African Languages and Locales: Essential Facts

January 13, 2014

According to a research from McKinsey & Company, Africa's future looks bright. Some predictions include:

  • 50% of Africans will be living in cities by 2030
  • 128 million households will have discretionary income in 2020
  • 1.1 billion Africans will be of working age by 2040
  • Africa's consumer spending will be $1.4 trillion by 2020
  • Africa's GDP will be $2.6 trillion by 2020

African-Languages(Source: Lions on the move: The progress and potential of African economies)

Fast Facts on African Languages and Locales

  • Africa is a continent not a country :)
  • There are 56 countries (recognized and defacto states) in Africa
  • Six of the ten fastest-growing countries in the world are in Africa
  • There are an estimated 2000+ African languages
  • There are 4 primary language families in Africa (some classify up to 7 families)

Approximate number of languages and speakers

  • Afro-Asiatic - 200 languages covering Northern Africa
  • Nilo-Saharian - 140 languages with 11 million speakers throughout Central and Eastern Africa
  • Niger-Saharian (Niger-Congo A & B) - 1000 languages with some 200 million speakers
  • Khoisan - 30 languages in the western part of Southern Africa

African Languages Translations

Note: Language families are groups of languages with a common origin and common traits such as syntax, morphology and phonology. It is believed that as people speaking a common language migrated away from each other, languages evolved with each dispersed group. Over time each separate group developed its own new language.


Note: As most of you know Africa's history is sadly made up of a collection of colonizations. There were several languages introduced to Africa through colonization. This resulted in some European languages, or colonial languages, becoming the official language(s) in most African countries. Today, the majority of Africans speak indigenous African languages as a first language and colonial languages as a second or third language.


National, Official and Trade Languages in Africa

The complex landscape of African languages has evolved and continues to evolve as languages die, become national languages and / or rise to a trade language status due to widespread usage. Companies wishing to expand into an African market should be careful to utilize the most culturally suitable languages based on the country, region, products and services you are offering AND to whom you are targeting, whether B2B or B2C.

Country National Languages Other languages used in country (not all)
Algeria Arabic and four Berber languages French
Angola Portuguese Umbundu and other African languages
Benin French Fon and Yoruba among others
Botswana Setswana English
Burkina Faso French African languages part of Sudanic family
Burundi Kirundi, French Swahili
Cameroon English, French Over 20 other African languages
Cape Verde Portuguese Crioulo - mix of Portuguese and West African
Central African Republic French, Sangho Banda and Gbaya among other African languages
Chad French, Arabic Sara and more than 120 different languages and dialects
Comoros Arabic, French Shikomoro - a mix of Swahili and Arabic
Democratic Republic of Congo French Lingala, Kingwana, Kikongo, Tshiluba
Congo French Lingala, Monokutuba, Kikongo and many African languages and dialects
Côte d'Ivoire French Dioula and many African languages and dialects
Djibouti French, Arabic Afar and Somali
Egypt Arabic English and French
Equatorial Guinea French, Spanish Fang, Bubi, Ibo and Pidgin English
Eritrea Arabic, English, Tigrinya Afar, Bedawi, Kunama, Tigré and other African languages
Ethiopia Amharic English, Tigrinya, Oromo, Gurage, Somali, Arabic and many other African languages
Gabon French Bapounou/Eschira, Bandjabi, Fang, Myene, Nzebi
Gambia English Fula, Mandinka, Wolof
Ghana English Akan, Adangme, Ewe, Ga, Moshi-Dagomba
Guinea French Soussou, Peulh, Fulani, Maninka, Kissi, Toma, Guerze and many other African languages
Guinea-Bissau Portuguese Crioulo and other African languages
Kenya English, Kiswahili Many African languages
Lesotho Sesotho, English Zulu, Xhosa
Liberia English Many African languages
Libya Arabic English, Italian
Madagascar French, Malagasy
Malawi English, Nyanja Lomwe, Tumbuka, Yao, other African languages
Mali French Arabic, Bambara, Dogoso, Fulfulde, Koyracini, Senoufou, and Mandinka, Tamasheq
Mauritania Arabic French, Hassaniya Arabic, Pulaar, Soninke
Mauritius English, French Creole, Hindi, Urdu, Hakka, Bhojpuri
Morocco Arabic French
Mozambique Portuguese Lomwe, Makhuwa, Sena, Tsonga and other African languages
Nambia English Afrikaans, Herero, Nama, Oshivambo
Niger French Djerma, Hausa
Nigeria English Fulani, Hausa, Ijaw, Ibibio, Igbo, Yoruba and many other African languages
Réunion French Creole
Rwanda Rwanda (Kinyarwanda, Bantu vernacular) French, English Kiswahili (Swahili)
Saint Helena English
São Tomé and Príncipe Portuguese
Senegal French Jola, Mandinka, Pulaar Wolof
Seychelles English, French Creole
Sierra Leone English Mende, Krio, Temne
Somalia Somali Arabic, English, Italian
South Africa 11 official languages including Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, Pedi, Sesotho (Sotho), siSwati (Swazi), Xitsonga (Tsonga), Tswana, Tshivenda (Venda), isiXhosa, isiZulu
Sudan- South Sudan Arabic English, Nubian, Ta Bedawie
Swaziland English
Tanzania Kiswahili (Swahili) and English Arabic, Gogo, Haya, Makonde, Nyakyusa, Nyamwezi, Sukuma, Tumbuka and many African languages
Togo French Dagomba, Ewe, Kabye
Tunisia Arabic French
Uganda English Arabic, Ganda, Swahili
Western Sahara Arabic - Moroccan and Hassaniya
Zambia English Bemba, Kaonda, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Nyanja, Tonga, and many other African languages
Zimbabwe English Chewa, Chishona, Nambya, Nyanja, Shangani, Sindebele, Sotho, Tongo, Venda

Sources: Ethnologue, ISO Country Names (ISO 3166-1), ISO Languages Names (ISO 639-1), African Academy of Languages (ACALAN) and others.

Additional Resources on Africa and African Language Translation:

Language Translation and Localization

In order to support the growing needs of our clients for many of the African and Middle Eastern languages, GPI has opened offices in Dubai, UAE and Cairo, Egypt to support our clients doing business in the Middle East and Africa. GPI has built teams of professional native speakers for many of the African languages whether national or indigenous, who are available to help companies with their African language translations needs.

Cairo, Egypt

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

17 Korash Street
6th District
Nasr City, Cairo, Egypt
Phone: +2 0100 128 0914

Global Phone: +1-703-286-2193
Translation services in Cairo, Egypt

Dubai Media City, Business Centre 2
Building 8, Office Number 71
P.O. Box 502068, Dubai, UAE
Phone: +971 50 298 0651

Global Phone: +1-703-286-2193
Translation services in Dubai, UAE

You may contact GPI at or at 866-272-5874 with your specific questions about which languages will help you succeed in Africa's diverse linguistic landscape. You may also request a complimentary Translation Services Quote for your project as well.

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Martin has over 20 years' experience providing documentation, software and website globalization services. Throughout his career he has held numerous production and business development positions, including project manager, operations manager, web master, account executive, VP of sales and marketing and owner/managing partner. Martin has established and managed translation offices in Argentina, Brazil, Switzerland, the United States and the UAE. He has overseen hundreds of successful globalization projects every year since 1987, ranging from large volume, multi-million word documentation sets to complex, high-profile websites for Fortune 500 companies.