Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences - Institute of Asian and African Studies

Learning Languages

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African Languages



  • Bambara As a part of the Manding language cluster Bambara is a culturally significant and widespread language. Bambara is mostly spoken in the West African state of Mali. Together with Dioula and Malinke it is part of the dialect continuum of the Manding (or Mande) varieties. Around 30 million people in ten countries of West Africa more or less understand and speak Bambara. However, in Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, in Guinea, Senegal and Gambia large segments of the population speak varieties of Manding as mother tongue respectively as common or commercial language. Its script is either the original N’Ko script or the Latin alphabet. Lecturer Anke Nehrig, M.A.

  • Hausa The core area of Hausa extends from the northern parts of Nigeria to the south of Niger. Apart from that, it is spoken in Ghana, Mali, Benin and Togo. Kano Hausa is regarded as standard Hausa language. It is the mother tongue of around 25 million people (1991)and spoken by around 18 million people as second language (1991). Like the Semitic, Kushitic, Omotic, Berber and old Egyptian languages, it belongs to the family of Afro-Asiatic languages. Lecturer Yusuf Baba Gar
  • Nord-Sotho Like Southern Sotho, Tswana and Rotse, the Bantu language Northern Sotho belongs to the Sotho languages spoken by about five million native speakers. Since centuries, the dialects of North Sotho are mainly spoken within and at the periphery of the most densely populated South African province of Gauteng. Speakers of Sotho languages can communicate amongst each other, which makes it easy to gain access to the bigger part of the South African population via this language group. Northern Sotho has an old and rich tradition of oral literature. Lecturer Dr. Annekie Joubert
  • Swahili is the lingua franca of East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda) and of bigger parts of Central Africa (Ruanda, Burundi, Kongo). It is the most widely spoken Bantu language worldwide. More than 100 million people know Swahili, out of which around 5-10 million are native speakers. Outside of Africa, Swahili speaking communities live in the Emirates, in UK and in Canada. Until the end of the 19th century, Swahili was written in Arabic script. Today it is based on the Latin alphabet. Lecturer Dr. phil. Lutz Diegner and V. Kazimoto 


East Asian Languages


  • Chinese (modern & classical) Chinese languages are spoken by 1.3 billion people – mostly in the People's Republic of China and in the Republic of China (Taiwan). Chinese speaking minorities are distributed among different countries, especially in Southeast Asia. Most speakers of Chinese speak (Modern) Standard Chinese, also called "Mandarin" or simply "Chinese". Mandarin today has 885,000,000 native speakers and is the most spoken language in the world. The Chinese or Sinese languages are one of the two primary branches of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Lecturer Bärbel Steinberg
  • Classical Chinese – In the Chinese cultural space, diverse languages have gained significance since three millenia. They left behind a considerable amount of literature and are relevant to this day. Classical Chinese is actually the written and probably spoken language of China in the 5th-3rd centuries BC. It is valued as a literary language until today and regarded as the precursor of all modern Sinese languages. Lecturer Matthias Hahn, M.A. and Dr. Martina Siebert
  • Japanese is the official language of Japan and spoken by almost all of its around 128 million inhabitants as a native language (2012). Japanese is close to other Asian languages, especially to Korean. The script was derived from Chinese characters, although the languages are not related. Presently, there are 1945 characters assigned to common use. After Japan's rise as an economic power, the interest in Japanese culture and the study of the Japanese language increased significantly. Currently, there are about three million people studying Japanese outside of Japan (2010). Lecturer Jutta Borchert and Dr. Harald Salomon

South Asian Languages


  • Hindi is spoken in most northen and central Indian states. Next to English, it is the official language of the independent Republic of India (since 1965). With around 601 million native and second language speakers (2001), Hindi is one of the most spoken languages in the world. Outside of India, there are various Hindi speaking communities. Especially on Mauritius and the Fiji islands, a scarce majority speaks Hindi until today. Hindi is an Indo-European language with a rich literature. Hindi and Urdu differ mostly in their written form. Hindi is based on the Devanagari script and derives some terms from Sanskrit. Lecturer Dr. Monika Freier
  • Telugu Like Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Brahui in Pakistan, Telugu belongs to the Dravidian language group. Apart from the Indo-European languages Hindi and Bengali, Telugu is the third most widely spoken language of India (80 million speakers). It is the official language of the state of Andhra Pradesh and used as lingua franca in South India and along the East Indian Coast. Outside of India, there are Telugu speaking communities in Southeast Asia and in the US. Medieval Telugu belongs to the classical languages of India. Lecturer Dr. Georg Berkemer
  • Urdu is the official language of Pakistan. In India, Urdu is mainly spoken in Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Six percent of the Indian population are Urdu speakers. Worldwide, there are about 60.6 million native speakers of Urdu (1993-97). Including the second language speakers, this number amounts to 150-200 million people. Hindi and Urdu differ mostly in their written form. Urdu is based on the Arabic script and derives loanwords from the Persian and Arabic languages. Outside of Pakistan and India, there are Urdu speaking communities mostly in UK, Saudi-Arabia, the US and in Bangladesh. Urdu is an Indo-European language and belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. Lecturer Syed Sarwar Zahir ​


