Just like many Africans, I’ve heard this question so many times. That’s why I’ve taken it upon myself to write this piece about a few languages that are close to home. In Zimbabwe where I’m from there are 16 official languages and in those, “African” is not included. My native language is Ndebele or IsiNdebele, one of the 16 languages spoken in Zimbabwe. I’m sure you have your native language too and it bugs you when someone asks if you speak African. As much as I would like to vent about this, I won’t. Instead, I will be sharing with you about the many languages of Zimbabwe.
For those who didn’t know already, Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in the south of Africa. It is bordered by South Africa, Botswana ,Mozambique, and Zambia. Zimbabwean languages are largely influenced by their history with the neighbouring countries. You will find that some of them are quite similar.
The three main languages spoken in Zimbabwe are English, Shona and Ndebele. English is a compulsory language across all schools in the country. Unless they’re in class for local languages, learners are taught in English throughout their education. This has to do a lot with Zimbabwe being a colony of the British and English being the international language.
Teaching learners in English prepares them for work and business within and outside the perimeters of the country.
“One language sets you in a corridor for life, two languages open every door along the way”
The majority of people in Zimbabwe speak Shona. Shona has numerous dialects. Namely Zezuru, Korekore , Karanga, Ndau and Manyika. Shona is a Bantu language. It is said that it’s spoken by 11 million people. This figure is not only for the Shona people in Zimbabwe but in includes Shonas in the neighbouring country, Mozambique.
After Shona, Ndebele another popular language in Zimbabwe. It is one of the click languages. In South Africa, there is also a Ndebele tribe. However, it is not the same as the Zimbabwean Ndebele. To differentiate the two, Zimbabwean Ndebele is recognised as Northern Ndebele and the South African as Southern or Transvaal Ndebele. Although both are part of the Nguni language group, they’re very different in that the Transvaal Ndebeles are immensely influenced by the Sotho languages.
Other languages include Chewa also known as Nyanja. Chibarwe known as Sena to Mozambicans and Malawians. Koisan (presumably Tsoa) which is also spoken in Botswana. The rest are Nambya, Shangani, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda , Kalanga, Sign Language and Xhosa; like the other languages, they are also native to other countries other than Zimbabwe.
Now, these are languages spoken only in Zimbabwe. Imagine how many more are spoken all over Africa for someone to ask if you speak African?
If you do wish to learn one of the languages, IsiNdebele, please follow @Ndebelelessons on Instagram.