Top 14 languages spoken in Africa
Africa is a huge continent with a total population of 1.3 billion (United Nations estimates, 2019). This number is equivalent to 16.72% of the total world population.People of Africa speak about 2,000 languages, not fixed as some languages are still being discovered and some are being eliminated. South Africa on its own has 11 official languages, recorded as the largest number of official languages –on a national level. African Languages are categorized into five major language families including Afroasiatic, Austronesian, Indo-European, Niger–Congo (Bantu and non-Bantu) and Nilo-Saharan languages.
1. Afroasiatic languagesSpoken mainly in North Africa, the Horn of Africa and parts of the Sahel. Afroasiatic languages are counted for 375 languages spoken by over 500 million people.
The most widely spoken Afroasiatic languages include:
- Arabic (Semitic);
- Somali (Cushitic);
- Berber (Berber);
- Hausa (Chadic);
- Amharic (Semitic); and
- Oromo (Cushitic).
2. Austronesian languagesAre widely spoken throughout Madagascar. Some estimates say Austronesian languages include more than 1,000 languages.
3. Indo-European languagesIndo-European languages - Afrikaans, English, German, and Dutch - are spoken in South Africa and Namibia, but mostly used in South Africa. In Botswana and Zimbabwe it is a minority language of roughly several ten thousand people. The estimate Afrikaans’ speakers are 15 to 20 million people.
4. Niger–Congo languages (Bantu and non-Bantu)Spoken in West, Central, Southeast and Southern Africa and considered the largest language family spoken in West Africa. Includes the languages: Swahili, Zulu, Fula, Yoruba, Igbo, Ashanti and Ewe language.
5. Nilo-Saharan languagesTonal languages are spoken throughout Tanzania, Sudan, Chad, Nigeria, Congo and Mali.
Nilo-Saharan languages contain a hundred different languages including Kanuri, Fur, Songhay, Nobiin, Luo, Dinka and Maasai.
1. Arabic:Arabic Language is the first most spoken language in Africa with a number of speakers that is equivalent to 150 million people (out of 420 million World Wide). It’s a bidirectional language that is related to the Afroasiatic language family but originated from Asia. Arabic is widely spoken in Algeria, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania (Zanzibar), Tunisia and other countries that are outside Africa.
Also read: 5 Facts about The Arabic Language
2. Swahili ('kiswɑˈhili)Swahili, or Kiswahili as its people call it, is the most spoken African language after Arabic. It’s a Bantu language that was written in Arabic script, but now is written in Latin script. Swahili is spoken widely in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Somalia and South Africa by about 150 million speakers around the world. Swahili is used as a lingua franca throughout East Africa.
3. French:More than 270 million people speak French around the world, and 80% of those speakers are African people. French is spoken in the region of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, West and Central Africa, and Djibouti.
4. Hausa:There are 63 million Hausa speakers located in Nigeria, Ghana, and Niger. Hausa is used as a lingua franca by non-native speakers in some areas of Northern Nigeria, Southern Niger, West Africa (Benin, Ghana, Cameroon, Togo, Ivory Coast) and parts of Sudan.
5. OromoOromo is an Afroasiatic language that is native to the Ethiopian state of Oromia, Harar and Dire Dawa region, spoken by the Oromo people and the Horn of Africa. It’s one of the most widely spoken languages of Africa, after Arabic, French, Swahili, and Hausa. It’s also widely spoken in Ethiopia.
Oromo speakers are about 35 million people and it’s divided into four main languages:
- Western Oromo (Maca)
- Shewa (Tuulama, Arsi)
- Eastern Oromo (Harar)
- Southern Oromo (Ajuran, Borana, Gabra, Garreh, Munyo, Orma, Sakuye, Waata)
6. YorubaYoruba is commonly used in African countries such as Nigeria, Benin, and Togo, with about 40 million speakers in Africa. It has a variety of dialects including:
- North-West Yoruba (NWY)
- North-East Yoruba (NEY)
- Central Yoruba (CY)
- South-East Yoruba (SEY)
- South-West Yoruba (SWY)
Yoruba used to be written in Arabic script, but now it’s written in Latin script, but some letters are not used in the language.
