Communication in the complex and diverse world of today is a necessity. Given the nature of the constantly shifting linguistic and demographical landscape, one cannot deny the important role that communication plays. Language makes this communication between communities and people possible. The continent of Africa is home to a diverse range of languages. With a total population of about 1.43 billion, this region holds anywhere between 1000 to 2000 languages in its folds. As new languages emerge and old ones die out, exploring these languages is an interesting task on its own. Other than a number of languages, English is also one of the languages spoken in the region, and there are a significant number of English-speaking countries in Africa.
Table of Content
- Is English Widely Spoken in Africa?
- The African Languages a Brief Introduction
- The English Language and the African Countries
- African Countries that Speak English?
- Here are the Top 10 English Speaking Countries in Africa:
- The Last Word
Is English Widely Spoken in Africa?
Apart from a number of other languages, English is also one of the languages spoken in the region. And there are a significant number of countries in Africa that are English-speaking. People in these countries widely embrace English for communication in government, diplomacy, tourism, and business. If we look at the total number of English speakers in Africa, it exceeds 130 million. According to surveys conducted by EF Education First, some countries exhibit greater levels of commonly practiced English skills while others are showing solid improvement compared to the past.
In order to understand the different and varied dynamics of the languages in Africa, one must first dive into the background of the languages in this continent. The sheer size of the African continent makes it an interesting place to study and inspect languages.
Although a translation company can best do the job of translating and interpreting the African languages, knowing the different languages of Africa makes up for a good informational read—especially if you are planning to set up a business venture in one of the African countries.
Before exploring the English speaking countries in Africa, let’s take a look at the African linguistic introduction.
The African Languages a Brief Introduction
According to an estimate by Ethnolgue, there are approximately 2000 languages in Africa. This means that multilingualism exists in the African language landscape. It is believed that one of the earliest writing systems of humanity originated in the African region and a variety of scripts remain in use there to this day.
Over the past few years, African people have increasingly become aware of the linguistic diversity that exists among them. This is the reason why language policies that are being developed nowadays are aimed at the promotion of multilingualism.
For example, the African Union (AU) considers all languages of Africa as their official languages. Although many languages of the region are used in primary school education, some of the prominent languages are considered national languages.
The languages in Africa fall into four language families—Afroasiatic, Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharam, and Khoisan. A number of languages in the African region belong to Indo-European and Austronesian language families. In addition, several unclassified and sign languages are also part of the diverse linguistic landscape of this continent.
1. Afroasiatic Languages
The Afroasiatic languages are present across North Africa and Southwest Asia. The main sub-families of these Afroasiatic languages are Semitic languages, the Cushitic languages, Berber, and Chadic languages. Moreover, there are approximately 375 Afroasiatic languages spoken by 300 million people across Africa.
Some of the prominent languages in the Afroasiatic family include Amharic, Somali, Arabic, Oromo, Tamazight, and Hausa. In addition, Afroasiatic languages have the longest written history in the League of the World’s surviving language families.
This language family is the largest group of language families in Africa. The majority of languages in this family are mainly tonal such as Yoruba and Igbo. The Bantu family is one of the major branches of the Niger-Congo languages and covers a greater geographic area than the rest of the languages.
The Nilo-Saharan languages are tonal languages, having a diverse array of languages in their folds. It covers over a hundred languages that travel from southern Egypt to northern Tanzania, into Nigeria and FR Congo. Some of the prominent and known languages of these Nilo-Saharan languages are Songhay, Nubian, Kanuri, and Nilotic family, which includes Dinka, Luo, and Maasai.
This family of languages covers some 30 languages with 300,000 speakers in the African region. These languages are present in Namibia and Botswana. In addition, there are some language isolates such as Sandawe and Hadza.
The English Language and the African Countries
The African continent is the second-largest continent by area as well as by population, trailing only behind Asia. With a huge population of 1.34 billion, it makes up about 16% of the total world population. Out of this number, approximately 6.5 million people speak and understand the English language.
The African continent, much like the Asian continent had been under the rule of colonialism. This brought linguistic as well as cultural changes to the region. When this colonialism ended, many countries began using those languages that were left behind.
However, there are still some African countries that identify English and French language. These two are commonly used as a means of communication in the region as well as in matters of education, judiciary, and business.
Moreover, English is the official language of more than 23 countries in Africa, while French is the official language of 26 countries.
African Countries that Speak English?
The level of proficiency in English varies greatly across African borders due to factors such as historical colonial influence, financial restraints, education systems, and cultural practices. It’s important to note that “good” English can be subjective and can depend on factors such as fluency, accent, and usage. However, many African countries have a large portion of their population that can speak English at a proficient level. Some of the African countries where English is commonly spoken with a relatively high level of proficiency include:
In these countries, English is often used as a medium of instruction in schools, and it plays a significant role in government, media, business, and other sectors. However, the level of proficiency can vary widely within each country based on factors such as urbanization, education access, and socioeconomic conditions. It is a common notion within Africa for students, that to be successful they need to learn how to speak good English. This is why we see many African speaking good and easily understood English.
