Top 10 Most Spoken African Languages

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Most of the spoken language in Africa has a defining link with African culture, from the syllabus to pronunciation and the connection its provides, African languages are not just the back bone of African history, but the thread inspiring the development of Africa.

As a lecturer of African languages, I have watched as our language evolved over the years. Even with stiff opposition during the colonial era, African languages still survive.

Like I usually informed my students, Africa lost a lot during the colonial era, apart from the fact that we abandoned most of our culture due to colonial suppression, we nearly lost our languages if not for the strong affinity it has with our history.

I recently gave a speech at a gathering in Germany, the audience were surprised when I started the introduction with Swahili, Swahili is my language, my identity, I carry it with me everywhere i go and I am not ashamed to defend it when the situation arises.

Currently, English which this article is presented with, is the third most spoken language in the World and one of the language that connect people in Africa together.

Read: Best English Speaking African Countries

Let’s explore African language.

Table of Contents

Top 10 Most Spoken African Languages

1. Swahili

Swahili language

Swahili is the indigenous lingua franca of East Africa and the most spoken African language.  As a Bantu language (Niger–Congo languages spoken in central and southern Africa), Swahili is the official language of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. And it’s a compulsory subject in schools in Kenya and Tanzania

Language: Swahili
Origin: Arabic
Native name: Native name: Kiswahili
Number of Speakers: Approximately 140 million

Some Useful Phrases:
i. Karibu : Welcome
ii. Habari ya asubuhi: Good morning
iii. Nakutakia siku njema! : Have a nice day
iv: Safari njema!: Safe journey
v: Unaelewa?: Do you understand?

2. Hausa

Hausa language is the number one indigenous lingua franca of West and Central Africa. It is a tonal language that has less than 10 dialect.The dialect include:

Eastern: Kano, Hadejiya, katagum
Northern:Arawa, Arewa
Western: Katsina, Sokoto,Zamfara, Gobirawa, Adamawa, Kebbawa

Spoken in: Nigeria, Ghana, Sudan, Niger, Benin, Ivory Coast, Togo
Number of Speakers: Approximately 80 million
Writing system: Arabic script and Latin script

Some Useful Phrases:

1. Sannu da zuwa : Welcome
2. Sannu : Hello
3. Ina kwana? : Good morning
4. Na gani: I understand
5. Kana jin harshen turanci kuwa? : Do you speak English/

3. Oromo

 Oromo language

Oromo is a Cushitic language (part of Afroasiatic) spoken in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Egypt. According to research, they are more Oromo speakers abroad than in Africa. Some of those Countries include: Canada, Australia, United State and some part of Europe

Writing style: Latin Script
Native: Ethiopia, Kenya
Number of Speaker: Approximately 50 million

Some Useful Phrases:
i. abbaa: Father
ii. cirreessa / haakiimii: Doctor
iii. gubaa : hot
iv: urjoota: Stars
v: biyya: Country

4. Yoruba

Yoruba language is native to Nigeria, the Republic of Benin and Togo. It is a tonal language that belongs to the Niger-Congo family of languages. The number of dialect varies between 12 and 26, some of them include: Nago, Lucumi, etc.

Some Useful Phrases:

i. Ẹ n lẹ (en-le): Hello
ii. E se/O se: Thank you
iii. Duro (du-ro): Stop
iv. Ebi n pa mi (a-bi-pa-me): I’m hungry
v. Bẹẹ ni / Ra ra: Yes/no

Native: Nigeria, Benin, Togo
Number of Speakers: Approximately 50 million
Writing style: Latin Script

5. Igbo

Igbo is the official language of the Igbo people. It belongs to the Niger-Congo family of languages. They are approximately 30 Igbo dialect.

Some Useful Phrases:

i. Nnọọ / Dalụ : Welcome
ii. Kedụ: Hello
iii. Ị̀ bọọla chi/Ụtụtụ ọma : Good morning
iv: Ndo : Sorry
v: A hụrụ m gị n’anya: I love you

Native: Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea
Number of Speakers: Approximately 29 million
Writing system: Latin script

6. . Zulu

Zulu is a bantu language that is native to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Zulu is studied as a subject in both primary and secondary schools in South Africa. There are two known dialect of Zulu: Lala and Qwabe

Spoken in: South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mali, Botswana
Number of Speakers: Approximately 28 million

Some Useful Phrases:

i.Sawubona : Hello
ii. Ngiyakwemukela : Welcome
iii. Ngiyajabula ukukwazi: Pleased to meet you
iv. Ngikufisela iwela!: Goodluck
v. Uyezwa?: Do you understand

7. Amharic

Amharic language

Amharic is one of the two main languages of Ethiopia. It is an Afro Asian language that belongs to the Semitic group of languages ( which includes: Arabic, Hebrew, Moabite, Phoenician and Assyrian-Babylon). It has four dialects; Wollo, Shewa, Gojiam and Gondar

Language: Amharic
Number of Speakers: Approximately 22 million
Native: Ethiopia

Some Useful phrases:
i. ሰላም። : Hello
ii. እንኳን ደህና መጣህ። : Welcome
iii. እንደምን አለህ፧ : How are you
iv: ስለተዋወቅን ደስ ብሎኛል : Pleased to meet you
v. እንደምን አደርክ: Good Morning

8. Shona

Shola is a bantu language of the Niger-Congo language family, spoken mainly in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique. Some of the well known dialect of shona includes: Ndau, Korekore, Zezur, Karanga and Manyika

Language: Shona
Native: Zimbabwe, Mozambique
Number of speaker: Approximately 10 million
Writing system: Latin script

Some Useful phrases:

i. Mhoro : Hello
ii. Mauya: Welcome
iii. Mangwanani: Good Morning
iv: Ndafara kukuziva: Pleased to meet you
v: Munonzvisisa here?: Do you undersstand?

9. Arabic

Arabic is a semantic language spoken by over 310 million people Worldwide. It is the official language in Libya, Eritrea, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, among others. It is the religious language of all Muslim and has a variety of dialect including Iraq, Egypt, Arabia, Syria, North Africa, etc

Some Useful phrases:

i. As-salām ‘alaykum: Hello
ii.ṣabāḥul kẖayr : Good Morning
iii. al-ma’dirah: Excuse me
iv: shukran: Thank you

10. Portuguese

Portuguese is the official language of Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé. Often called the second western romance language after Spanish, Portuguese language is spoken by over 200 million people Worldwide, and it is one of the fastest growing European language after English

Some Useful phrases:

i. Olá : Hello
ii. Bom dia: Good morning
iii.Bom apetite!: have a nice meal
iv. Percebe?: Do you understand/
v. Obrigado (M)/Obrigada (F) : Thank you

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1 thought on “Top 10 Most Spoken African Languages”

  1. As your students Dr.
    I am always so proud of you.
    Thank you for your sacrifice and commitment to the development of African languages.


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