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Do They Speak English in Ethiopia?

Do They Speak English in Ethiopia

Key Takeaways

Official language of Ethiopia:Amharic
Commonly spoken languages:Oromo, Somali, Tigrinya, Sidamo, Wolaytta, etc.
English proficiency:Taught in schools, used in business & academia.
Reason for English influence:Historical ties, education system.


Ethiopia, located in the Horn of Africa, is a land of diverse cultures, traditions, and languages. With a rich history that dates back millennia, the country has always been a melting pot of different ethnicities and tongues. But where does English fit into this mosaic of languages? In this article, we delve into the role of English in Ethiopia, its prevalence, and its significance in various sectors of Ethiopian society.

A Brief Overview of Languages in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a linguistically diverse nation. The country boasts more than 80 individual languages spoken by different ethnic groups.

Most Widely Spoken Languages:

  1. Amharic: The official language and the second most spoken language in Ethiopia.
  2. Oromo: The most widely spoken language in Ethiopia.
  3. Somali: Predominantly spoken in the Somali Region.
  4. Tigrinya: Mainly spoken in the Tigray Region.
  5. Sidamo: Spoken in the Sidama Zone in the Southern Nations.
  6. Wolaytta: Spoken in the Wolaytta Zone in the Southern Nations.

Table 1: Number of Speakers for Key Ethiopian Languages:

LanguageEstimated Number of Speakers (in millions)

As seen in Table 1, Oromo leads in the number of native speakers, followed by Amharic. However, it’s crucial to note that Amharic has a broader national reach, especially in official matters.

The Role of English in Ethiopia

While English is not an indigenous language in Ethiopia, its importance cannot be underestimated. Here’s a look at where and why English is used:


  • Medium of Instruction: Starting from secondary education and continuing into higher institutions, English is the medium of instruction. This means most Ethiopians who’ve gone through the formal education system have at least a basic understanding of English.
  • Curriculum: English language courses are a mandatory part of the curriculum. These courses help equip students with reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills in English.

Business and International Relations:

  • Trade: English is often used for international trade negotiations and discussions, given its global acceptance as a lingua franca.
  • Diplomacy: English aids in diplomatic communications, especially with Western countries and international organizations.


  • Communication: Given Ethiopia’s growing tourism sector, English becomes a handy tool for locals in tourist hotspots to communicate with visitors from different parts of the world.

Table 2: Importance of English in Different Sectors:

SectorRole of English
EducationMedium of instruction from secondary education, mandatory courses.
BusinessUsed in international trade and negotiations.
DiplomacyAids in communications with Western countries and organizations.
TourismCommunication with international tourists.

Historical Influences

The use of English in Ethiopia is also influenced by history:

  • British Military Administration (1941-1944): After the expulsion of the Italians during WWII, Ethiopia was under British administration for a brief period. This period saw the introduction of English into some administrative domains.
  • Continued Ties with the West: Ethiopia’s continued relations with English-speaking countries, especially in areas of aid, trade, and education, have cemented the role of English in the country.


To answer the titular question, “Do they speak English in Ethiopia?” – Yes, many Ethiopians, especially those in urban areas and those who’ve undergone formal education, can speak English. While it’s not an indigenous language, English holds a place of prominence, especially in the fields of education, business, and international relations. For visitors to Ethiopia, this means that while knowing some Amharic phrases can be beneficial and appreciated, you’ll often find English speakers, especially in urban centers and tourist destinations.