Southeast Asian Languages


  • Bahasa Indonesia The modern Indonesian official language Bahasa Indonesia is one of the most widely spoken languages of the Southeast Asian area and used as a business and working language. It is mostly spoken in Indonesia and in Malaysia (Bahasa Melayu). Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Melayu, which are linguistically regarded as one language, are spoken by around 200 million people worldwide. Outside of Indonesia, Bahasa Indonesia is spoken mainly in Saudi-Arabia, Singapore, the Netherlands and in the US. The modern day official language has its roots in the Old Malay language and is a part of the Austronesian language family (like Balinese, Philipino and Malagasy). The written language of Bahasa Indonesia is based on the Latin script. Lecturer Reni Isa, M.A.

  • Khmer is the official language of Cambodia. It is the mother tongue of the Khmer people. With around 14 million native speakers and two million second language speakers, it is the second most widely spoken Austro-Asiatic language. The majority of Khmer speakers live in Cambodia, around 1.5 million speakers live in Thailand and Vietnam (2009). A minority of speakers lives in South Vietnam, in Eastern Thailand, and in South Laos.

    Through Buddhism and Hinduism, Khmer has been considerably influenced by the old Indian Sanskrit and the Middle Indian Pali. It is the earliest written language of the Mon–Khmer family of languages, predating Mon and Vietnamese. The earliest written manuscripts stem from the 6th to 7th centuries. Khmer differs from neighboring languages such as Thai, Lao and Vietnamese in that it is not a tonal language. 

  • Lecturer Prof. Dr. Christian Bauer and Dr. Sam Samnang

  • Mon belongs to the Austronesian language family. It is one of the most ancient languages of mainland Southeast Asia. It is still spread in South Myanmar and Western Thailand with around one million speakers. In the last decades, the use of Mon has constantly declined among the younger generation. Mon is derived from the ancient Indian Brahmi-style syllabic alphabet. It is most likely that the Burmese script is adopted from the Mon script. Lecturer Prof. Dr. Christian Bauer
  • Tagalog is the most widely spoken language on the Philippines. Originally, Tagalog is the language olf the Tagalog people, who today reside in the area of Manila. Inofficially, today's official language Filipino is based on Tagalog. It is an Austronesian language and is related to Indonesian and Malay, Maori, to the Fijian, Samoan and Tahitian language as well to the Malagasy of Madagascar, the Malayo-Polynese Chamorro, the Tetum from East(and West) Timor and the Austronesian languages of Taiwan. There are around 24 million native speakers (2000) and 50 million second language speakers of Tagalog worldwide. Lecturer Rey Agana
  • Thai Modern standard Thai is the official language and lingua franca of the Kingdom of Thailand. Thai, formerly Siamese, belongs to the Kam Tai languages – like Lao and the Burmese Shan. Thai is a phonetic language. Five tones are represented by an independent, complex script system. Thai adapted loanwords from Sanskrit, Mon, Khmer, Chinese and recently also from English into its own phonetic system. The Thai vocabulary reflects the traditional culture and the complex social relationships of Thai society. Knowledge of Thai therefore facilitates access to an understanding of cultural and social phenomena in Thailand. Lecturer Martin Schalbruch
  • Vietnamese is the official and working language in Vietnam. The Austro-Asiatic language, which belongs to the Mon Khmer branch of languages, is spoken by around 81 million native speakers (2011). A bigger part of its vocabulary is based on Chinese. Vietnamese is a tonal language. Originally, it was written using the Chinese writing system in a modified format. Modern Vietnamese is based on the Latin alphabet with additional diacritics to represent phonetic features. Lecturer Dr. Minh Ha Nguyen


