What Are the Most Popular African Languages?

Africa is not only the continent with the world’s longest river but also home to over 1,000 native languages. It’s not uncommon to encounter a bilingual or trilingual individual. And it’s also typical for a country to have more than two official languages. For instance, Zimbabwe has 16 official languages, making it hold the Guinness World Record for the country with the most official languages in the world.

5 of the Most Popular African Languages

Nonetheless, this lingually diverse continent has some languages more widely spoken than others. Let’s check out this comprehensive list of the most popular African languages.


Yes, you read it right. Despite French being a global language, it’s also a popular one in Africa, especially on the west side of the continent. French is predominantly spoken in 26 African countries, with the total population of French speakers in Africa ranging between 115 to 120 million.

It’s also the official language of Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, and Niger. In North Africa, Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia use the French language for diplomatic and commercial purposes. Statisticians estimate that in the next 30 years, the number of French speakers will be around 700 million, and about 560 million French speakers will live in Africa.


Around 63 million people speak Hausa. This Chadic language is written in Arabic. You will hear it in northern Nigeria and the Southern Republic of Niger. This diction-rich language is also popular in some East and Central African countries like Sudan and Cameroon.


Arabic is the sixth most spoken language in the world. Over 280 million people speak Arabic worldwide, with 150 million living in Africa, most of which are in North Africa. There are over 25 Arabic dialects, the most common and easiest one being the Egyptian dialect. This 1,500-year-old language is the official language of these 11 African countries: 

  • Tunisia
  • Sudan
  • Morocco
  • Mauritania
  • Libya
  • Eritrea
  • Egypt
  • Djibouti
  • Chad
  • Comoros
  • Algeria


This East Cushitic language is also known as Af-Soomaali. This thousand-year-old language is spoken by over 15 million worldwide, with at least 6.5 million of the speakers living in Somalia. Other countries that boast a high number of Somali speakers are Uganda, Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.

Unlike most African languages, the Somali language has over 20 distinct vowel sounds, making it a bit daunting for non-speakers to understand. Fortunately, the people at have made this vocabulary-rich language comprehensible to non-native speakers.


Swahili is also known as Kiswahili or the Bantu language. It is what Africans refer to as the “love language.” Swahili is a mixture of the Bantu and Arabic languages. If you can speak Arabic well, chances are that you will master this popular African language faster than one who cannot.

There are about 15 Swahili dialects, each varying among the 14 Swahili-speaking African countries. It’s the most popular language in East Africa and the official language of Tanzania, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Studies approximate that at least 100-150 million people speak Swahili.

Key Takeaway

The most popular African languages are Swahili, Somali, Arabic, Hausa, and French. Swahili is the most popular African language in East Africa, whereas Somali is the most popular in the Horn of Africa.

Despite Arabic being a global language, most speakers are in North Africa. Hausa is also a popular African language in Northern Nigeria and other West African countries. French is also another global language that you will commonly hear in Africa. 

Languages bring the world together in more ways than one. To have a deeper understanding of the soul and culture of Africa, enroll in a course. Better yet, study some African literature. It’s worth it!

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