Tanzania is an East African country and a multilingual nation where Swahili (or Kiswahili) is regarded as the official language. English is also widely spoken, and other languages spoken in the country include the native languages of various ethnic groups. These ethnic languages are mainly originated from Bantu and Nilotic origin and have various levels of growth; 58 out of 126 are considered to be in vigorous use, with 18 developing ones, some dying ones, and three languages which have become extinct. Most of Tanzania’s population is fluent in their native language as well as one other language – mainly Kiswahili. A considerable portion of the population also possesses considerable knowledge of the English language.

As aforementioned, Swahili is the official and most widely spoken language throughout Tanzania. It is a Bantu language that developed due to frequent interactions between Arab traders and the Bantu communities inhabiting East Africa’s coastal region. Nearly 20 million people speak Swahili as their native language. As the national language of Tanzania, Swahili is used in all spheres of life, such as politics, legal affairs, business, media, education, music, and technology.

Most spoken foreign language in Tanzania is English, which comes as no surprise, given that Tanzania is a former British colony. English has been used along with Swahili as a medium of instruction in schools ever since the country gained independence. In the recent years, English has been abandoned as a teaching subject in schools due to an overhaul of the educational system.

Being home to more than 100 ethnic communities, Tanzania is a multilingual nation and an ethnically diverse one. These communities fall into two broad classifications, namely Bantu or Nilotes. The languages from the Nilotic group which are spoken in Tanzania include Maasai, Datooga, Ngasa, Ogiek, Kisankasa, and Pare. Bantu languages spoken in Tanzania include Bemba, Safwa, Hehe, Digo, Makonde, Nyamwezi, Luguru, and Yao, to name a few. Minority ethnic languages mainly include those from the Afro-Asiatic family of languages, and include Arabic, Gorowa, Burunge, Iraqw, as well as Khoisan languages such as Hadza and Sandawe, which are used mainly by hunger-gatherer communities. Indo-European languages spoken in Tanzania include Portuguese, French, Hindustani, and Gujarati.

A standardized Tanzanian Sign Language was suggested in 1984, although it has never been officially introduced. Instead, there have been various forms of sign languages used both in daily communication and for educational purposes since 1963. These sign languages are used by more than 280,000 members of the deaf community. Most of them are more likely to be found in the country’s urban areas. Most schools for the deaf use sign language, while others teach lip-reading.


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