15 Most Spoken Languages in Africa

Spoken Languages in Africa

15 Most Spoken Languages in Africa

15 Most Spoken Languages in Africa

(Last Updated On: June 13, 2024)

Humans have the habit of ignoring good things or associating something bad with them. They find it hard to understand that something natural can be beneficial for them. The differences among humans was a blessing bestowed upon them. They could have lived happily by accepting each other and learning about the differences among them every single day. Imagine the various cultures people could have celebrated if they had decided to live in harmony or the languages they could have learned if they hadn’t distanced themselves from each other. But unfortunately, people began to see each other as enemies pretty early on. They got scared off of each other’s differences and instead of appreciating various cultures, began to form stereotypes about them.

Sadly, things haven’t improved even after all these years and humans are still pretty divided. They don’t care about each other or the world around them. They are not willing to get to know the different cultures and customs celebrated around the world. Anyone who travels and interacts with natives whenever they are in a foreign country can tell you what an amazing experience it is to get to know different people. They know what the rest of the world is missing out on. But sadly, not all travelers feel that way. Some people only visit various places for the pictures and not for the experience.

Spoken Languages in Africa


Spoken Languages in Africa

There are 54 sovereign states in the world’s second largest continent. The cultural and ethnic diversity in Africa is unparalleled. But a lot of people don’t pay the continent the attention it deserves simply because it isn’t home to first world countries like the UK and the US. They don’t understand that financial stability isn’t the only thing to judge a country by. And for states that spent almost a century under the rule of a colonial power, recovery is going to take some time.


It is a world known fact that European countries colonized almost all of Africa during the 19th century. But the African states fought back and slowly got their freedom back. Colonization didn’t manage to affect the cultural diversity of the continent.

Brief overview of linguistic diversity in Africa

Africa is a vast continent with a rich tapestry of linguistic diversity, encompassing numerous languages and dialects that reflect its deep cultural heritage and complex history. The continent is home to several major language families, including Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, Afroasiatic, and Khoisan. Each of these families comprises a wide array of distinct languages, many of which are tonal and feature unique linguistic characteristics.

In West Africa, languages such as Hausa and Yoruba play crucial roles in trade and cultural exchange, while in East Africa, Swahili serves as a vital lingua franca that connects millions across national borders. North Africa is dominated by Afroasiatic languages, including Arabic, which is widely spoken and has a rich literary tradition. Central Africa showcases the linguistic diversity of the Niger-Congo family, with languages like Lingala and Kikongo facilitating communication across diverse ethnic groups.

Colonial languages like French, English, and Portuguese are also prominent, reflecting the continent’s colonial past and continuing to serve as important tools for international communication, education, and governance. The use of Arabic script and Latin script further illustrates the varied influences on African languages.

Indigenous languages, many of which have oral traditions, remain vital for cultural expression and the preservation of local identities. Efforts by institutions like the African Union and international universities aim to promote linguistic diversity and foster deeper connections through language learning and cultural exchange. This rich linguistic mosaic is a testament to Africa’s cultural diversity and its enduring legacy of communication and heritage.

Importance of language in African culture and identity

Language plays a vital role in shaping African culture and identity across the vast continent, from the indigenous languages spoken by millions to the colonial languages left as legacies of external influences. African countries such as Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Cape Verde, and Equatorial Guinea each boast a rich tapestry of languages, including Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan languages, that reflect their diverse cultural heritages.

In Central and Southern Africa, Swahili and other cross-border languages facilitate trade and communication, reinforcing a sense of shared identity among speakers. Similarly, Afroasiatic and Cushitic languages in North and Eastern Africa, such as those spoken in Addis Ababa, carry deep historical significance and connect communities through a shared linguistic heritage.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, tonal languages like those spoken by the Igbo people, and the prevalence of trade languages such as Hausa, further highlight the region’s linguistic diversity. The use of European languages like French and English, alongside indigenous tongues, underscores the complex history of colonialism and its enduring impact on national and cultural identities. Language is not only a means of communication but also a cornerstone of cultural expression, as seen in the rich oral traditions and literary works in French Creole and other languages.

