Africa is a huge continent with many cultures, countries, and languages. It’s not just the second most populous continent in the world, but also home to the highest linguistic diversity. There are more than 3,000 African languages!
Below, you will find a list of the top five most common African languages.
Arabic is a Semitic language and the most widely spoken language in Africa. With over 150 million people using the language, African Arabic talkers account for 62% of the entire world populace of Arabic speakers.
Countries that use the language include Sudan, Morocco, Egypt, Chad, Algeria, Tunisia, Somalia, Eritrea, Libya, and Djibouti. Additionally, it’s the official language of Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Mauritania, and Tunisia. Basic greeting for hallo in Arabic is ‘Al-Salaam A’alaykum’.
Swahili – also known as Kiswahili – is one of the most common African languages and has over 140 million speakers.
It’s mainly spoken in the East African countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, South Sudan, Northern Mozambique, Malawi, Comoros Islands, and DRC Congo. The dialectal borrows from Arabic and Bantu languages. This is due to the historic interactions between Arabs and the local Bantus from East Africans.
In Tanzania, the language is used even in education while in Kenya and Tanzania, it’s one of the official languages. Some of the most notable Swahili words used globally include ‘Hakuna Matata’ (no worries), ‘Safari’ (travel), ‘Simba’ (lion), and ‘Jambo’ (hello).
It’s really easy to learn Swahili especially if you are an English speaker. The language doesn’t use tones compared to many other African languages. It uses the Latin alphabet. Moreover, if you know Arabic you are at a great advantage because the language has various loanwords from it.
Hausa originated from the Hausa people who are mainly found in northern Nigeria and southern Chad. The language developed and spread throughout West Africa due to trade. People speak hausa in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Togo, Ghana, Sudan, Benin, Cameroon, and several other northern African states.
Hausa is one of the official languages in Nigeria. Additionally, it’s one of the Chadic languages widely spoken in Africa. The language borrows the Boko and Latin alphabet in its writing system. Moreover, Hausa is the basic language of most Muslim populations in West Africa. Over 35 million Africans are native as well as second language speakers. ‘Sanna’ in Hausa easily translates to hello.
With over 39 million speakers, Yoruba is one of the most spoken African languages. Yoruba speakers are found in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Benin, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Togo. Additionally, it’s one of Nigeria’s official languages.
West Africans living in diaspora in the UK and the US also use the language a lot. Moreover, the language has over 15 dialects. They include Ilaje, Ila, Ijesha, and Awori. Yoruba is a tonal language that has three distinct tones. It has the high, mid, and, low and is a part of the Volta-Niger branch of the Niger-Congo family of languages. Hallo in Yoruba is ‘Bawo.’
Widely spoken in Ethiopia, Oromo is a Cushitic dialectal that falls under the Afro-Asiatic language family. This language has over 30 million speakers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Egypt.
The Oromo people account for close to 40% of the entire population in Ethiopia thus making them the largest ethnic group. Between 1974 and 1991, Ethiopia’s then-leader Mengistu banned writing using Oromo. After 1991, the language adopted the Latin alphabet. To say hello in Oromo, you say ‘Akkam’.
Other most common African languages include Amharic, Igbo, Berber, Fulani, Zulu, Shona, and Bambara.
Interesting Facts About the Most Spoken Common African Languages
- Africa accounts for one-third of the cumulative languages in the world
- The continent boasts of having the uppermost linguistic assortment across the globe
- Uganda happens to be the top country in terms of English proficiency while Kenya comes second
- The most spoken dialectal in South Africa is English. The state also has 11 other official languages
- Nigeria is the most linguistically diverse country in the world
- African languages are among the fastest-growing languages in the US
Africa is diverse in culture and languages. You will often find people who speak two or three languages. Something you don’t see often in other parts of the world.