Tanzania is a linguistically diverse country. With over 120 languages spoken across its territory, it has the most languages of all the East African countries.

Below is an approximate breakdown of the languages spoken in Tanzania and the percentage of the population that speaks them. Note that many Tanzanians are multilingual, speaking their ethnic languages alongside Swahili and, in some cases, English.

  1. Swahili (Kiswahili): Approximately 95% – As the national language, Swahili is spoken as a first or second language by the vast majority of the population.
  2. Sukuma (Kisukuma): Approximately 16% – Predominantly spoken by the Sukuma people in the northern and central regions.
  3. English: Around 10% – English is known by a smaller percentage of the population, primarily in urban areas and among those who have undergone higher education.
  4. Maasai (Kimasai): Less than 5% – Spoken by the Maasai people in the northern regions.
  5. Chaga (Kichaga): Less than 2% – Mainly spoken by the Chaga people on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and the surrounding areas.
  6. Haya (Kihaya): Less than 2% – Used by the Haya people in the western regions near Lake Victoria.
  7. Nyamwezi (Kinyamwezi): Less than 2% – Spoken by the Nyamwezi people in the central regions.
  8. Gogo (Kigogo): Less than 2% – Spoken by the Gogo people in the central region.
  9. Makonde (Kimakonde): Less than 1% – Primarily spoken by the Makonde people in the southeastern regions.
  10. Ha (Kiha): Less than 1% – Used by the Ha people in the western parts of Tanzania.

Swahili (95%)

Swahili is the national language of Tanzania. It is spoken by approximately 90% of Tanzanians. Originating from the coastal regions of Kenya and Tanzania, this Bantu language has transcended its geographical origins to become a means of communication throughout the African Great Lakes region and beyond. The language embodies cultural influences, with vocabulary borrowed from Arabic, Persian, and, to a lesser extent, Portuguese and English.

Sukuma (16%)

Sukuma is the language of Tanzania’s largest ethnic group. It is spoken by around 16% of the population. Predominantly found in the northern and central regions, the Sukuma people are known for their vibrant cultural festivals. They use their language to celebrate and preserve their unique heritage. Despite the pervasive influence of Swahili, sukuma remains widely spoken.

English (10%)

English is also an official language of Tanzania. It is primarily used in foreign trade, diplomacy, higher education, and judicial proceedings. Approximately 10% of the population speaks English, reflecting its status as a language of international communication. While not as prevalent in everyday conversation, English’s influence is palpable within the realms of tourism and international business, acting as a bridge between Tanzania and the global community.

Maasai (<5%)

The Maasai language is spoken by the nomadic Maasai people. While it is spoken by less than 5% of the population, its significance lies in its role in maintaining the rich traditions and heritage of the Maasai tribes. Through oral literature, ceremonies, and daily communication, the Maasai language is a vessel for the community’s history and values.

Chaga (<2%)

The Chaga language is spoken by the Chaga people of the Kilimanjaro region. Chaga people are known for their advanced agricultural practices, including the cultivation of bananas and coffee as staple crops. Chaga remains integral to the identity of its people, encapsulating their knowledge of the land and their ancestral stories.

Haya (<2%)

The Haya language is the voice of the Haya people in the western regions near Lake Victoria. The language is interwoven with the Haya’s intricate knowledge of fishing and farming, practices honed over generations to harmonize with the cycles of nature.

Nyamwezi (<2%)

Nyamwezi is the linguistic heritage of the Nyamwezi people in central Tanzania. The Nyamwezi people’s history is marked by their pivotal role in the trade networks that traversed the African continent. The language encapsulates the ethos of their entrepreneurial spirit and the deep sense of kinship that binds their community.

Gogo (<2%)

Gogo is the tongue of the Gogo people, a pastoral and agricultural community. The language is imbued with the knowledge of the land, the cycles of the seasons, and the care of livestock.

Makonde (<1%)

Makonde, spoken by the Makonde people in the southeastern regions, carries the essence of their renowned wood carvings and matrilineal society. It is a language of artistry and strong community bonds.

Ha (<1%)

The Ha language is used by the Ha people in western Tanzania. The language flourishes with narratives of the earth, the sky, and the cycles that govern farm life. It reflects their agricultural society and rich oral literature.