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Business Languages in Africa

25 February 2022 · Bernadette Cunningham

Graphic Showing Business Languages in Africa

Not only is Africa the second most populated continent in the world, with over one billion people, but it is also the most linguistically diverse continent in the world. The number of languages spoken in Africa varies between 1,500 and 2,500.
Africa’s language diversity has been dominated by colonial languages, such as English and French, which are the official working and business languages in most African countries, thereby reducing the use of Indigenous languages in professional settings.

Languages in Africa

Indigenous languages such as Igbo, Oromo, Amharic, Hausa and Yoruba are commonly used for business across Africa. Whereas English, French and Arabic are more widely used for international business, as these languages are within the 10 most used languages in business worldwide.
There are over 100 million Arabic speakers in Africa, with Egypt accounting for more than 54 million.

Typically, Indigenous languages in most African nations have been limited to a few areas of use, for community communication and interpretation in local courts. However, recently, many of the dominant and most spoken Indigenous languages have been revived. Given that most people speak a traditional language, native languages play an essential role in the development of agriculture, governance, elimination of poverty, etc. Making sectors such as Agriculture, Infrastructure, Banking, Oil and Gas, and Telecommunication the most successful to do business in. Africans are now making efforts to valorise multi-linguicism in all domains and are implementing Indigenous languages in business and formal settings.

Why are Indigenous languages so important?

Indigenous languages are essential for ensuring the continuation and transmission of culture, cultural identity and dignity of Indigenous people. With one language dying every two weeks, it is important for all countries to support and protect these languages from becoming extinct.
When doing business with Indigenous African Languages, remember to familiarise yourself with the values and attitudes of the culture before each meeting, and consider learning how to greet individuals in their native language, as this will make your client feel valued, in
addition to building trust.

Remember that when your language is valued, you feel valued as a person.