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12 Most Spoken Languages in Africa

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By now, it’s clear that the African market is a lucrative one to enter for any business. It’s also one of the most competitive markets on the continent. The African market is also growing at a rapid rate, and with this comes more opportunities for businesses to succeed.

The African Market is Growing at a Rapid Pace

African population growth has been rapid in the last decade (a 3% annual compound rate) due to an increase in life expectancy and fertility rates. This has led to more potential consumers entering the market as people are living longer and becoming fertile later into their lives.

Industry Trends: The fast-growing market is also attracting global brands that have already established themselves in other regions of the world including Europe, Asia, and North America. These international brands are investing heavily in developing AI copywriting assistants to help them establish their presence in the Indian market.

The essence of this guide is to give you an insight into the most spoken and most popular languages in Africa today, we really do hope you find it as insightful.

Swahili

Although English is the most spoken language in Africa, the native language of Swahili is a close second.

Swahili is spoken by about 100 million people. It has its own grammar and vocabulary but is mutually intelligible with other African languages like Hausa and Zulu.

Swahili is more than just a language – it’s also a culture, and there are many stories that surround it. One of the most popular stories in Swahili culture comes from an Arabic folk tale.

Swahili is the most spoken language in Africa with between 100 and 150 million speakers. It is spoken mainly in East Africa.

Swahili has its origins in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and northern Mozambique. It is a Bantu language with influences from Arabic, Persian, European languages including English and Portuguese. It has been influenced by many other cultures such as Asian-Arabic Islamic culture and Indian Hindu culture.

The history of Swahili begins with the first migration of Bantu people from Western Africa to East Africa around 1000 AD. These Bantu people were originally from present-day Cameroon but at some point, they migrated southward where they met the indigenous East African populations called Mijikenda who became their first hosts in what became present-day Kenya and Tanzania.

English Language

The English language is arguably the most popular language in Africa after Swahili. It is the language that is spoken by a majority of African countries.

But it’s not as popular as some other languages in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2021, there are an estimated 1.1 billion people in Africa who speak English. This number is expected to increase to 1.4 billion by 2025, according to the CIA World Factbook. With more than 825 million people, Nigeria alone accounts for approximately 13% of Africa’s population and a significant chunk of this English-speaking audience in 2021.

Amharic

Amharic is one of the main languages spoken in Ethiopia by over 20 million speakers. It is a Semitic language and is closely related to other Afroasiatic languages like Hebrew, Arabic, and Tigrinya.

The Amharic language has been influenced by both indigenous languages and ancient Greek and Latin borrowings.

Amharic is a member of the Semitic group of Afroasiatic languages, which are the most widely spoken languages in Africa. The ancestors of this group migrated from ancient Egypt before 2000 BC, spread across North Africa, and eventually spread across the world as part of the African diaspora.

Yoruba

Yoruba is a language of Nigeria that was created by the Yoruba people. It is so deeply rooted in Nigerian culture that over 30 million people speak its language.

At the turn of the 20th century, Yoruba was spoken as a trade language in most parts of West Africa. In Nigeria, it has been recognized as one of the official languages since 1963 and is used in many areas including government, education, commerce and media.

The Yoruba language was originally spoken by two main groups – Ife and Ibadan – which each took turns to rule over Yorubaland before eventually being ruled by Benin. Early Yoruba literature has traces from antiquity dating back to ancient times when oral traditions were passed on through storytellers called Odus (storytellers).

Igbo

Igbo is native to eastern Nigerian, but also spoken in countries like Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. In Nigeria, it is one of the most spoken language. It is believed that Igbo speakers migrated from northern Nigeria to Igboland in the early 17th century.

Igbo has a rich history dating back over 2,500 years. It was originally a secret language used by traders on the east-west trading route to communicate with each other without the knowledge of foreign traders.

The IGBO language was largely popularized by Chinua Achebe, famed author of “Things Fall Apart” and whose many books were written in the same.

Hausa

Hausa is one of Nigeria’s official languages and it has over forty million speakers around the continent. The language was first documented in 919 AD, where it can be seen that there were already some people who had started to use the language.

Hausa is a Niger-Congo language belonging to the Kwa branch of Niger-Congo languages. Hausa is not mutually intelligible with other closely related languages such as Songhay and Fulani, which are also Niger-Congo languages.