Central Asian Languages


  • Dari/Persian is one of the official languages of Afghanistan. It is an Indo-European language. The term Dari today is used in India, Afghanistan and Pakistan as a brief from of the New-Persian literary language Farsi-e-Dari (language of the Royal Court) Lecturer Monika Matzke and Prof. Dr. Lutz Rzehak 
  • Kazakh is the official state language of Kazakhstan, in which nearly 10 million speakers live. More than a million speakers stay in western China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The 2002 Russian Census reports 560,000 Kazakh speakers in Russia. Other Kazakh speakers live in Mongolia, Uzbekistan and other parts of the former Soviet Union, as well as in Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey. There are also some Kazakh speakers in Germany who immigrated from Turkey in the 1970s. Today, Kazakh is written in Cyrillic in Kazakhstan and Mongolia, while the Kazakh-speakers in China use an Arabic-derived alphabet. Lecturer Gulsum Massakowa
  • Mongolian The Mongolian language is the first or second mother tongue of the Mongolian population as well as of all Mongols in the People’s Republic of China and the Kalmyk and Buryat people in Russia totaling approximately 9 million speakers. Together with the Turk and Tungusic languages it belongs to the family of Altaic languages. The Khalkha Mongolian dialect taught at the IAAW is part of the central branch of the Mongolian language and is identical with the official and link language of the present Mongolian state. Today, the Mongolian language is written in the Cyrillic and in the classical Mongolian script (Inner Mongolia). Lecturer Dr. Ines StolpeDr. Uta SchöneGanchimeg Altangerel, M.A.
  • Paschto A language spoken mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pashto belongs to the East Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. Next to Dari (New-Persian), Pashto is the national language of Afghanistan. Exact data on the number of speakers are not available. Most publications give an estimate of about 20 million speakers of Pashto, out of which about 10 million use it as their first/native language. Lecturer Dipl.-Phil. Monika Matzke and Prof. Dr. Lutz Rzehak
  • Tadzhik is a variety of Dari/Persian, which emerged during the 1920s under the influence of the Russian language and neighboring Turk languages. It was established as the national and literature language of the Tadzhik SSR. The language dissolves into numerous dialects. There are only estimates on the number of speakers. In Tadzhikistan, approximately 3.2 million people speak Tadzhik (1991), in Uzbekistan around 933,000. Apart from this, speakers live in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and in the western border regions of China. The script of the Indo-European language was changed from Arabic-Persian to Latin in 1928 and finally to Cyrilic in 1939. Since 1991, Tadzhik is the official national language of the Republic of Tadzhikistan. Lecturer Prof. Dr. Lutz Rzehak
  •  Tibetan belongs to the Tibeto-Burman languages of Asia and is closely related to other languages of the Himalaya. Around six million Tibetans speak Tibetan in a multiplicity of dialects. Most native speakers live on the Tibetan plateau in the west of China. Approximately 130,000 Tibetans live in Nepal, India, Bhutan and other countries. In about 30 percent of the Chinese mainland, Tibetan is the official language. The Tibetan alphabet is derived from a variant of the ancient Indian Brahmi script. At the IAAW, an east Tibetan form of Tibetan (region of Amdo) is taught. Lecturer Huadan Zhaxi, B.A.
  • Uyghur is the official language and lingua franca of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of Western China. Uyghur is spoken by 8 to 11 million speakers (2000-5). Outside of Xinjiang, communities of Uyghur-speakers mainly live in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Uyghur belongs to the Uyghuric branch of the Turkic language family, which also includes languages such as Salar and the more distantly related, Uzbek. Uyghur has strongly been influenced by Persian and Arabic, and more recently by Mandarin Chinese, and Russian. First texts stem from the fifth century. Today, Uyghur is mostly written in a modified Persian-Arabic alphabet.

  • Usbek is the most widely spread Turk language of Central Asia. Worldwide there are about 27 million speakers of Uzbek. The bigger part of them lives in Uzbekistan, where Uzbek is the only official state language. There are also speakers of Uzbek in Tadzhikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and in Turkmenistan, as well as in parts of the Chinese Xinjiang region and in Afghanistan. Due to its central position within the Turk languages of Central Asia, beyond its own area of influence, Uzbek opens the greater region ranging from the Volga to Sinkiang and from the Hindu Kush to South Siberia. Today’s standard variety of Uzbek, which has been strongly influenced by Persian, was developed in the 1920s and 1930s as a modern literature and scientific language. Uzbek is simple and logically structured. Lecturer Dipl.-Phil. Barno Aripova





Arabic is the official and working language in 21 countries of Asia and Africa. The literary language is called Modern Standard Arabic. It is currently the only official form. Spoken Arabic varieties are used in a wide arc of territory stretching across the Middle East and North Africa. There are about 280 million native speakers of Arabic (2006), around 800 million speakers use Arabic as their second language.

At the IAAW, Arabic is currently offered in cooperation with the Language Centre of Humboldt-Universität. Two semesters are free of costs, semester 3-4 are charged according to the study fees of the Language Centre. At the IAAW, the language course in Arabic is recognized although it is only a secondary, third or fourth language in the regions of study.