Which are the top English speaking countries in Africa? There’s little that needs to be said about the popularity of the English language. The world’s choice for official discourses and discussions, this west Germanic language comes as close as a language can get to be the common tongue of people across different countries and continents.
A whopping 1.4 billion people speak English worldwide! That’s around 20% of the world’s population. Of course, the estimate isn’t completely reliable but it does signify the importance of the language in the world.
In this article, we shall explore the impact, statistics, and influence of the English language in African countries.
The purpose of this article, which based on African countries, is the widespread colonization of Africa by the established British empire. Africa has around 6.5 million native English speakers and 700 million non-native speakers.
The second-largest continent with 54 countries and a whopping 1.6 billion population, Africa has huge diversity.
But like we’ve already mentioned, English is great at bringing diverse people together. Without any further ado, let’s take a look at the Top 5 English-speaking African countries!
African Countries With English as an Official Language
English speaking countries in Africa #1: Nigeria
While it may come as a surprise – Nigeria is first in the list of countries with the highest number of speakers using the English Language.
Around 79 million Nigerians speak English. That’s around 53% of the country’s total population. A few million can also speak the language with native proficiency. (Source – Euromonitor International Report – 2009)
Nigeria became a British colony two centuries (and two decades) ago, in 1901. After several attempts of revolution and independence, the British left Nigeria in 1960.
Half a century was enough to inculcate the British mannerism and their mother tongue in much of the country’s population.
So much so that English is now the official language of Nigeria. Other languages like Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, etc. Nigerian Standard English dialect of British English. It’s the language used for the country’s official matters, media houses, education policy, and political issues.
It’s taught in almost every Nigerian school, being awarded the status of ‘language of instruction’. From primary to secondary levels, every child required to obtain a formal course in the English language.
Top English speaking countries in Africa #2: Ghana
Ghana takes the use of English one step further- it is officially the Lingua Franca of the country (In Nigeria, it is the second language). The origin of the language once again has its root in the colonization of the country from the period of 1821 to 1957. (It was a part of the very popular ‘Gold Coast’ colony)
In these long years, the people of Ghana adopted English as their own language with around 18 million (more than half of the country’s population, approximately 65%) people speaking the British tongue.
It is an official language in Ghana with just a couple of Ghanian indigenous languages with more speakers. It is also the medium of instruction through all primary and secondary schools in the country. (As of 2002) The various dialects of English spoken in Ghana, collectively given the term ‘Ghanian English.’
Top English speaking countries in Africa #3: Sierra Leone
Colonized as early as 1787, the territory was inhabited by free slaves arriving from England ( perhaps the idea that later influenced Americans for Liberia) and other groups from Nova Scotia and Jamaica. Since it was a crown colony, Sierra Leone – translating into ‘mountains of lions’ in Spanish, garnered much attention from the British.
This British influence carried onto the country’s language, making English the official language of the state. It takes us to these statistics – 4.3 million people from the country speak English, an approximate 83.53 % of the country’s population.
The English dialect spoken by this population is called the Sierra Leonean English dialect. The Krio language – influenced by English, is the main lingua franca of the country spoken originally by the Sierra Leone Creole people.
The medium of instruction in schools is English but for the children of war, (that ended in 2002) long periods away from education have made English an inconvenience. The country is now hiring teachers from abroad to bring back the English language as it existed previously.
Top English speaking countries in Africa #4: Liberia
Liberia has had an interesting history, more so than possibly any other country. A colony born out of the US’ foreign policy interests and its controversial domestic policy of slavery, Liberia has now come a long way.
The ‘free slaves’ of the United States were an eye-sore for various slaveholders and several other ‘traditional thinkers.’ A strategy then developed – Establishing a colony in Africa for all the independent former-slaves.
With English speaking descendants who came to and established the territory in the middle of the 19th century (specifically 1847), English came to be a part of the country’s history (Now its official language) and would continue to influence it for years to come.
Liberian English, the term given to all the different dialects of English spoken in the country. Out of these, the standard Liberian English, the one used for international trade and diplomatic matters as well as in the country’s education system. (Being the mode of instruction through primary, secondary, and higher levels of education)
Coming to the statistics – an estimated 3.1 million people speak the language, that is – wait for it – 82.67% of the population!
Top English speaking countries in Africa #5: The Gambia
In 1765, The Gambia – another African territory on the west coast, became a part of the British Empire. It was previously involved with the Portugueses for the purpose of the slave trade, soon the British replaced them.
The country gained independence in 1965, the man behind this, Dawda Jawara, the country’s first president. Long after colonial rule, English remained the official language of the state. Wolof, another language is widely spoken as the first language of the country.
Here are the statistics – An estimated 40,000 people speak the language, forming a small 2.34% of the country’s population. English is used as the medium of instruction in certain private schools.
A bunch of African countries has their names on the list of English-speaking territories. While these five countries have a deep-rooted colonial history that led to English being their official language, there are others with a much lesser population speaking English. This includes Zambia, Sudan, Botswana, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa among others.
To conclude, these African countries have a higher English speaking population than the rest of their counterparts. With the growing importance of English in the global scenario – these numbers are bound to rise.