Top 14 languages spoken in Africa

How many languages are 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.

In this blog, you will read: 
1- Top African Languages 
2- How many languages are spoken in Africa? 
3- Detailed schedule about the African languages 
4- African Language Translation

Top African Languages 

 

1. Afroasiatic languages

​Spoken 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 languages

Are widely spoken throughout Madagascar. Some estimates say Austronesian languages include more than 1,000 languages.
 

3. Indo-European languages

Indo-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 languages

Tonal 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.
 

How many languages are spoken in Africa?

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. Oromo

Oromo 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. Yoruba

Yoruba is one of the famous African languages, it 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. Portuguese

The 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. Amharic

Amharic 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. Malagasy

An Austronesian language mainly used as the first language of Madagascar. Malagasy speakers are about 25 million people.
 

10. Berber

Berber 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. Afrikaans

Afrikaans 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. English

English 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
Oromo Afroasiatic 35,000,000 Ethiopia
Yoruba Niger–Congo 40,000,000 Nigeria, Benin, Togo
Igbo Niger–Congo 27,000,000 Nigeria
Fulani Niger–Congo 25,000,000 Senegal
Amharic Afroasiatic 22,000,000 Ethiopia
Malagasy Austronesian 18,000,000 Madagascar
Somali Afroasiatic 16,600,000 Somalia, Djibouti
Berber Afroasiatic 16,000,000 Morocco, Algeria
Portuguese Indo-European 250,000,000 Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe
Akan Niger–Congo 11,000,000 Ghana
Zulu Niger–Congo 28,000,000 South Africa
Kinyarwanda Niger–Congo 9,800,000 Rwanda
Chewa Niger–Congo 12,000,000 Malawi, Zimbabwe
Kirundi Niger–Congo 8,800,000 Burundi
Xhosa Niger–Congo 19,200,000 South Africa, Zimbabwe
Mossi Niger–Congo 7,900,000 Burkina Faso
Afrikaans Indo-European 23,000,000 Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Shona Niger–Congo 14,200,000 Zimbabwe
Tigrinya Afroasiatic 7,000,000 Eritrea, Ethiopia
Gikuyu (Kikuyu) Niger–Congo 6,600,000 Kenya
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
Umbundu Niger–Congo 9,500,000 Angola
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
Luganda Niger-Congo 16,000,000 Uganda
Spanish Indo-European 477,000,000 Equatorial Guinea, Spain (Ceuta, Melilla, Canary islands), Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Morocco
 

 African languages translation

The booming of the middle class in several African countries like Tanzania, South Africa, and Kenya has attracted many industries to the African market. Interest in this market has given English to African translation great importance because even though locals know English, French or Portuguese, they prefer to read manuals and use mobile applications in their own languages. Somali, Swahili, Afrikaans, Zulu, Amharic, Xhosa, Malagasy, Hausa, and Tigrinya are some of the most requested African languages for localization.
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 

YOU CAN ALSO READ: 

Book Translation & eBook Generation Services
Games Localization in The Middle East​
Globalization, Internationalization, Localization and Translation
Bidirectional Languages, Everything You Need To Know 
5 Facts about The Arabic Language
Understanding the Challenges of Translating African Languages 
What is the difference between Translation and Localization? 
Arabic Marketing translation
A Look at Two Rare Languages: Hassaniya and Yiddish 
Funny mistakes in the voice over of games localization
Why you need ELearning localization?