Africa is the second-largest continent in the world, that holds valuable natural resources and still pristine nature. With inhabitants numbering in the billions (1.3 billion to be exact), Africa is second only to Asia, in terms of size and population. Amongst the many treasures Africa has to offer, for us language enthusiasts, there’s no shortage of African languages and vibrant cultures. Recent estimates state the presence of 1500-2000 languages that are alive and well in Africa.
Here’s our pick of the 6 best African languages to learn;
A language that needs no introduction, Swahili is an African language of global presence. With speakers of Swahili in countries outside of the African continent such as the USA and Saudi Arabia, Swahili has both native speakers and second language users in large numbers. In Africa, Swahili (also known as Kiswahili) is the official language of Tanzania and Kenya and also spoken by countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi amongst others. Swahili is popularly used as a second language by people across the African continent and taught in schools and universities. Swahili has been influenced by Arabic and even had an Arabic script during its early years. Given its presence within the continent and outside, learning Swahili is a popular choice by language enthusiasts.
With 22 million native speakers, the Amharic language is under the umbrella of Semitic languages. Joining the ranks of Arabic and Hebrew, Amharic dates to the early 14th century. The Amharic language is indigenous to the Amharas, a tribe residing in regions of Central Ethiopia. It is the official language of Ethiopia and the number of speakers is second only to Arabic, as far as Semitic languages are concerned. The writing style is different from Arabic and Hebrew, as Amharic is written from left to right, like English. While learning Amharic might be a bit of a challenge, it is not impossible, with a language learning difficulty rating comparable to Albanian or Greek. Of the African languages, Amharic is definitely not the most difficult.
Africa as a continent is exciting and dynamic. With different landscapes and a myriad of cultures, a language that reflects the diversity and excitement of the continent is Hausa. With speakers numbering to 45 million and increasing, it is predominantly spoken by countries in the Western and Central regions of Africa. Hausa is a tonal language, which means the pitch of your voice can change the meaning of words! How exciting is that! Once you’re well versed in Hausa, you can communicate with the local vendors of Niger, Ghana or Nigeria for your next bargain. Looking for a challenging learning experience? Hausa is your fix!
The Yoruba people are ethnic people found in the countries of Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Togo and Ivory Coast. The language, also called Yoruba, has 40 million speakers in parts of the continent. Yoruba is one of the more complex African languages. Many dialects of Yoruba exist in countries across Central Africa and is practiced by many speakers even now. As a tonal language, it was mutually unintelligible even amongst speakers of the same tongue from different parts of the country. A standardized version was adopted to ensure uniformity in 1884. This continues to be practiced to date, with a lesser popular version developed in 1970 to accommodate the use of the language in typewriters and digital printing. Yoruba has rich roots in literature and prominent Yoruba authors have had their work turned into plays and foreign language books.
A language spoken by over 45 million people and native to Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, it is one of the oldest languages in West Africa. Thought to have originated in 9th century AD, the language is characterized as a Niger-Congo language. Igbo is a tonal language just as Yoruba, and it was only in the early 1970s where a spelling system was adopted to incorporate the tonal changes into the writing system as well. Igbo is one of the three official languages in Nigeria.
Did you know that Marrakesh is actually more Berber than Arabic? Moroccan Arabic is actually very heavily influenced by the Berber language. Berbers in Morocco typically speak a unified language of both Berber and Arabic similar to Spanglish. This ancient language is over 6000 years old!
We have just listed out six languages here, but Africa is linguistically plural and there are a lot more that is still alive! Start learning an African language online and for every course you book, one course will be donated to someone in need of education.