Africa is a huge and diverse continent. It is the second largest and second most populated on Earth containing over 1,500 languages spoken, across its 1.1 billion strong population. Many of its languages are Western derived languages, primarily from French and English, but indigenous African languages are incredibly rich and diverse. Languages spoken in Africa can be grouped into Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Congo, and Khoisan.
African languages are composed of many dialects including sign languages and languages with clicks or other tones that are unique to the continent. Africa’s language make-up is complex. For example, Nigeria alone contains 250 different languages! As a rich, deep and diverse continent steep in history and huge geographical variance, it’s no surprise that Africa has developed some of the most complex languages, alphabets and scripts of any continent.
Among Africa’s massive language pool, we’ve listed the top 10 languages spoken in Africa:
What are the most common languages spoken in Africa?
Hausa is a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. 35 million people speak Hausa and many speak it as a second language. The Hausa people formerly stretched across Niger and Nigeria. Hausa has developed into a lingua franca across much of western Africa, originally for the purposes of trade.
Oromo, an Afroasiatic language is spoken by 25 million people around Ethiopia. People in Kenya also speak it ranging Sudan to Libya and South Africa. Oromo has many derivatives and the dialects are not completely mutually comprehensible.
Spoken in Nigeria and West Africa, Yoruba is spoken by 30 million or more. Words from the Yoruba language feature in languages across the world.
Igbo has 24 million speakers. The Igbo people are primarily located in Nigeria, for which it is an official language. Igbo is written in a Latin script, due to British colonialism. With 25 or more different dialects, Igbo is amazingly diverse – many of those dialects aren’t even mutually comprehensible.
Do they speak English in Africa?
Currently the most spoken language in Africa, English is spoken in more than 23 countries including Botswana, The Gambia, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, and Nigeria. Many African countries became independent from the British empire in the 20th century and have continued to speak the language since. English is the official first language of many countries and African speakers’ English proficiency is very high.
Where is Arabic language spoken in Africa?
Arabic is the second biggest language spoken Africa. Many countries like Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt Sudan and Western Sahara speak Arabic and many more know it as a second language. 260 million people in Africa speak Arabic with many different dialects. Most of these countries lie in North Africa, which is the closest region to the Middle-East. Being one of the most popular languages around the world as well, there are many resources to learn arabic for free.
Where is Swahili spoken in Africa?
Swahili is spoken by 120 million but mostly as a second language. People from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda speak Swahili to varying degrees of proficiency. Swahili is still compulsory in some African schools in the Great Lakes countries of Kenya, Tanzania and the DRC.
Which parts of Africa speak French?
African French is common throughout many countries and an estimated 120 billion speak it across 24 francophone countries. Africa has the most French speakers in the world due to its former French colonization. It’s the first language in Gabon, the region of Abidjan and Ivory Coast and is taught alongside indigenous languages in many other countries. French is often the first language of the upper class within many African countries like Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.
Which language is spoken in Ethiopia?
Amharic is spoken by 20 million people in Ethiopia. It’s part of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages and has a close relation to Ge’ez, a language used by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Amharic has been the language of Ethiopia’s upper and ruling classes since the 13th century. It has many dialects which are mutually comprehensible, the major ones are Gondar, Gojjami and Showa. Oromo is the next most spoken language in Ethiopia, 85% of Oromo speakers live in Ethiopia.
How many languages are spoken in South Africa?
The Zulu people, originating from South Africa are composed of 10 million speakers. Officially sanctioned as a national language by South Africa in the 90s, half of the nation understands Zulu. It uses the Latin alphabet and is also spoken in Botswana, Malawi, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique. Xhosa, another Bantu language like Zulu, is also commonly spoken in South Africa. It features click consonants and a Latin alphabet.
Africa is a tremendously diverse continent composed of many advanced language trees that span its entire landmass. Mixed in with its rich indigenous language pool, the languages spoken in Africa fuses colonial influences from the British, Belgians and French. As a result of this, Western languages are often taught as the first language in many parts of Africa.