When travelling to a new place, I believe the first thing that comes to mind is the language spoken there. Imagine being in a place where you can’t understand their language and there is no guide or interpreter to assist you, you will definitely find it hard to cope. Since communication is a major factor in socialization, learning a new language cannot be overemphasized.

If you are planning to visit Africa, check out 10 most popular languages spoken on the continent. Please note that this list is not in any particular order. Just a random selection. I will not be listing English as it is a universal language and not spectacular to any African country.

  1. French

There are 26 Francophone nations in Africa. Some of the countries are:

Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo,  DR Congo, Ivory CoastGabonGuinea,  MaliNigerSenegalTogo, Mauritius, Sao Tome e Principe. French is also spoken is some North African countries like Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

In countries like Cameroon, Chad, Equitorial Guinea and Rwanda, French is a co-official language alongside English. French is spoken by over 120 million people in Africa.

2. Swahili

Kenya and Tanzania speak Swahili as their main official language. It is also widely spoken in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Comoros Islands.

Some parts of Mozambique, Burundi, Rwanda, Northern Zambia and Malawi also speak Swahili.

Facts about Swahili:

  1. Swahili is a combination of words from Arabic and the Bantu-speaking communities of East Africa.
  2. Swahili is also the easiest African language to learn by an English teacher
  3. Just like English, Swahili has no lexical tone. So It’s much easier to read as you read out words just the way they are written.
Hello and welcome” in Swahili

3. Yoruba

Yoruba is spoken in the Southwestern part of Nigeria and some parts of Togo and Benin Republic. It’s spoken by almost 20 million people.

Yoruba is a member of the Niger-Congo group of languages. It is also spoken by diaspora communities of traders in Cote d’Ivore, Ghana, Senegal and the Gambia, and it used to be a vibrant language in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Bishop Ajayi Crowther’s translation of the Bible into Yoruba language in 1884 resulted in the development of a standard written form of Yoruba that has been widely adopted across the dialects.

4. Zulu

The Zulu language is a Bantu language spoken by the Zulu tribe of South Africa. It is spoken by almost 12 million people. About 24% of South Africans speak Zulu and up to 50% understand the language. That makes it the most widely spoken language in the country.

One unique thing about the Zulu language is the click sound borrowed from Khoisan languages. After Swahili, Zulu is the second most widely spoken Bantu language in Africa and it is written in the Latin alphabets.

saying “Hello welcome” in Zulu language. credit: dreamstime

5. Amharic

Amharic is the native and official language of Ethiopia. It is the second most commonly spoken mother tongue language of Ethiopia after Oromo. Ethiopia has 87 living languages. Over 22 million people speak the Amharic language. It belongs to the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family.

Amharic has three major dialects: Gondar, Gojjami, and Showa, all of which are mutually intelligible.

Amharic characters

7. Oromo

Oromo is a member of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Its spoken by 40 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea, and Djibouti. About 85% of the speakers of Oromo live in Ethiopia. The rest are shared by the neighboring countries. There Western, Eastern and Southern dialect of Oromo.

One fact about the Oromo language is that all nouns are grammatically masculine or feminine. Consonant length can distinguish words from one another, for example, badaa means “bad,” and baddaa means “highland.”

Counting in Oromo

8. Shona

The Shona is a member of the Bantu language group. The Bantu language group is spoken in most of Africa south of the equator and is made up of languages that form part of the Niger-Congo language family that stretches from the West of Africa in the Senegal Valley to the Kenyan coast and south to Namibia and the eastern Cape in Southern Africa. These languages are all remarkably similar in grammatical structure and vocabulary and are believed to have stemmed from a common region within the last three to four thousand years.

87% of Zimbabwe’s population (over 12 million people) speak the language.

9. Arabic

This is the most widely spoken language in Africa.

While most speakers live in North Africa, estimates say that over 150 million people in Africa speak Arabic as a native language. The language has its own regional dialects, along with Modern Standard Arabic, which is used in advertisements and the media. Mostly African Muslims use Arabic, and the continent is home to 62% of Arabic speakers worldwide.

Arabic is the official language of Algeria, Comoros, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia. It’s also spoken in Tanzania, Western Sahara and Somalia.  

Arabic language symbols

10. Portuguese

Portuguese is the official language in six African countries: Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe and Equatorial Guinea. These six countries are former colonies of the Portuguese Empire.

Portuguese speaking countries are called Lusophone Africa.

Portugues Language hand drawn doodles

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