Africa is the second largest and second most populous continent. As recent statistics suggest, 1,486,275,887 is the current population of Africa. The history of Africa is quite long and complex. The historians also believe that eastern Africa was the place that worked as the origin of humans. The human civilizations earlier including Ancient Egypt as well as Carthage have been told to emerge in North Africa. Due to a complex and extensive history of civilizations that nurtured in Africa including migration and trade, Africa has been home to thousands of ethnicities, cultures, and languages.

If you often ponder about how many languages are spoken in Africa, the African languages list is never-ending. Due to its rich diversity, this continent has had many languages. A great conflict that is often witnessed when we talk about African languages, they also treat many dialects as languages. However, these start from 1250 and are around 2100 making it home to around one-third of the world’s languages. Many count these to be around 3000. Interestingly, all these languages belong to different language families.

Table of Content

  1. Important language groups of Africa
    1. Niger-Congo
    2. Afroasiatic language family
    3. Nilo Saharan
    4. Austronesian
    5. Khoe Kwadi languages
    6. Indo European languages
  2. African countries with a maximum number of languages
  3. Most widely spoken languages of Africa
    1. Swahili
    2. French
    3. Arabic
    4. Hausa
    5. Yoruba
    6. Oromo
  4. Need for Translation Services in Africa
  5. Conclusion

Important language groups of Africa

A few languages that are native to the African continent and are the most spoken African languages dominating the continent are Afroasiatic and Niger-Congo. Other hundred belong to the smaller families, including small situations and scenarios.

A few of the big language families common in Africa are:


This family includes the Atlantic Congo and Bantu branches in west central, southern, and southeast Africa. It includes the largest number of languages which are from 1350 – 1650. These are the largest among the four. These are not only the most spoken languages in Africa but in the world. This group includes the most commonly spoken African languages including Swahili. Yoruba, Igbo, and Fula.

Afroasiatic language family

The next family is Afroasiatic, and it has spread throughout Western Asia, North Africa, and among parts of the Sahel. This is the second-largest family with around 200-300 member languages that are part of African languages. They are mainly found in northern regions of the continent. This includes northern Nigeria, southern Niger, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Additionally, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia are part of the northern region.

Nilo Saharan

The Nilo Saharan macro family includes Saharan Nilotic and central Sudanic languages.


There are Austronesian languages that they speak in Madagascar and a few parts of Comoros.

Khoe Kwadi languages

Khoe Kwadi languages are languages of Namibia and Botswana.

Indo European languages

Indo-European languages which are not native to Africa though have many speakers in Namibia.

Other than these big language families’ African languages also include small groups such as languages that have been isolated. Additionally, there are a few creoles and languages that require classification. It is important to mention that Africa also has a variety of sign languages.

African countries with a maximum number of languages

When it comes to the country that has most languages of Africa in practice, it is none other than Nigeria. As the Ethnologue suggests, there are up to 500 languages that are spoken in the country. It also happens to host the greatest linguistic diversity in the world. Cameroon is the second country on the list with 227 languages followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 214 languages.

Most widely spoken languages of Africa

A few of the most spoken and popular languages of Africa are as follows.


Swahili is the most spoken among African languages list. There are up to 200 million speakers of this language, among which 18 million are native speakers. Kiswahili is the local name of the language. It is a Bantu language from the Sabaki branch native to the people settled in Tanzania, Kenya, and Mozambique. Speaking of this, Tanzania is said to have the most native speakers of Swahili language.

Swahili is, hence, the language of Africa in terms of maximum speakers. Swahili has a significant number of loanwords from languages such as Arabic, Portuguese, German, and English. Interestingly, 15 percent of the Swahili vocabulary is from Arabic.

One of the modern standard Swahili which is written in Latin is spoken in Zanzibar city. The traditional font that scholars use to write Swahili literature and poetry is Swahili Ajami. The root of this is Kiamu which is a dialect of Lamu from the Kenyan coast.

A few old dialects of the Swahili language include:

  • Kimwani
  • Chimwiini
  • Kibajuni
  • Bajuni
  • Socotra Swahili
  • Sidi


The much-loved and popular romance language of Indo-European families is French. It is the descendant of the vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire. French has up to 450 million speakers as shared in a 2022 report by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF). It is the official language of 28 states and is fondly spoken in all the continents.

The African continent is no different. French in Africa or African French as they name it based on general varieties of the French language has an estimated number of speakers around 167 million. French is quite popular in the African languages list and is in use with other indigenous languages of the continent. Interestingly it has become the first language in many states, particularly in Central Africa, Abidjan Ivory coast, etc.

Algeria has the most French-speaking population in Africa which is up to 32.86 % as per statistics shared in 2022. Moreover, five varieties of African French are commonly spoken on the continent. African French has many dialects commonly spoken. However, these dialects have a natural influence on the native languages which are common in the respective country.

Three of the more common French dialects are

  • African French
  • Abidjan French
  • Ivorian French
  • Kinshasa French


Arabic is next on the list of most common languages in Africa. There are 100 million people who have been speaking Arabic in Africa for centuries. This proves the external influences that have also played a vital role in shaping the dynamics of life over the centuries.

Arabic serves more as an official language in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Senegal, and Niger. This is the official language of up to 26 states. This happens to be the third most popular language worldwide after English and French, also part of the 6 official languages of the United Nations. Arabic is one of the most ancient languages with 32 varieties as assigned by ISO.

The four major Arabic dialects include

  • Peninsular
  • Mesopotamian
  • Levantine
  • Maghrebi


Hausa comes from the West African language. They speak it in Nigeria mainly as well as in Niger, Ghana, and Cameroon. There are up to 80 million speakers of Hausa in Africa and there are people in France who also speak Hausa. A radio station in Hausa broadcasts in Issoudun (France). Hausa works as a language of trade and business. Many international units teach this language.

Moreover, it also serves as the lingua franca of the Muslim population in the region. This language has a writing system close to Arabic script and Latin. The Latin alphabet, however, Boko is the common script that they use these days.

Hausa is an African language that is tonal. It has 5 vowels, and all five of these can either be high or low, which makes them 10 collectively. Though these vowels have their significance in written communication, it is not used in the routine. Moreover, there are no diacritics in everyday use. So pitch has a key role in making the words clear and understandable.


Yoruba is the next most spoken African language. It is particularly spoken in West Africa. It’s a pluricentric language, which indicates that multiple varieties of languages are in use and mutually intelligible.

Yoruba is particularly common in Afro-Brazilian religion. It has around 55 million speakers. The speakers of Yoruba are there across Nigeria, Togo, and Benin. Moreover, there are different variations which are called dialects such as Egba, Ibadan, Oyo, and Ekiti.

Yoruba also holds the significance of being an African language of its literary tradition. There are many poems, stories, and proverbs written in this language. It has its origin in Nigeria and there was no writing system until the 19th century before colonization. Later it was influenced by the European languages and had an altogether different version.


Oromo is another native language of Ethiopia. It is also common in Kenya. Oromo was traditionally spoken by the Oromo people and the relevant ethnic groups that were settled in the Horn of Africa. There are around 35 million speakers of this language.

Oromo also serves as the official language of Ethiopia. They used Latin script for writing it. Moreover, the Oromo speakers have been quite good with the extremely evolved oral storytelling tradition. Oromo is one complex language comparatively.

Moreover, it has seven grammatical cases with five long and short vowels. An interesting fact to quote is here that the sounds such as /p/, /z/, and /v/ were not part of the language historically. Hence, they only use it for the adopted words developed recently.

Need for Translation Services In Africa

Translation services have been playing a vital role in bridging the language gap for centuries now. Though the trend of globalization and internationalization is more common now, it existed in every era in different shapes and forms. Moreover, the African continent is a linguistically rich region that is home to the largest number of languages globally. The businesses seek translation services to widen their reach and mark their place in the African continent.

Therefore, if you are a business that intends to tap the African market, you need to be vigilant with your choice and selection of a language translation company in Africa. You can reach Mars Translation for accurate, premium, high-quality translation delivered by native speakers.


Africa is one of the world’s most populated continents. It has been home to multiple ethnic groups and cultures. There are up to 2000 active languages in the continent. The important language groups include the Niger-Congo, Afroasiatic, Austronesian, and Indo-European language families. Moreover, the most widely spoken languages include Swahili, French, Arabic, Hausa, Yoruba, and Oromo, among others.