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What Language Do They Speak in Zimbabwe?

What Language Do They Speak in Zimbabwe

Key Takeaways

Primary LanguagesShona, Sindebele (Ndebele), English
Official LanguageEnglish
Other Languages SpokenChewa, Chibarwe, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Shangani
Colonial InfluenceEnglish usage due to British colonial rule
Linguistic DiversityOver 16 recognized languages

Zimbabwe, a landlocked country in southern Africa, is known for its rich cultural history and diverse linguistic landscape. While the country has multiple languages, a few dominate the scene and serve as a binding force for its people.

Primary Languages of Zimbabwe

1. Shona

Shona is the most widely spoken language in Zimbabwe, with over 70% of the population using it as their primary mode of communication. The language belongs to the Bantu family of languages and has various dialects.

2. Sindebele (Ndebele)

Sindebele, also known as Ndebele, is the second most spoken language. It’s predominantly used by the Ndebele ethnic group, which comprises about 20% of Zimbabwe’s population. This language also traces its roots to the Bantu family.

3. English

English, the official language, is widely used for administrative, educational, and business purposes. Thanks to its colonial history under British rule, English remains a significant part of Zimbabwean society. The proficiency in English allows Zimbabweans to engage in international business and diplomacy seamlessly.

LanguagePercentage of PopulationUsage
ShonaOver 70%Primary mode of communication for majority
SindebeleAbout 20%Mainly by the Ndebele ethnic group
EnglishWidespreadOfficial, business, education, and administration

Linguistic Diversity: Other Recognized Languages

Zimbabwe’s linguistic tapestry doesn’t end with the above-mentioned languages. The country recognizes over 16 languages, showcasing its rich heritage and diversity. Some of these include:

  • Chewa: Predominantly spoken in the eastern parts of Zimbabwe.
  • Chibarwe: One of the lesser-spoken languages but still recognized.
  • Koisan: Spoken by the minority Koisan group.
  • Nambya: Used mainly in the northwest, especially around Hwange.
  • Ndau: A significant language in the eastern regions.
  • Shangani: Found primarily in the southern areas of Zimbabwe.

It’s also worth noting that many Zimbabweans are multilingual, often fluent in two or more of these languages.

The Influence of Colonial History on Language

Zimbabwe, formerly known as Southern Rhodesia, was a British colony. This colonial history deeply impacted the country’s linguistic scenario:

  • English Imposition: English was imposed as the official language and medium of instruction in schools.
  • Cultural Exchange: Along with English, other aspects of British culture, including literature and customs, also found their way into Zimbabwean society.
  • Post-independence: After gaining independence in 1980, Zimbabwe retained English as its official language. This was due to its established role in governance, education, and global relations.

The Importance of Language in Culture and Identity

Languages in Zimbabwe aren’t just tools of communication. They play a pivotal role in:

  • Cultural Preservation: Languages carry the stories, traditions, and folklore of the nation, preserving its rich history and identity.
  • Social Cohesion: Shared languages foster unity and mutual understanding among diverse ethnic groups.
  • Cultural Expression: Traditional ceremonies, songs, dances, and rituals often rely on native languages to convey their significance.

The Challenges and The Future

Zimbabwe, like many other multilingual nations, faces challenges in balancing its linguistic heritage:

  1. Language Preservation: With globalization, there’s a concern that lesser-known languages might be overshadowed by dominant ones.
  2. Education: Deciding the medium of instruction in schools, given the multitude of languages, remains a topic of debate.
  3. Communication: Ensuring that government communication reaches everyone, irrespective of their primary language.

However, with active efforts from the government and cultural groups, Zimbabwe continues to celebrate its linguistic diversity, ensuring that each language, whether spoken by millions or a few thousand, receives its deserved recognition.


Zimbabwe’s languages offer a fascinating glimpse into its vibrant culture, history, and identity. From the dominant Shona and Sindebele to the lesser-spoken Nambya and Koisan, each language paints a unique facet of this beautiful nation. As Zimbabwe moves forward, its languages, old and new, will continue to play a pivotal role in shaping its future.