Which African Country Has The Largest Population – English is the most widely spoken language in the world. Travelers to Western countries often assume a broad global command of English – but this is far from the reality, especially in Africa. According to Business Insider, only 130 million of Africa’s approximately one billion people speak English. Skill levels vary from country to country.
However, the 2021 Global English Proficiency Analysis published by EF Education First reveals that a number of individual African countries have significantly higher levels of formal or widely practiced English proficiency. Others show solid improvement since the agency’s first survey in 2011.
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Here’s a look at the leading English-speaking countries in Africa, where the population uses English for general communication in business, government, tourism, diplomacy and education.
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South Africa undoubtedly tops the list of English-speaking countries in Africa based on the 2021 EF English Language Proficiency Index (EF EPI) by Education First. English is one of the 11 official languages in the country, and about 28 percent of the population speak English as their mother tongue. Like many African nations, it was probably influenced by former British colonies.
South Africa’s largest cities, including Johannesburg, have the highest concentration of English-speaking residents. Known as Jozi, it is the largest city in the country and one of the 100 largest urban areas in the world. More than 50 percent of Johannesburg’s citizens speak Sotho and Nguni at home, but a relatively high 18 percent speak English.
Dating back to the British presence in the late 1800s and colonization in the 1920s, Kenya maintains a high level of English proficiency. English is taught in the country’s public schools, increasing the use of English to varying degrees from about 30 to 50 percent of the population. It is particularly noticeable in urban centres, including the capital city of Nairobi, the coastal metropolis of Mombasa and the port city of Kisumu.
Both Swahili and English serve as official national languages in Kenya and are also considered “lingua franca”, the practice of people with different mother tongues adopting a common language to communicate on a daily or professional level. Visitors to the East African country notice a variety of dialects, including “British English” and “Kenyan English,” which continue to evolve in use decades after the end of colonialism.
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Nigeria is one of the largest English-speaking countries in Africa, just a few steps below Kenya on the EF EPI index. It is estimated that over 110 million Nigerians speak at least some level of English. Although Hausa is the most widely spoken language in Nigeria, English is still the only official language. In addition, thousands of local languages and dialects exist among the East African nation’s population of 213 million.
In Abuja, Nigeria’s capital and seat of government, many residents speak English fluently, especially when away from home. Although Yoruba is the main local language in Lagos, English is important because of the city’s financial center and cultural institutions. Other major cities such as Kano and Ibadan are English-speaking enclaves, particularly those with a high concentration of entertainment, dining and cultural facilities.
Variations of English include Nigerian English, a colloquial, local version of British English introduced during colonization. Creole English in Nigeria has its own distinct dialect consisting of French-influenced phrases with African words and dialects.
Although the EF EPI index ranks Ghana as a country with a “moderate” level of English proficiency, more than half of the West African country’s 28 million people use English in some capacity. English is joined by 9 to 11 other government-recognized languages and 50 to 80 indigenous languages. English is designated only officially and exclusively for state needs, as well as for education. But it is widely accepted as one
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Located on the country’s Atlantic coast, Accra serves as the country’s capital and is one of the largest English-speaking cities in Ghana. It is easy to communicate in English on coastal beaches and in trendy restaurants, hotels and nightlife.
Several African countries show improvements in English in the EF EPI, including Tunisia. This is mainly due to the perception of broad cultural ties by the younger generation, but Tunisia’s location near European countries also influences the desire for multilingualism. Those improving their language skills gravitate towards English, French, Italian and Turkish.
As an Arab country, the official language is literary Arabic, but many people speak a common version known as Tunisian Arabic. Berber dialects make up the majority of local minority and indigenous languages.
Ethiopia ranks relatively low on the list of English-speaking African countries. One of the few African countries that was never formally colonized, it has retained its more than 90 local dialects, including the widespread Amharic and Oromo languages.
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Amharic is the official working language in the capital, Addis Ababa, but English is the most common foreign language for international business, commercial and cultural communication. Private schools in Addis Ababa and other cities spread English among the younger generation and educated society. Ethiopia was “occupied” by Italy for about five years in the mid-1930s, leaving a remnant Italian-speaking population.
Although Swahili and English share the title of “official language” in Tanzania, at least 90 percent of Tanzania’s population of 54 million are fluent in Swahili. Only 4 million speak English.
The exception is Stone Town on the island of Zanzibar, which is a major tourist destination for English-speaking tourists. Most tour guides and those working in hotels, restaurants and shops speak English, as well as French and Italian. In the capital Dodom, government agencies prioritize English speaking and schools begin teaching English after the first seven years of primary school.
In the southeastern African country of Mozambique, Portuguese is still the official language, a holdover from colonization after 1961. However, most residents use it
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Not a primary or preferred language. English is more common in tourist and beach areas where there is a concentration of hotels, as well as in larger port cities such as Beira and the capital Maputo.
As a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, Mozambique has a vested interest in maintaining a population that speaks English at least as a second language. The country is also part of the African Union, which has retained English as its official language of communication.
As one of the most visited countries in North Africa, Morocco surprisingly has a relatively small, approximately 15 percent, English-speaking population. The official languages are Arabic and Berber, and French remains a popular foreign language of choice among residents and visitors.
In major cities and tourist destinations, including Marrakech, major attractions such as the Kasbah and Botanical Gardens have English-speaking staff, as do hotel and restaurant staff. The port city of Casablanca and the seaside resort of Agadir are safe bets for English proficiency, at least for those in the hospitality industry.
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Based on the 2021 EF English Proficiency Index test results, Algeria has the fastest growing number of English speakers in the world. It still ranks 75th out of 112 countries, putting it in the “low proficiency” group, but the recent popular movement toward English holds promise for those who consider it important. Tourism in Algeria has historically been low, but the capital city of Algiers, on the Mediterranean coast, provides some tourist and business clients, which promises better communication in English.
French, rather than English, was still taught in schools during France’s 132-year rule as a colonial power in Algeria, which began in 1830. Arabic and Berber are the official languages of Algeria
Although the official languages of Madagascar have changed several times since the end of French colonization, the two remaining are Malagasy and French. English was briefly included as a third official language, but was removed by voters on the 21st
Madagascar is considered a “Francophone” country where the French language dominates academic government circles. However, English is widely used in international business and tourism. Although English is rarely spoken as a primary language in Madagascar, the capital Antananarivo, as well as Antsiranana and Toliari, retain pockets of English-speaking residents. International travelers and expats in urban centers often use English as a common language for mutual communication.
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Along with other North African countries such as Algeria and Tunisia, Egypt has shown a significant increase in the percentage of English speakers. In the EF EPI, it moved up the group to 85th out of 112. However, among English-speaking countries in Africa, Egyptians still largely reject English as their preferred language.
Most Egyptians speak one of two official languages, Modern Standard Arabic and Modern Written Arabic. English has been taught in public schools since independence from Britain in 1952, so its use has grown slowly over the decades. It is especially adopted in Cairo and throughout the country by educated Egyptians, as well as those engaged in trade or international affairs.
In addition to African countries, several others are recognized in the EF EPI
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