When you think of Africa, what do you think of? The iconic wildlife? The horror stories of poverty, hunger, and war? The truth is that Africa is an incredibly large, incredibly diverse and rapidly developing continent. Whether you’re a business or an NGO, if you’re trying to maximize the number of people you can reach in Africa, you need to study the most spoken African languages in your particular market. Here’s a guide to get you started.
The most spoken African languages by number of native speakers
Because many Africans are at least bilingual, there are two possible ways to determine the most spoken African languages: by the number of native speakers or by overall numbers, including L2 speakers.
By focusing on the languages with the most L1 plus L2 speakers, you can expand the reach of your content. However, L2 speakers vary in proficiency. And when it comes to marketing, advertising and web copy, people tend to prefer their native language. So, first of all, here are the most spoken native languages in Africa.
Number of native speakers: 140 million in Africa, 280 million around the world
Official language in Algeria, Comoros, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Western Sahara
Arabic didn’t originate in Africa, but today it’s the mother tongue of over 140 million Africans. As a result, it’s the most common native language on the continent overall.
Most African Arabic speakers live in North Africa, where Arabic is the majority language. They speak local Arabic dialects, but Modern Standard Arabic is used in writing and in the media.
Written Arabic uses the Arabic script.
Number of Speakers: 56M
Official language in Algeria and Morocco
Berber, or Amazigh, is sometimes referred to as a language, sometimes as a language family. It’s a dialect continuum spoken by the Berber people in North Africa. The dialects (or languages) may or may not be mutually intelligible. Therefore, it’s important to know which variety is spoken in the region you’re targeting.
Depending on location, Berber languages are sometimes written in the Berber Latin alphabet and sometimes in the indigenous Tifinagh script.
Although Amazigh has been displaced by Arabic throughout most of the continent, it’s commonly used in Morrocco and Amazigh activists continue to fight for recognition in other North African countries.
To hear it, check out the video below: