How much do you know about the African languages?

10th Jan 2014

As a Translator I always found languages fascinating; as a Sociologist I love getting to know more about cultures; my flirtation with journalism left me with a flair for research and as my experience as a Translation Project Manager taught me, the linguists we work with are the best source of information when it comes to their working languages.

Recently, I had to resource for Tumbuka, Nupe and Ndali interpreters. To begin with, when you are looking for something, you need to know exactly what it is that you are looking for, right? Well, this is what I found out during my research:

Official estimates state that there are approximately 2,000 languages spoken throughout the continent of Africa, which are then broken down into these groups:

Afro-Asiatic: these languages are spoken in many countries of northern, eastern and south western Africa. The family of Afro-Asiatic languages includes approximately 240 languages and it breaks down to the Semitic, Cushitic, Berber and Chadic families of languages.

Nilo-Saharan: this group of languages is spoken mainly in Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and northern Tanzania. The family consists of more than 100 languages. The best known are Turkana, Maasai, Kanuri and Songhay.

Niger-Congo: this set of languages covers western, central and south eastern Africa. This is the family that has the most languages within it. The Bantu family includes many languages of this family, such as Swahili, Shona, Kirundi, Lingala, Nyakyusa and Tumbuca.

Khoisan: this family accounts for about 50 languages which are found mainly in Namibia, Botswana and Angola. The main one is Khoe.

Non-African: there are languages that belong to non-African families with origins outside of the continent, for example, Malagasy, the main language of Madagascar.

Indo-European: this group is concentrated in the south of the continent. Its presence is closely related to Africa’s colonial history. Some have a strong imprint of European languages, like English in Sierra Leone, Portuguese Creole of Cape Verde, Creole French in the Seychelles or Mauritian Creole in Mauritius. Others languages are of Arab origin, such as Juba Arabic in southern Sudan or Nubi in parts of Uganda and Kenya.

African countries boast an impressive cultural diversity, which in turn is reflected in the many languages that co-exist there. Though some of them are not considered ‘official’ languages, all of them are respected and recognised by the African Union.

That’s it about the Rainbow Continent. I will keep you posted on a Recruitment Manager’s Adventures in Linguistic Wonderland and the interesting facts and information I come across every day! If you are a native speaker of some African language, please remember that our recruitment campaign is ongoing. For more information on how Pearl Linguistics can help you with your language requirements, please contact our team on 020 7253 7700 or

Hara Samara, Recruitment Manager


For more information on our  Translation and Interpreting Services, visit:


Linked In:



Feefo logo

Quality Accreditations

BSL Interpreting Public Helpline


Check if your interpreter is booked or leave feedback.

Tell your friends and colleagues about our services

Recommend Pearl Linguistics

We are pleased to now offer customers who provide us with a referral a range of incentives from discounts on future work through to champagne or spa days depending upon the work referred.

Separate emails with a comma, limited to 10.


* a copy of this email will be sent to Pearl Linguistics
Subscribe to our newsletter and win prizes!

We compile a newsletter occasionally when we have significant news or information of interest to tell you. These could be anything from our company’s new services or achievements through to interesting information on the languages we work with as well as the related countries and cultures. You will also be the first one to know if we are running any discount campaigns.

Another reason to subscribe to the newsletter is that for each newsletter we hold a prize draw and randomly select a lucky subscriber to receive one of our great prizes such as

Pearl promises your information will never be shared with another party.

And you can easily unsubscribe at any time. Just enter your details below: