Breaking Barriers: Part One
Navigating the language dynamics that can foster a renaissance of communication between African and Black American Entrepreneurs.
Africa is a vast and diverse continent. Consisting of 52 nations comprising an estimated 3,000 tribes speaking approximately 2,143 languages. Reading those numbers might make you think that simple and complex communication with Africans is challenging. In actuality communicating with most Africans is quite simple.
The most spoken African languages
African Americans are raised and educated in English, it’s the only language they know and will use throughout their life. For Africans, it’s a little different. Among the many languages used, the most spoken languages in Africa are Arabic, Swahili, English, and French.
- Swahili is a prominent African language used mostly in Eastern Africa. It is a national language in populous countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. It was the language famously spoken on Lion King, Hakuna Matata.
- Arabic is another predominant language in Africa. It is used largely in North African countries who possess large populations. Egypt (100 million), Algeria (41 million) and Sudan (40 million) have some of the largest populations on the continent. The large Muslim community in North Africa plays a significant role in the relevance and importance of the Arabic language in the region. Islam is also the major religion in predominantly black nations like Mali, Nigeria, and the Central Africa Republic.
What languages should Black American entrepreneurs know when doing business in Africa?
Most Africans are bilingual and in some cases tri-lingual making it relatively easy to communicate effectively throughout the continent. This is because every African will be raised speaking their mother tongue but when they enter school even at the kindergarten level, they will immediately be introduced to a second language. The second language is usually that of the historic colonizer.
African nations in the South were mostly colonized by the British Empire so English is largely spoken there.
France’s colonies were largely concentrated in the North of Africa so it is predominantly spoken there.
How Africans adopted more than one language
African languages were never allowed to mature and develop in order to encompass new discoveries and knowledge. Local languages were seen as primitive and so “the savages” must learn the “superior and civilized” languages of the colonial forces. For an African to get a decent job, they would need to learn the colonizer’s language. Sadly, even after independence, African governments have not developed their local languages. They haven’t invested in linguistic development and institutions. This has resulted in many African rooted languages being de-popularized in order to meet the demands of the colonization society. African languages lack words for “microprocessor” or “cardiovascular vein” and other medical and technical terms that are used in business, science, and economics throughout the world. Therefore, if an African wants to advance in life and have a career they have to be fluent in a foreign language.
The majority of African nations have more than one tribe and naturally more than one language, for example, South Africa has 11 national languages. It would be a hard task to learn all the languages to effectively communicate across the nation, so South Africans (like other nations) adopt a second language to communicate among themselves. That’s another reason why English (or French) becomes popular in African nations, it’s so that tribes can easily communicate among themselves.
Don’t overthink it: Communication with Africans can be simple
Although the situation arises from a tragic history, it has become a competitive advantage for Africans. It has enabled Africans to comfortably communicate with large parts of the world. South Africa and Kenya have thriving outsource contact centers because of their grasp of the English language. Tourism benefits greatly from Africa’s multilingualism as road signs, streets, buildings, documents among other important entities are all in a largely recognizable language which makes life easier for tourists.
So if you need to communicate with an African, you can get really far with English, French or Arabic. They are used as a medium of instruction, so Africans are very comfortable speaking, writing or reading them. For those seeking out which language is spoken in a specific nation, a simple country profile search can provide with you with all of the information you need prior to making your journey.
So, if an African American finds themselves needing to communicate easily in Africa;
They would be more comfortable in Sub Saharan African nations. These are the areas where English is the most prominent language spoken.
The Francophone African nations would prove a difficult area to navigate with just English.
- Burkina Faso
- The Central African Republic
- The Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Republic of the Côte d’Ivoire
- Equatorial Guinea.
Remember Arab nations appreciate English as an additional language for business.
Developing a strong business connection with Africa starts with understanding each other. The Black American and Africans from the continent can utilize the internet as a way to create and engage in commerce that displays global unity. Our hopes are that by understanding the barriers that we face we can truly find an understanding with our global brothers and sisters. Communication is the first step to mending the broken legacies between the Black American and Africans from the continent.
You are not obligated to know the local languages of each nation but it may serve as a significant advantage to learn the languages that will allow you to develop and mature strong business relationships. To be honest, there is nothing wrong with enjoying and consuming the local languages as well.
In closing, our ability to connect rest on our ability to understand one another. Whether it is English, French or Arabic, your ability to learn how to communicate globally will only enhance your business and reachability once you touch down on the African continent.
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Written by. Sipho Sebele