Top 10 English Speaking Countries in Africa:
There are almost 24 countries in Africa that use English as one of their main or official languages. Here, we will discuss the top 10+ of them.
Uganda comes at number one in the list of African countries where people speak the best English. This landlocked country has a diverse landscape and a population of 45 million, out of which approximately 29 million speak the English language. Gaining independence in 1962, this African country is multilingual and has 43 living languages.
English became the official language of Uganda after its independence. Later, Swahili became the second official language of the region. Today, Luganda is the official language of Uganda, but many people still speak English.
2. South Africa
Located in the Southern part of Africa, this country ranks as the second-best English speaking country in the African continent. The country has 11 official languages and people speak other languages in the region as well, including Afrikaans and isiZulu.
About 4.8 million people in South Africa speak English as their first language which makes up about 9.6% of the country’s total population. Although English only accounts for the sixth most common language, it is the second most popular language outside the household.
Nigeria is the third-best English speaking country in the African continent. The country boasts of 206 million population, out of which 79 million can speak English. This makes up about 53% of the total population. Nigerian English, more popularly known as Nigerian Standard English, is the language of politics and formal communication. On the other hand, Nigerian Pidgin, derived from English, is for informal communication.
English is the official language of Nigeria. Other languages that Nigerian people speak are Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Fula, and English Creole. Other than this, many of the languages in Nigeria exist in written form.
This East African nation ranks fourth in the list of best English speaking countries in Africa. With a population of 54 million, this country houses various ethnic groups, all of which speak their own languages. However, the official language of Kenya is English and about 2.7 million people speak and understand English here.
This English-speaking feature of the country is due to the British rule in the country which started around the late 1800s. As a result, the British left a lasting legacy behind them, along with a sizeable English-speaking population. The English language is the medium of education in Kenyan schools. Although Swahili and English are the primary languages spoken in the region, there are various indigenous languages that have been around for ages.
Zambia is located in the south-central part of Africa. English is the official language of the country housing a population of 18 million. Zambia has several indigenous languages, and almost all of them belong to the Bantu family of languages. For business and official correspondence in the region, people speak English in Zambia. Other than English, the main local language is Nyanja.
Zambia has more than 70 different languages and dialects. Almost everyone can either speak or understand the English language and those residing in urban parts can speak it fluently as well.
Another landlocked country, Botswana is located in the Southern part of Africa. English is the official language of the country despite more people speaking in Setswana. According to estimates, Botswana has a population of 2 million, out of which 2.8% speak English.
Zimbabwe is not far behind when it comes to listing down the English speaking countries in Africa. With a population of 14.8 million, this country is the seventh-best English-speaking country in the African continent.
It might come as a surprise, but even though only 5% of the total population speaks English as a native language in Zimbabwe, almost 89% of the total population can speak it fluently. This number of speakers comes second only to Seychelles (93%) among the African countries. In addition, English is the lingua franca of the country, while the main language is Shona, spoken by 70% of the population.
Located in the Southeastern part of Africa, Malawi has a population of 19 million. Although English is the official language of the country, only 26% of the population can speak it. Chichewa is the national language of Malawi and 57% of the population speaks it. Other prominent languages in the region include Chinyanja, Chiyao, and Chitumbuka.
Ghana is located in the Western part of Africa and comes at the 9th rank on the list of English-speaking countries in Africa. With a population of 31 million, the official language and the lingua franca is English. Approximately, people speak 11 languages in Ghana, but English remains the language of business and formal communication.
English occupies the position of official language due to the colonialization by the British in the region. As a result, people speak English with a heavy tone of pidgin—which might confuse many visitors to the country. Despite this, English is still widely spoken in Ghana amongst other languages in the country.
Located in the Central part of Africa, Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in the African continent. Having a population of only 13.46 million, the country has only a very small percentage of the population that speaks English. It is the third official language in the country, after Kinyarwanda and Swahili. While English is the language of business correspondence, Kinyarwanda remains the most widely spoken and national language in the region.
Gambia is located in West Africa. It’s an English-speaking country with English being its official language. The country remained a British colony in the past and people here receive their education in English. Apart from English, Gambians also speak several other tribal languages such as Wolof, Pulaar, Mandinka, Sine, Manjak, and Jola-Fonyi. If you meet a Gambian, they will at least be bilingual speaking English as well as a tribal language.
The Last Word
The African continent, with its beautiful landscapes and wildlife, is an interesting place for many companies seeking to start their careers in the African region. With English being the universally spoken language, it might come as a pleasant surprise for many that it is the official language of many African countries. This official status makes expansion and business in the African region possible.
Although there are many indigenous and native languages in the African continent, English has managed to keep its place over the centuries. This is due to the colonialization by the British Empire, which has left its mark till today. Nevertheless, if you are a businessman or just a tourist on a vacation, you would not have a hard time navigating your way in Africa, as a large part of the population not only understands English but speaks it fluently too.