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Did you know that Africa is such a big continent, even bigger than the USA, China, or India? And do you know what that means from the language point of view? For language lovers, it means paradise.
There are more than 3.000 different languages spoken in Africa. Unfortunately, most African languages aren't so popular worldwide.
Languages, such as Spanish, French, German, or Arabic somehow are always the ones we choose to learn because they are the major ones and you can easily find professional tutors that teach them.
If you consider learning some other language, why wouldn't your choice be one of the African languages?
From now on, with these 5 most widely spoken languages in Africa, we will share with you, you will see how fascinating African languages can be. And as much as these languages are popular worldwide, we will also mention the 4 major and most spoken languages in Africa that don’t belong to the African language family.
And now, let's dive in.
Swahili, or also known as Kiswahili in the language, is a Bantu language. It is widely spoken in the African Great Lakes region, which includes Central, Southern, and East Africa.
There are more than 150 million Swahili speakers throughout the continent, 15 million of them are native speakers, which makes this language the second most spoken one in Africa.
If you choose to learn Swahili, you can communicate with the locals in the countries like Tanzania and Kenya, where Swahili is an official language, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The name of the language, Kiswahili, means 'coastal language.' Originally, the language was created to ease the communication between Southern and Eastern Africa’s ethnic groups.
• Swahili doesn't use tones, unlike other African languages.
• The language uses the Latin alphabet.
• There are plenty of Arabic loanwords in Swahili.
As you see, the language isn't too hard for English speakers to learn and for those who already know Arabic.
Here's one fun fact about Swahili: Disney’s cartoon 'The Lion King' used Swahilli. 'Hakuna Matata' comes from Swahili in the meaning 'no worries,' and Simba is 'lion' in Swahili.
Hausa belongs to the Chadic language family.
It is spoken in Nigeria, Niger, and West Africa by approximately 39 million people.
It’s also spoken by plenty of other people in West Africa, and in fact, Hausa serves as a lingua franca for Muslim populations in this region. It’s widely understood, so it’ll get you pretty far in West Africa!
• Hausa is written in both the Arabic and the Latin alphabet.
• Boko, which is called the Latin alphabet, is the main script today Hausa speakers mainly use.
• Hausa is a tonal language, but each of the five vowels (a, e, i, o, u) can either have a high or low pitch.
With 22 million speakers, this ancient Semitic language is spoken in Ethiopia.
It belongs to the same language family as Arabic and Hebrew, and it is the second most spoken language from this language family after Arabic.
• Amharic uses an alphasyllabary called ‘fidel’. It means that each letter is a consonant/vowel combination, only the forms of the consonants and vowels change depending on the combinations.
• Amharic vocabulary has been strongly influenced by Arabic and by Cushitic languages, especially Afaan Oromo.
• Amharic uses both prepositions and postpositions to describe relations in sentences.
Fun fact: The name 'Rastafari' comes from ‘ras’ (ራስ ) ‘head’ + täfäriyawyan (ተፈሪያውያን) ‘Rastafarians.’ It refers to Haile Selassie, former Emperor of Ethiopia. Many Rastafarians learn Amharic because believe that it is a sacred language. Also, many reggae musicians write songs in Amharic.
The Yoruba language is one of West Africa's most spoken languages. There are over 30 million Yoruba speakers in Nigeria, Benin, and Togo.
Every Yoruba speaker speaks English fluently making them natural bilinguals. Language switching between Yorùbá and English is something they do every day, so it is the most natural thing for most of them. People use Yorùbá mainly in the family and in formal situations such as village or tribal meetings.
• Dialects differ depending on the number of vowels they have. Standard Yorùbá has seven oral and five nasal vowels.
• Nouns aren't marked for number, gender, or cases. Nor there are definite and indefinite articles.
• The language didn't have its written form until the 19th century. When the Yoruba bishop translated Bible to Yoruba, it led to the development of the written form.
Oromo, called Afaan Oromoo, is the language spoken in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Egypt. There are 30 million speakers and over 40% of the Ethiopian population speaks it. Between 1974 and 1991 it was forbidden to use the language in its writing form.
Then Oromo scholars adopted a Latin script and since then, it was used to teach reading and writing, making it the youngest written language in the world.
• The Latin alphabet is the official alphabet of Oromo, called Qubee. Oromo was also written with the Ge'ez script.
• Most syllables end in vowels.
• The language uses postpositions more than prepositions, making the language pretty challenging.
Even though we wanted to give an overview of typical most spoken African languages, somehow we can't miss at least mentioning other major and worldwide spoken languages.
This language is the most spoken one on the continent. It is also an official language in many countries, such as Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco, and so on.
Spoken by more than 120 million people and in more than 20 countries in Africa, African French was influenced by African languages, which can be seen in accent.
Portuguese is spoken in many African countries and today, it is the official language in six of them: Angola, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Equatorial Guinea. According to the statistics, there are more than 30 million speakers on the continent.
Today, most of the countries where English is spoken as a primary language or lingua franca, are former British colonies. Today, there are 24 English-speaking countries in Africa, but mainly the whole continent speaks the language fluently.
Learning any of these languages pays off because you'll get the opportunity to meet new people and learn about different cultures and traditions.
For the past several decades, many African countries grew economically and they are more and more present in the politics and trade world.
Whichever language you choose to learn, you surely won't make a mistake.
So, if you are still considering which language to learn, these African languages are a great choice. And with Justlearn tutors, you'll fall in love with them even more.
Swahili, Hausa, Amharic, Yoruba, Oromo
Arabic, French, Portuguese, English, Portuguese
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