The Hausa language has three dialects: Northern, Central, and Western. Northern Hausa is spoken in Northern Nigeria with a few speakers in Niger; Central Hausa is spoken in central northern Nigeria; and Western Hausa is spoken primarily in Kano, Katsina, Zaria, and Sokoto.

Oromo

The Oromo language is spoken by over 30 million people in Ethiopia. It is a member of the Afroasiatic language family and has many other dialects such as Gurage, Harari, Silt’o, Gafat and Tigrigna.

Oromo is a significant language because it was the official language during the Ethiopian empire. Today, it is one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa. It has been recognized by the African Union as an official working language and its use has been increasing across regions such as Sudan, Somalia and Kenya.

Ethiopia Oromo is written with a Latin alphabet called Qubee which was formally adopted in 1991. Various versions of the Latin-based orthography had been used since colonial times, but this new form replaced them all together.

The Oromian language has 37 million native speakers and it’s distributed over Ethiopia and Kenya making it one of Africa’s largest languages by number of speakers after Arabic, Swahili (Kiswahili), Hausa or Yoruba depending on who you ask!

It belongs to Afro-Asiatic family under Cushitic branch that includes Lowland East Cushites such as Beja people living around Sudanese Red Sea coastline then Southern Highland East group comprising Sidamo peoples from southern, northern Kenya and Djibouti.

Oromo is the seventh most spoken language in Africa after Arabic, Hausa, Amharic, Igbo, Swahili and Yoruba.

Zulu

Zulu is one of the most widely spoken languages in South Africa, and it is estimated that over 10 million people speak Zulu.  It’s closely related to Swati, an official language in the neighboring country of Swaziland. The Zulu language was brought to South Africa by a group of people called the Nguni. They were from Malawi and Mozambique and settled in KwaZulu-Natal.

The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) introduced a standardised version of Zulu to be used in formal education. The SABS also introduced the English alphabet to the language, which is now widely used. Although no official figures were given for Zulu users, around 5 million people are estimated to speak it, owing largely due to the spread of the Zulu language among South African nationals, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal.

The ZULU population has kept increasing over the years and an estimate shows that there are approximately 10 million users in South Africa.

In terms of its geographical distribution, it is spoken mainly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Gauteng. It is also used in other countries outside the continent of Africa such as Botswana, Lesotho and Malawi.

Zulu is written in a Latin script which was introduced by missionaries during the 1820s. Around 5% (2 million) speak Zulu as their first language and the number of speakers is growing.

About 10% (4 million) speak it as a second language. However, an even larger percentage knows some Zulu so it is considered to be a widely used language in South Africa. It is one of nine languages officially recognised by the South Africa’s constitution.

Shona

Shona is widely spoken in Zimbabwe, where it is a national language. It has more than 10 million speakers as compared to the neighboring country of Mozambique, where Shona has about 3 million speakers.

Shona originated from Bantu languages that once inhabited Southern Africa and even spread to the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Zambia and Malawi.

This language was first developed by the people who moved from one place to another and used a series of click sounds that became clicks when pronounced with rounded lips.

Arabic

Arabic is the fifth-largest language in the world. It is spoken by 280 million people, of whom 84% live in countries where Arabic is an official language.

Arabic has been around for over 5,000 years, making it one of the oldest languages on Earth. It has a rich heritage that includes literature from pre-Islamic times and medieval Arab empires like the Umayyad and Abbasid.

Arabs have many varieties of their own dialects. For instance, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) comes from Classical Arabic (CA), which is understood across the Arab world and a few other Middle Eastern countries with large concentrations of Arabs.

Portuguese

Despite being spoken in an African country, Portuguese is not often seen as an African language. In fact, some of the most common African languages are actually derived from Portuguese.

Portuguese has different variations depending on where it is spoken – the Brazilian and European variants are significantly different.

The language is also found in many parts of Asia and South America. It was first introduced into Brazil by way of Africa during the 15th century.

French

Francophone Africa is made up of 26 African states. It is a region that covers mostly French-speaking countries and some English speaking countries as well. Alongside French, other languages spoken in the region include Berber, Hausa, Arabic, Swahili and Yoruba.

French is the second most spoken language in Africa, with only Arabic holding more sway. It has been said that for every one million people living on Earth there are about 100 who speak French – making it a truly international vernacular! As of 2050, this number could reach 700 million speakers globally and 80% will be located in African countries like Algeria and Tunisia where nearly 40-50% of inhabitants now identify as Francophone due to their colonial pasts.

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