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Explore Africa

10 Most spoken Languages in Africa

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In a continent rich with diversity as Africa is, there are 200 languages from over 100 tribes and countries but not all languages are equally popular. Of all the diverse languages, tribes and groups, there are 10 languages that are more widely spoken than others.

#10 – Berber

The Berber language is the tenth most widely spoken language in Africa. The Berber languages are a group of 26 closely related languages that constitute a branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. They are spoken by 14 to 25 million people in Northern Africa throughout the Mediterranean coast, the Sahara Desert and Sahel, an area which used to be dominated by Berbers before the arrival of the Arabs. Today, there are large groups of Berber-speaking people in Morocco and Algeria, Mali, Niger and Libya, and smaller groups in Tunis, Mauritania, Burkina-Faso, and Egypt.

#9 – Oromo

The Oromo language is Cushitic language widely spoken in the Horn of Africa and other surrounding nations including Ethiopia, Somali, Kenya, and Egypt. The Oromo are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia and account for up to 40% of the entire population. It is most widely spoken native language in Ethiopia with over 24 million speakers.

#8 – Amharic

This is the seventh most widely spoken language in Africa. It is the second largest Semitic dialect on the continent after Arabic. It is the official language in Ethiopia, with more than 25 million native speakers, and is spoken outside Ethiopia by about 3 million emigrants. Amharic is one of the very few African languages that uses its own alphabet, while most other languages use either Arabic or Latin letters. The Amharic language is also associated with the Rastafarian movement common in the Caribbean. Many Rastafarians also learn Amharic as a second language, as they consider it to be a sacred language.

#7 – Igbo

This is the native language of the Igbo people of Nigeria, one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. However, the only place it has official status is in Equatorial Guinea, where it is recognized as a regional language.  It’s also spoken in Cameroon. It is spoken by approximately 27 million people.  The language has more than 20 dialects, with Central Igbo being the most prevalent.

#6 – Yoruba

Yoruba is one of the principal languages of Nigeria and is also spoken in other countries in West Africa. Significant Yoruba populations in other West African countries can be found in Ghana, Togo, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. It’s a tonal language with 3 tones and is written using the Pan-Nigerian alphabet, a variation of the Latin alphabet. Approximately 39 million people speak it as their first or second language

#5 – Hausa

Hausa is the fifth largest language on the African Continent. It is classified as a member of the Chadic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages. Hausa is the most widely spoken as a first language in Nigeria and as a second language in Nigeria as well as many other West African Countries. There are more than 63 million speakers of the Hausa language in Africa. Most Hausa speakers live in Northern Nigeria and the Southern Republic of Niger. The language is also popular in Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Togo as well as Chad. The language originated from a dialect in Kano, Nigeria, where most of the Hausa speakers are located. It is widely used in business and education in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa. Besides, it is one of the few African languages that are taught in International Universities due to its immense literature.

#4 – Swahili

Swahili or Kiswahili is the fourth most popularly spoken language on the Continent. This is a Bantu language that is spoken as the first language among the Swahili people of East Africa. It is estimated that speakers of Swahili language in Africa are more than 100 million, but only about 15 million speak it as a first language. Kiswahili is the national language in Tanzania, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Shikomor, which is the official language of Comoros, is considered a dialect of Kiswahili as the two languages are closely related. The Swahili language has its origins along the coastal lines of Kenya and Tanzania. A huge chunk of the vocabulary in Swahili is derived from the Arabic language because of the interactions of the Arabic traders and the coastal people of East Africa from the 15th and 16th century. There are also other Swahili words that have been originally derived from German, Portuguese, English, Hindustani and French. The language is recognized and spoken in many countries on the continent including Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Rwanda and Burundi, Somalia, and the Comoro Islands.

#3 – French

French, is a European language that was introduced in African through colonization. There are about 115 million Africans who use the language as their first or second language. The language, which originated from France, is mostly spoken in former colonies of France in West and Central Africa. In Africa, French is often spoken alongside indigenous languages, but in some areas, it has become a first language, such as in the region of Abidjan, Ivory Coast or Libreville, Gabon. Among the countries that speak French in Africa include Togo, Senegal, Seychelles, Rwanda, Re-Union, Niger, Mali, Madagascar, Guinea, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Cameroun, Congo, DRC, Algeria, Chad, Burkina Faso, Benin, and Burundi.

#2 – English

English is the second most popular language on the continent. Only around 6.5M million Africans speak English as a native language but when you include people who learn it as a second language, the number of English speakers jumps to about 130 million. The language, which originated in England in the United Kingdom, was introduced in Africa through the colonization of Africa by the British. Many former colonies of Britain have adopted English as their official language for government, business, and education. Many other countries have plans in place for adopting English in their countries, despite not being former colonies of Britain. For example, Rwanda, which is a former colony of France, is quickly encouraging its citizens to learn and speak English as the country integrates itself into the East African community. English is spoken in 23 African countries including Botswana, Cameroun, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, St. Helena, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

West African Pidgin English is a creole language with about 75 million speakers. It’s not commonly written down, but the BBC recently began broadcasting in pidgin and created a written standard.

#1 – Arabic

Arabic is the most widely spoken language in Africa based on the number of people who speak the language. However, the language is mostly concentrated in North Africa and some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that there are more than 150 million people who speak Arabic as their first language in Africa, making it the most spoken language on the continent. Arabic comes in a number of flavors—Modern Standard Arabic and colloquial dialects. If you learn Modern Standard Arabic, you’ll be able to communicate with most Arabic speakers around the world. Modern Standard Arabic is the more formal form of the language, which is used in news articles, novels, newscasts, and some TV shows. However, native speakers do not always learn this form of Arabic. Instead, they learn variations of Arabic that is adapted to their culture in a way that Modern Standard Arabic is not.

Arabic speakers on the Continent of Africa make up over 50% of the total speakers of Arabic in the world. Arabic is the official language of many African nations including Algeria, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia. It is also spoken in Tanzania (Zanzibar), Western Sahara and Somalia.

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