of performing the assigned tasks. The term “form” in this presentation included not only grammatical, but also lexical, phonological, social, and pragmatic aspects of Korean language. The study found that implementing audio portfolios for teaching L2 Korean in elementary level, form-focused and product-based language tasks could contribute to students’ learning in a meaningful way.


 My presentation took place at a Swahili language specific parallel session. It was entitled “Athari ya Mawasiliano ya Papo kwa Hapo kwenye Komputa katika Uandishi wa Insha za Kiswahili”. (A translated working paper version is available at ). This paper emanates from one chapter of my PhD dissertation that was supervised by Dr. Katrina Thompson, the external specialist who was invited by the Center for African Studies at UC Berkeley to evaluate the African language program. Other dissertation committee members were Dr. Dustin Cowell – Arabic, Dr. Monika Chavez – German, Dr. François Tochon – French and Dr. Magdalena Hauner – Swahili.

The full abstract of my paper read as follows:

Athari za Mawasiliano ya Papo kwa Hapo Kwenye Komputa Katika Uandishi wa Insha za Kiswahili kama Lugha ya Kigeni

Utafiti huu ulikitwa kwenye nadharia za ujifunzaji zinazoitwa nadharia za kutangamana na kutegemeana. Utafiti huu ulichunguza kwa njia za kisayansi athari za mawasiliano wanayokuwa nayo wanafunzi kwa njia ya mawasiliano ya papo kwa hapo kywenye kompyuta katika uandishi wao wa insha. Katika ujifunzaji lugha, kwa muda mrefu uandishi wa insha unachukuliwa kama shughuli ya mtu binafsi hali ambayo watafiti kama vile (Hamdaoui, 2006; Susser, 1994; Weissberg, 2006)wanapendekeza kwamba inafaa kubadilika. Watafiti niliowataja, wanapendekeza kwamba uandishi wa insha ni tukio la kijamii ambalo linastahili juhudi za pamoja za wanajamii kama inavyokuwa shughuli nyingine yoyote ya kijamii.

Among the attendants in the session were Dr. Leonard Muaka, the Executive Director of CHAUKIDU and ALTA Vice President, and Dr. Kristina Riedel of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Esther Lisanza and Dr. Kiarie wa’Njogu of Yale University gave very helpful insights and suggestions. Their comments focused on the strategy used in the paper to identify the impact from online chat to essay writing in Swahili. They liked the fact that this was the first study in African languages that tried to look at the impact that technology has in the learning of African languages but emphasized that the correlations that I made needed to be observed for a longer period of time. A very useful recommendation from Dr. Eyamba Bokamba was that I continue with the project that is geared towards publishing a book in 2016.

One of the main messages of this paper was that chat on the computer might provide students of Swahili with linguistic resources that they need in the writing of their essays. Collaborative practice, on the other hand, provides students with social skills that they need in learning how to write their essays and that there is a need for changes in the structural framework for training instructors of foreign languages. Instructors should be exposed to current research about writing in the foreign languages that they teach, including the connections that exist between chat and essay writing.