The African Union and other organizations recognize the importance of preserving and promoting this linguistic diversity at the national level, fostering deeper connections among language learners and speakers. As a result, languages in Africa serve as both markers of identity and tools for cultural and economic exchange, reflecting the continent’s rich history and dynamic present.

15 Most Spoken Languages in Africa:

The linguistic diversity of Africa is also remarkable. The speakers of almost three thousand native languages can be found on the continent. Here are the fifteen most spoken languages in Africa:

  1. Arabic:

Arabs traded a lot with African nations and that’s how their language ended up becoming a prominent feature of the local culture. It is spoken by almost 17% of the population of Africa. It is officially recognized in countries like Libya, Egypt, and Chad.

  1. Swahili:

This Bantu language is the lingua franca in the eastern and south eastern part of Africa. There are almost 150 million native speakers of Swahili and they are divided in different countries like Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.

  1. English:

The affects of colonialism can still be observed over this continent. English is one of the things left by the Europeans. It is spoken by 6.5 million people as a native language. But the number of people who speak it as a second language exceed 700.

  1. French:

Another tongue left by the colonial masters of the 19th century is French. Over 430 million people speak French in Africa and it is also recognized in the constitution of 21 states. But it is a bit different from the French spoken in France.

  1. Yoruba:

An important tongue in Western Africa, most of Yoruba’s speakers can be found in Nigeria. It is spoken by almost 40 million people as their first or second tongue.

  1. Oromo:

Another tongue of an ethnic group, Oromo is also spoken in multiple countries. The Horn of Africa is considered the main region where Oromo is famous but most of its speakers can be found in Ethiopia where the number is estimated to be 24 million.

  1. Amharic:

Another Ethiopian tongue, Amharic is closely related to Arabic and Hebrew. This relationship can be noticed through the similarities between the three. It has over twenty million speakers in Ethiopia.

  1. Portuguese:

The official language of six states, Portuguese is the mother tongue of 14 million Africans. But it is also spoken by 30 million people as their second language.

  1. Shona:

The most important tongue of Zimbabwe is spoken by ten million of the country’s population. It is also spoken in Botswana.

  1. Igbo:

This one is known for having over twenty different dialects. It is spoken by over twenty million people, the majority of whom can be found in Nigeria.

  1. Hausa:

The mother tongue of over 50 million Africans is spoken in various countries including Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, and chad. It is used in trade across the west African region.

  1. Berber:

This tongue which is a part of a closely related group of languages is spoken in Northern Africa. It is spoken by 25 million people and these speakers are spread out in different countries including Algeria and Mali.

  1. Afrikaans:

Spoken in South Africa and Namibia, this language evolved from the Dutch vernacular during the colonization of the region by the Dutch. It has 18 million speakers in the region.

  1. Somali:

The official language of Somalia is spoken by 16 million people. It is also famous among the Somali diaspora.

  1. Zulu:

One of the official languages of South Africa, it has over 10 million native speakers and is understood by more than 50% of the country’s population.

Widely spoken in East Africa

In Eastern Africa, a region known for its rich linguistic diversity, Swahili emerges as one of the most widely spoken languages, serving as a vital cross-border lingua franca. Spoken by millions of people, Swahili facilitates trade and communication across multiple countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. This region also boasts a significant number of Arabic speakers, reflecting the historical Arab expansion and the deep connection between East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

Additionally, languages such as Afaan Oromoo in Ethiopia and other Afroasiatic languages play a crucial role in the cultural and social fabric of the region. The influence of colonial languages persists, with English and French being prominent in various sectors, including business and education, underscored by their use in international discourse as highlighted by sources like Cambridge University Press and “The World Factbook”. The delineation of language in East Africa reveals a complex interplay between indigenous languages, such as those in the Niger-Congo family, and foreign languages, creating a vibrant linguistic landscape that is essential for the region’s cultural identity and economic development.

The tongues mentioned above are some of the most important African languages and their study can help one get close to the culture of the native people.

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