7. PortugueseThe speakers of Portuguese around the world is about 250 million people, 30 million of them are Africans. It is commonly taught in schools or where it has been introduced as an option in Zambia, the Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Namibia, Eswatini (Swaziland), South Africa, Ivory Coast, and Mauritius. It’s also spoken in Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe.
Portuguese is a lingua franca in bordering and multilingual regions, such as Angola and Namibia.
8. AmharicAmharic is one of the Ethiopian Semitic left-to-right languages under the Afroasiatic languages, spoken by 22 million people. Amharas speak it as a first language and it’s used as a lingua franca by other populations in some cities of Ethiopia. Amharic is the second-most commonly spoken Semitic language in the world, after Arabic. It’s considered a holy language by the Rastafari religion and is widely used among its followers worldwide.
9. MalagasyAn Austronesian language mainly used as the first language of Madagascar. Malagasy speakers are about 25 million people.
10. BerberBerber languages have been marginalized that only a few people speak it. French and Arabic are adopted instead by the Berber world as working languages. However, a branch of the Berber languages called “Tuareg” is still used a lingua franca in some parts of the Sahara Desert, especially in Algeria, Mali, Niger, and Libya. “Tamazight”, another branch, is an official language of Morocco and Algeria.
11. Zulu (isiZulu)Among the variety of languages used in South Africa, Zulu (Niger–Congo language) is the most widely spoken language which is used by 24% of the population, 28 million speakers, understood by over 50% of South African people.
12. AfrikaansAfrikaans is a Low Franconian West Germanic language that emerged from Dutch, spoken mainly in South Africa and Namibia as the primary lingua franca. Afrikaan's native speakers are around 23 million, including 7 million native speakers. Afrikaans speakers are also found in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Germany, Lesotho, Malawi, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK, the USA, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
13. EnglishEnglish is the world’s lingua franca. About 1.5 billion people around the world speak English whether as a first language or a second language. In Africa, 700 million people speak English, mainly in Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Eswatini, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.
14. Xhosa:Xhosa, also spelt isiXhosa, is a Niger–Congo language spoken in South Africa and Zimbabwe. It is a Bantu language with click sounds. Xhosa is spoken as a first language by 8.2 million people and by another 11 million as a second language in South Africa, making a total number of 19,200,000 speakers.
Check this relevant topic: Understanding the Challenges of Translating African Languages
In the following table, you’ll find the most spoken languages in Africa in more details:
|Language||Family||Speakers Around the World||Speaking Countries in Africa|
|Arabic||Afroasiatic||420,000,000||Algeria, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania (Zanzibar), Tunisia|
|Swahili||Niger–Congo||150,000,000||Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, DR of Congo|
|French||Indo-European||300,000,000||The region of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, West and Central Africa, Djibouti.|
|Hausa||Afroasiatic||63,000,000||Nigeria, Ghana, Niger|
|Yoruba||Niger–Congo||40,000,000||Nigeria, Benin, Togo|
|Portuguese||Indo-European||250,000,000||Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe|
|Xhosa||Niger–Congo||19,200,000||South Africa, Zimbabwe|
|Afrikaans||Indo-European||23,000,000||Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe|
|English||Indo-European||1,500,000,000||Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Eswatini, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Ethiopia|
|Tshiluba (Luba-Kasai language)||Niger–Congo||6,300,000||Democratic Republic of the Congo|
|Tsonga (Xitsonga)||Niger–Congo||8,900,000||South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique|
|Sesotho||Niger–Congo||13,500,000||Lesotho, South Africa, Zimbabwe|
|Kongo||Niger–Congo||11,500,000||Angola, Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo|
|Lingala||Niger–Congo||40,000,000||Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of Congo|
|Spanish||Indo-European||477,000,000||Equatorial Guinea, Spain (Ceuta, Melilla, Canary islands), Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Morocco|
African languages translation
Apart from the localization of websites and mobile applications, there is an increasing demand for translating contracts as well as educational and medical materials into African. Moreover, financial institutions have recently received numerous requirements for English to Zulu translation due to the expansion into South Africa and other countries that speak in Zulu
Africa is a rich continent, not only with languages but also with cultures, music, traditions, colors, etc. This makes it a potential region for more companies and investments to make money.
If you’re targeting an African country and need to localize your products into African languages, we definitely can help!
Contact us to find more about African languages translation to English or any other language Here
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