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What Language Do They Speak in Tanzania?

What Language Do They Speak in Tanzania

Key Takeaways

Official LanguageSwahili (Kiswahili)
Other Spoken LanguagesEnglish, Arabic, and over 120 local languages
Most Used Language in BusinessSwahili and English
Percentage of Swahili SpeakersOver 90% of Tanzanians speak Swahili

Tanzania, a vibrant East African nation with diverse cultures and scenic landscapes, boasts a linguistic diversity that is both fascinating and instructive. This article dives deep into Tanzania’s linguistic milieu, exploring the languages spoken, their histories, and their modern-day significance.

Official Language: Swahili

Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, is the official language of Tanzania. It’s not just the language of the government and administration; it’s also the primary medium of instruction in schools and is widely used in day-to-day communication.

History of Swahili in Tanzania

Swahili has its origins in the Bantu languages of the African Great Lakes region. Its growth and spread were significantly influenced by trade along the East African coast, where it absorbed loanwords from languages like Arabic, Persian, and even Portuguese.

Over the centuries, Swahili emerged as a lingua franca for trade across the East African coast, bridging numerous ethnic communities.

Swahili’s Modern-Day Significance

In Tanzania, Swahili has played a crucial role in fostering national unity. The decision to adopt Swahili as the official language, instead of English or Arabic, was a conscious effort to reduce colonial influences and promote a unique Tanzanian identity.

Other Widely Spoken Languages

While Swahili might be the dominant language, Tanzania is home to a linguistic tapestry. Here’s a snapshot:

1. English

  • Usage: English is the associate official language and is primarily used in higher education, judiciary, and business.
  • History: The English language influence can be traced back to the colonial era when Tanzania was a British protectorate.

2. Arabic

  • Usage: Mostly spoken by the Arab and Zanzibari communities.
  • History: The influence of Arabic is rooted in the centuries-old trade and interactions with Arab merchants and settlers.

3. Local Languages

Tanzania has over 120 ethnic groups, and each of these groups has its own language. These languages form an integral part of the country’s cultural tapestry.

Prominent Local LanguagesRegions Dominantly Spoken
ChagaKilimanjaro region
MakondeMtwara region
SukumaNorth-western Tanzania
HayaWest Tanzania near Lake Victoria

The Role of English in Tanzania

English holds a special place in Tanzania’s linguistic landscape. While it’s not the dominant language for day-to-day communication, its significance can’t be understated.

  • Education: English is the medium of instruction in secondary and higher education institutions. This has made English proficiency crucial for academic advancement in the country.
  • Business: In the realm of international business and tourism, English is indispensable. Tanzania’s growing tourism sector, which attracts visitors from English-speaking countries, underscores the importance of the language.
  • Media and Entertainment: English movies, music, and literature are popular in Tanzania, further integrating the language into the culture.

Language and Culture

Language in Tanzania isn’t just about communication; it’s deeply intertwined with the nation’s culture, history, and identity. Swahili, in particular, carries with it tales of ancient trade, migration, and nation-building. Its literature, from traditional poems and songs to modern novels and cinema, reflects Tanzania’s journey.

List of Notable Swahili Literary Works:

  • “Utendi wa Tambuka” (The Story of Tambuka)
  • “Mwana Kupona” by Mwana Kupona binti Ahmed
  • “Utenzi wa Rasi’l Ghul” (The Ballad of Rasi’l Ghul)

In a country as diverse as Tanzania, the importance of local languages can’t be overstated either. They are repositories of local legends, histories, and customs. Their survival and prominence are testaments to Tanzania’s commitment to preserving its rich cultural mosaic.


Tanzania, with its rich tapestry of languages, offers a lesson in unity amidst diversity. Swahili, the thread that weaves this tapestry together, stands as a symbol of national identity and pride. However, it’s essential to recognize and celebrate the many other languages that contribute to Tanzania’s vibrant cultural fabric. Whether it’s the rhythm of a local dialect song or the eloquence of an English speech, each linguistic note adds depth to the Tanzanian symphony.