15 Most Common Languages In Africa

Language has often been compared to currency – a means of exchange, and it has been around from time immemorial. The world throbs with languages, with some of them, concentrated in particular areas – having exceptionally high number of speakers there.

The origin of language and the history behind the multiplicity of languages is as interesting as language itself, with many sources, conjectures, and permutations. That isn’t our focus in this article, though. We are more concerned about the key languages spoken across Africa.

Understandably, there are many languages spoken across Africa, but some languages are much more commonly spoken than others, which places them in the top rung of the most common languages in Africa. In this article, we will limit ourselves to just 15 of these.

Here are the 15 Most Common Languages In Africa – given in no particular order, Tag along and let’s roll!

1. English

English making the list should not surprise anyone conversant with the history of Africa. Part of the continent was colonised by the English, and they left their language as part of their legacy. Nigeria and Ghana stand out as two countries where English has come to stay despite numerous suggestions for different lingua franca.

Millions of people across Africa speak English, which stands out as one of the dominant languages in Africa to this day.

2. French

There comes another foreign language that is now dominant across Africa, especially in the northern part and certain areas in West Africa. Like English before it, French is a colonial manifestation that managed to stay even after the French left their colonies.

When the French popped into several areas in Africa, they brought their language with them. It was a different ball game when they were leaving, though, because they left the language behind and their colonies mostly adopted the language as a medium of instruction, further cementing the position of French.

To this day, French is spoken across several countries in Africa, including Benin, Gabon, and Cameroon.

3. Swahili (Kiswahili)

Often touted as one of the native languages in Africa and not a spectral remnant of colonialism, Kiswahili is another very common language in Africa with millions of speakers across the continent. One thing that cannot be missed, though, is that speakers of the language are mostly concentrated in East Africa.

That’s right. There are, for instance, more Kiswahili speakers in Tanzania and Kenya than there is in any country in West Africa. Kiswahili is a beautiful language and actually worth studying if you’re keen on explorative language studies across Africa.

4. Hausa

Hausa is another language prevalent across Africa, with millions of speakers. The phrase is also a term of address for the people of that ethnic group. Many Nigerians assume that Hausa is only spoken in the northern part of the country, but that is actually only half true.

Hausa is a language spoken by millions beyond Nigeria’s borders far into Niger Republic and even Guinea. The spread is impressive enough to merit a spot on our list.

5. Arabic

Arabic is another foreign manifestation on the African continent, but then the language has come to stay and is a medium of instruction in many areas across Africa. Arabic is the result of the intercourse between the Arabs and some areas of Africa.

In the intervening years, the language has grown exponentially, becoming a key medium of communication in several areas in Africa, including Libya, Morocco, and Sudan.

6. Portuguese.

When you mention Portuguese, for most people, what immediately comes to mind is Ronaldo, one of the best footballers in the world. But this is not about him really. Portugal was formerly a colonial power, and before it ended its colonial sojourn on the continent, it made sure to leave its language behind.

Today, Portuguese is spoken by many across Angola, Mozambique, and other regions.

7. Zulu (isiZulu)

IsiZulu has its roots in Africa and is not some colonial remnant of foreign import. It is another common language in Africa, with speakers concentrated mostly in southern Africa, encompassing the Rainbow Nation, right down to Zimbabwe. The traditional leader of the Zulus is the Zulu king of South Africa.

8. Berber/ Taureg

Often described as one of the “marginalised languages” of Africa, Berber, often used interchangeably with Taureg, is another common language in Africa. Speakers of the language are mostly concentrated in Libya, the Sahara Desert, Mali, and surrounding regions

9. Afrikaans

With millions of speakers around the continent, Afrikaans stands as another common language down here. Not everyone has a good report about the language, however. Actress Charlize Theron recently shared that the language was few speakers, but she was corrected with data from a credible source.

Afrikaans manifested from Dutch and is spoken mostly in South Africa and Namibia.

10. Amharic

With over 20 million speakers, this Semitic language ranks among the most common in Africa. It is mostly spoken across Ethiopia, and many people, especially of the Rastafari collective, consider it a holy language. It is the national language of Ethiopia, and one of the earliest translations of the bible was made in the language as well.

11. Xhosa

Another one for southern Africa! Xhosa is another common language in Africa, with linguistic similarities to other languages, including Zulu and Sesotho. Speakers of the language are mostly concentrated in South Africa and Lesotho, which happens to share a 909 kilometers border.

12. Malagasy

With about 25 million speakers, Malagasy, an Austronesian language, is indubitably one of the most common languages on the continent. It is the first language of Madagascar but is also spoken beyond the borders of that country.

13. Yoruba

This list cannot be complete without Yoruba, a phrase that defines not just the people but also the language. Yoruba is spoken by millions across western Nigeria and even as far away as Brazil. The concentration of Yoruba speakers in Nigeria is way higher than in other locations.

14. Tigrinya

With about 7 million speakers, Tigrinya is another commonly spoken language in Africa that cannot be missed in the list. This Ethio-Semitic language is spoken mostly in the Tigray region, as well as in Eritrea and Ethiopia.

15. Oromo

Oromo, which has several divisions, including Shewa and Western Oromo, is another language commonly spoken across Africa. Wither over 30 million speakers, Oromo stands out as one of the most common languages across the continent. Speakers of the language are mostly to be found in Ethiopia.

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