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What Language Do They Speak in Senegal?

What Language Do They Speak in Senegal?

Key Takeaway

Official LanguageFrench
National LanguageWolof
Other Major LanguagesSerer, Fula, Mandinka, Jola, and others
Percentage of French SpeakersApproximately 20% (mostly as a second language)
Colonial InfluenceFrench colonial rule from the 17th to the 20th century

A Mélange of Languages in Senegal

Nestled in the westernmost part of the African continent, Senegal boasts a diverse linguistic landscape. With a colonial past, a rich tapestry of ethnic groups, and a commitment to multilingualism, the languages spoken in this West African nation tell a fascinating story.

The Legacy of French

While Senegal gained independence from France in 1960, the linguistic legacy of its colonial past remains intact.

  • French is the official language of Senegal.
    • Used in government, business, media, and education.
    • Taught in schools, making a significant portion of the population bilingual.
    • Approximately 20% of Senegalese speak French, mostly as a second language.

Despite its status, for many Senegalese, French isn’t the first language they would use in daily life or at home.

Wolof: The Lingua Franca

Wolof, an indigenous language, dominates the social and cultural life of Senegal.

  • Wolof serves as the national language.
    • Spoken by more than 90% of the population either as a first or second language.
    • Acts as a unifying language across ethnic groups.
    • Pervades music, television, and everyday conversation.

Though there are numerous ethnic groups and languages, Wolof’s widespread acceptance and use make it a central part of Senegalese identity.

The Multilingual Fabric

Senegal’s rich cultural tapestry is reflected in its variety of languages. The nation is home to a multitude of ethnic groups, each with its own language and traditions.

Ethnic GroupLanguage
and many more

Noteworthy Points about Senegalese Languages:

  • The Fula people, primarily herders and traders, spread across many West African nations, speaking variations of Pulaar.
  • Serer, one of the ancient ethnic groups, have their own distinct language and a rich history tied to the pre-colonial Kingdom of Sine.
  • Mandinka is not only spoken in Senegal but also in neighboring countries like The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.

The interplay between these languages leads to a dynamic linguistic environment where many Senegalese are multilingual.

Embracing Language Diversity

In Senegal, language is more than just a tool for communication; it’s a reflection of identity, culture, and history. The Senegalese government recognizes and promotes this linguistic diversity.

Education and Languages

In the realm of education:

  • Schools primarily teach in French.
    • After a few foundational years, students can also study English, Spanish, or other foreign languages.
  • National languages, especially Wolof, are integrated into the curriculum.
    • This reinforces cultural identity and bridges the gap between home and school environments.

Media and Entertainment

In the vibrant world of Senegalese media and entertainment:

  • Television programs, especially news, are primarily in French.
    • However, many radio stations broadcast in Wolof or other national languages.
  • Senegal’s thriving music scene showcases artists singing in a mix of French, Wolof, and other indigenous languages.


Senegal’s linguistic profile is a testament to its layered history and diverse culture. While French holds official status, connecting Senegal to the broader Francophone world, Wolof stands as a symbol of national unity and identity. The other ethnic languages further enrich this vibrant linguistic tapestry, making Senegal a fascinating study for language enthusiasts and cultural explorers alike.