African people, African languages

Exploring African languages spoken in the U.K.

In our previous blog, looking at languages spoken in the U.K., eSense Translations discussed how there is surprisingly little data on the range of languages spoken in our country. However, at eSense Translations, we are very aware of the diversity, as we work with people, who speak a range of different languages, every day. In our blog this week, we would like to focus specifically on African languages and share a little information on those languages that are spoken here in the U.K., some you may be familiar with, but we are hoping to also inform you about some of the lesser known African languages that you may encounter.



Swahili (or Kiswahili) is one of our most regularly requested African languages and is also noted as being one of the most widely spoken African languages in the world. It is the official language of several of the East-African countries, including Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic of the Congo. It has 11 million native speakers and more than 120 million secondary speakers.

Swahili is believed to be one of the easiest of the African languages to learn, as most of the words are pronounced as they are written. Furthermore, if you already have knowledge of Arabic, then you will have a head start, as the Swahili language is made up of Arabic words and words spoken from the Bantu group of languages.



Alongside Swahili, Somali is also one of our most frequently requested African languages. There are an estimated 10-16 million native Somali speakers, with approximately 7 million of these living in Somalia, where it is the official language.  Other countries that speak Somali include Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya, where it is a recognised minority language.

Somali is part of the Cushitic group of languages, from the North Eastern part of Africa, which also includes the languages of Oromo and Sidamo.

Somali is considered to be one of the hardest languages to learn. Not only is some of the pronunciation difficult, using the ‘hard’ sounds of Arabic, it also has different tones, like Mandarin. Furthermore, written Somali does not get any easier with up to four different scripts to choose from!


Did you know?

The continent of Africa has the highest diversity of languages in the world with 1500 different languages.



Igbo is an African language that rarely gets requested by our clients. Over a period of five years, eSense Translations has only received requests for interpreting or translation in this language approximately three times.

Igbo is spoken by a group of people in south-eastern Nigeria.  And although it may be rarely heard of in the U.K., in Nigeria, it is spoken by over 18 million people, making it one of the largest West African languages. It is also one of Nigeria’s official languages.

Perhaps one of the reasons why it is largely unheard of in England is because most people in Nigeria are bilingual, also speaking English, and English is the primary literary language of the country. Furthermore, most people do not read or write Igbo, instead favouring a form of English (Nigerian Pidgin English), as their method of written communication.



Chichewa may also be referred to as Chewa or Nyanja and is a language that I personally have only heard requested once since working in the interpreting and translation industry.  This is a language spoken in Malawi and Zambia in South Central Africa. There are a reported 12 million native speakers of Chichewa.

Like Swahili, Chichewa originates from the Bantu group of languages, which also includes Shona, Kirundi and Zulu.


At eSense Translations, we love to learn about different languages; where they are spoken and what group they are related to. If you have encountered an unusual language and need assistance with interpreting or translations, just get in contact and our team would be happy to help.


By Lorna Paice


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>