Top Languages Spoken in Africa
By YEMI TAIWO
Africa is the second-largest continent in the world in terms of size and population. The continent is home to over a billion people and has the highest linguistic diversity in the world. Over 1,500 languages are spoken in Africa with Arabic, French and English as the principle languages.
Listed below are the top African languages you should know when doing business or going to travel destinations in the continent.
- Swahili: This is the most spoken language in Africa with an estimate of over 150 million speakers in total. Swahili is the official language of Tanzania, Kenya as well as Uganda. Other Swahili-speaking countries include Mozambique, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan northern, Burundi, Comoros Islands, Democratic Republic of Congo and southern Somalia.
- French: Twenty-six African states form Francophone Africa with over 120 million French speakers who use the language as either their primary or secondary language. The highest percentage of speakers come from Mauritius, Cote d’Ivoire, Sao Tome, Gabon, Tunisia, Seychelles, Senegal, Guinea, Sao Tome e Principe, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea and Democratic Republic of Congo. Much of the western and central Africa states form part of Francophone Africa, including Morocco, Rwanda, Comoros Mauritania, and Djibouti. Algeria is the second largest French speaking country with over 50 percent of the population being French speakers.
- Arabic: In Africa, there are more than 100 million speakers of Arabic, with Egypt accounting for more than 54 million. It is the official language in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Libya, Mauritania, Eritrea, Egypt and so on. It is also widely spoken in some countries where it hasn’t been recognized as an official language.
- Hausa: This is one of the official languages in Nigeria and one of the most spoken Chadic languages in Africa. It has over 40million primary and secondary language speakers. It originated as the language of the Hausa people of southern Niger and northern Nigeria and soon spread as the lingua franca of western Africa due to trade. It is spoken mainly in northern Nigeria, Niger, Sudan, Togo, Benin, CAR, Chad, Congo, Eritrea, Germany, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and much of North Africa.
- Oromo: This language is spoken by over 30 million people in the Horn of Africa, particularly in Egypt, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. The Oromo people account for more than 40% of the population of Ethiopia and happen to be the largest ethnic group in the country.
- Yoruba: Yoruba is one of Nigeria’s official languages and one of West Africa’s most spoken language. It accounts for over 30 million speakers in Nigeria, Togo and Benin. It is the mother tongue of the Yoruba people of Nigeria and has over fifteen dialects including Ijesha, Awori, Ila and Ilaje. It is also spoken by West African expatriates in the US and UK.
- Amharic: This is the official language of Ethiopia and is the second most spoken language in the country after Oromo with over 21 million speakers. It is also the language of over two million Ethiopians living outside of the country.
- Igbo: This is also one of the official languages spoken in Nigeria with over 20 million speakers. A significant amount of speakers can be found in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. This language has more than 20 dialects with Central Igbo being the most prevalent.
- Berber: This is a popular dialect in North Africa, specifically in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Mali and Egypt, with approximately 20 million speakers.
- Somali: This is a Cushitic language spoken in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya by approximately 20 million speakers.
- Fulani: This is widely spoken in western and Central Africa by approximately 18 million speakers.
- Portuguese: Portuguese is the official language of six African states, including Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Sao Tome e Principe and Equatorial Guinea. There are approximately 14 million people who use Portuguese as their mother tongue on the continent, and over 30 million secondary speakers.
- Shona: This language is the most spoken language in Zimbabwe with over 10 million speakers in a population of over 14 million. It is the Bantu language from the Bantu/Nguni family of languages and has speakers in Botswana and Mozambique. It is one of the principle languages of Zimbabwe, along with Ndebele and English.
- Zulu: Zulu also known as IsiZulu is one of the official languages in South Africa with over 10 million speakers. It is also a member of the Bantu/Nguni family of languages and is spoken mainly in eastern South Africa. It is the second most widely spoken Bantu language after Shona.
- Rundi from Burundi which is spoken by over 10 million people.
- Kinyarwanda in Rwanda which is spoken by over 10 million speakers.
- English which has probably less than 10 million speakers with majority of speakers from Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
- Tigrinya, which has over 6 million speakers in Central Eritrea and Sudan.
- Chichewa is popular in Malawi with over 6 million speakers.
- Spanish is also spoken in Equatorial Guinea by over 600,000 people.