Language Education Policy Studies
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Language Education Policies 
in Tanzania

There are 127 languages listed for Tanzania of which two are considered extinct (Lewis, et al, 2013). The country was initially colonized by Germany before the British took over after World War I. Roy-Campbell (2001) argues that Germans promoted Kiswahili as the language of administration and education in order to maintain the established colonial power dynamics. In the advent of the British rule Kiswahili continued serving as the language of administration even though the British promoted the use of English in schools and as official language.  

In 1954 the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) political party fought for independence under the leadership of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. Upon independence, Nyerere adopted Ujamaa political philosophy and Kiswahili was adopted as the language of national unity (Miguel, 2001). Thus, in the current language education policy Kiswahili serves as the medium of instruction in pre-primary and primary school and English is considered as compulsory subject. However, upon transitioning to secondary school English functions as the medium of instruction and Kiswahili remains a compulsory subject up to Ordinary Level (Qorro, 2013).

The abrupt transition from Kiswahili to the English medium of instruction has been seen as an impediment to effective academic knowledge acquisition. For instance, Qorro (2013) posits that 99.1% of the students transitioning to secondary school had Kiswahili as the medium of instruction and thus, they obtain minimal knowledge of the subjects offered in the entire four to six years of secondary education. She further argues that insufficient English proficiency deters students from active knowledge sharing in the classroom due to low self-esteem emanating from poor language skills.

Although Kiswahili seems to be the ideal language of education and national unity for Tanzanians, some scholars have raised alarm on the status ascribed to Kiswahili at the expense of the other indigenous languages. For instance, Janson (2002) argued: “It seems clear that many of the approximately 120 languages in Tanzania will lose many or all of their speakers within a generation or two” (p. 191). Moreover, UNESCO regards the Kiswahili policy as a promotion of passive assimilation, and the threat on minority languages emanates from Kiswahili rather than English (Petzell, 2012).  However, various projects have been invited to document the endangered languages.



Tanzania Dumps English and makes Kiswahili (Swahili) the Sole Official Language

Teaching English in Tanzania 2012

Works Cited

Lewis, M.P., Simons, G.F., & Fennig, C.D. (eds) (2013). Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Seventeenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version:

Miguel, Edward. “Tribe or nation? Nation building and public goods in Kenya versus Tanzania. World Politics 56.3 (2004): 327-362.

Petzell, M. (2012) 'The linguistic situation in Tanzania'. Moderna Sprak, 106(1), 136-144.

Qorro, M.A.S. (2013). Language of instruction in Tanzania: Why are research findings not heeded? Springer. Science Business Media.

Roy-Campbell, Zalime M. Empowerment Through Langauge. Trenton, NJ and Asmara, Eritrea:Africa World Press, 2001.


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Kyalo, C. (2018). Language Education Policies in Tanzania. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved at: (insert link) 

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