12 Most Widely Spoken African Languages

The number of languages spoken in the entire African continent is quite enormous. According to research, it is estimated to range between 1500-2000 languages. Some of these are widely spoken across a recognizable area, while some others are in the minority that they are not even known to be in existence if not within the confines of the area they are spoken. Here, our focus is on those major African languages which actually have trans-continental significance.



Arabic is the one of the most widely spoken language in Africa at large. However, its use is concentrated in North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Examples of countries include North Sudan, Egypt, Algeria, Chad, Djibouti, Libya and Tunisia. It is also notable that most Arabic speaking persons are of Islamic faith. In Algeria, Mauritania, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt it is the official language. All these countries are categorized as Arabophone Africa. To say hello in Arabic one says AL SALAAM A’ALAYKUM’.



Kiswahili is also known as Swahili language and is the mother tongue of the Swahili people. It is a Bantu language believed to have origin inspired by other languages especially Arabic. This is as a result of the historical interaction between the Arabs and the local Bantus. Swahili is spoken largely in Eastern Africa, in countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. In Tanzania it is the official language and is even used for education. In Uganda and Kenya it is a national language. Other Swahili speaking nations within the east of Africa include Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, DRC and Northern Mozambique. Kiswahili serves to be the mother of words such as hakuna matata (no worries), simba (lion) and the all so famous ’safari’. To say hello in Swahili one says JAMBO’.



Hausa is spoken largely in Western Africa by the Hausa people and by persons of Fulani ancestry. It is also known as Mgbakpa, Kado, Hausawa, Haoussaa, Habe and Abakwariga. Hausa is spoken in countries such as Nigeria, Chad, Togo, Niger, Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso. It is also spoken lightly in eastern African countries such as Eritrea and Sudan and central African countries i.e. Congo, Cameroon and Central African Republic. Standard Hausa is based on the dialect originating from Kano which is the most renowned city for Hausa speaking in Nigeria. It is also the most basic language for most Muslim populations of western Africa and actually serves as the language of instruction at the primary level of education. To say hello in Hausa one says SANNU’.



Generally speaking, English is largely spoken in Africa as a result of colonization by British powers that in effect influenced the countries in question. These countries are referred to as Anglophone African countries and examples include Botswana, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Saint Helena, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe. English is a much widely accepted and used language especially in urban areas. It is also used as a soft landing in situations where local dialect raises conflict or simply not understood by all communicating parties thus a business language.



After Arabic, Amharic is the second largest spoken Semitic dialect in Africa and the world at large. It is alternatively called Amarigna language, Amarinya language, Amharinya language and/or Kuchumba language. Amharic is exclusively the official language of Ethiopia and has its very own alphabet and digits. It is also the “official working language” for the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Amharic is spoken outside Ethiopia by about 2.7 million people who are emigrants. It also draws much influence from neighboring Cushitic languages in regard to grammar and vocabulary. To say hello in Amharic one says SALAM’.