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Why Learning an African Language Could Help Black People Bridge Cultural Gap, Do Business in Africa

Tensions rise between African Americans and African immigrantsA Quartz article is urging Black people to learn a regional African language. The article, written by Evan Fleischer, said learning an African language would go a long way to bridging the cultural divide between Black people in America and Africans.

According to Quartz, there are more than 2,000 languages spoken on the continent, which has a population of 1.1 billion. Some of the most useful languages Americans could learn are Yoruba, spoken by people in Nigeria and some other West African countries, Xhosa, spoken in South Africa, Swahili, spoken in Kenya, Tanzania and other parts of East Africa, and Amharic, spoken mainly in Ethiopia.

Quartz also suggested learning an African language might make it easier for Americans to do business in Africa. According to The Financial Times, the United States was the third largest capital investor in Africa in 2014. American companies invested about $8 billion in Africa last year.

However, business in Africa is usually conducted in a colonial language. Former British colonies speak English, former French colonies speak French and former Portuguese colonies use Portuguese.

“In most African countries a child is born in a particular linguistic community where they grow up speaking that community’s language,” Angaluki Muaka, a professor of African and African-American studies at the University of Minnesota, told Quartz. “When they start school, they’re taught a colonial language and one of a country’s major languages, sometimes referred to as a ‘national language.’”

Sometimes this instruction begins before the child goes to school, but effectively most Africans are bilingual or multilingual. South African comedian Trevor Noah, the new host of The Daily Show, speaks eight languages including English, German, Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho and Afrikaans.

Learning an African language would go a long way to break down barriers between Americans and Africans. And for Black people, who are trying to get in touch with the culture of their ancestors, learning a language would be a significant step in the right direction.

Quartz said learning an African language is part of the decolonization process. Black people were stripped of their culture and language when they were brought to America, so learning an African language is part of the process of reclaiming that culture.

This is not unprecedented. Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o declared that he would no longer write novels in English. He said he would only write in Gikuyu, his native language, and urged other African writers to do the same in an essay titled Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. Irish writer W.B. Yeats promoted his native tongue during his lifetime and the language now has official status in Ireland.

Black people who decide to learn an African language would find plenty of people in America to practice with. According to Quartz, there are more than 800,000 people residing in America who speak an African language.

“We should also not overlook the growing population of African immigrants in the U.S.,” Muaka said. “Not only do these immigrants produce heritage learners of African languages, but knowledge of their languages would considerably enhance U.S. government service-delivery to their communities.”

What people are saying

8 thoughts on “Why Learning an African Language Could Help Black People Bridge Cultural Gap, Do Business in Africa

  1. Excellent idea however, many of us struggle with identifying with a particular African culture. In our awakening we do want to culturally reconnect but purpose plays a great part in our reconnection. Sure learning an African language strictly for business would be good but ancestoral purposes are great too. Either purpose provides the motivation that we all need in our quest to heal the psychological traumas of racial separation.

  2. Would commend aZulu, though im a Xhosa by birth i feel we link more with Zulu language. Most Sotho, Swati and Tshona get Zulu as its massively spoken. Their radio station Ukhozi fm is tuned in by more than 7.5m listerns. It has broadcast in the US on the campaign which was `Siyabalanda`(meaning_We are getting them back home to africa).

  3. Thanks for sharing brother Nsindiso. I'm appreciative of you and all of our other brothers and sisters who are open to sharing with us African-Americans. I want to learn as many African languages as I can #Unity #Onelove

  4. I'm learning Igbo, Yoruba, Tiv and pidgin. I love it and had a blast in Nigeria. Loved the surprised looks when saying "Thank you" in the regional language. It also broke down many barriers.

  5. There are 3 different language groups (Bantu – spoken in west and central Africa, Semetic – spoken in the northern part of the continant (Arabic, Ethiopian, etc), and Koi – Koi – spoken on the southern part of the continant (the "Click' languages of the Zulu. San, etc) AND THERE ARE OVER 4,000 SUB-LANGUAGES ON THE CONTINANT. kiSwahili WAS developed to be a universal language for the continant but never spread beyond east to central Africa. AND many "tribes" have age old wars and bad feeling amunst them so speaking Ibo around a bunch of Hausa might just get your head based in in some places.

  6. Nana Abena says:

    Anyone wants to learn Akan-Twi? The second language spoken in Ghana. West Africa. I can be of help!

  7. For business? English will do in Anglophone Africa. French in Francophonic countries.

    Learn an African language if you intend to settle in a specific part of Africa or for fun. Unless you want to do busines in Ethiopia where Amharic is the official language, or Swahili for Tanzania. For Kenya (where I'm from), you're good with English.

  8. Since when is a Jew ever an advocate for Blacks being educated in any way shape or form? I'm seeing references to Quartz and Jewish surnames advocatting for American Blacks to learn African languages. Of course we shoiuld learn but I refuse to be a smokescreen and tool of secret war against Africans which is the only reaons why Jewsih business owners would ever advocate for such a thing. There's a strong legacy of economic destruction and interference starting with Rhode Island Jews petitioning George Washington to keep slavery right on up to Jews in Rockland County, NJ getting into the decision making process and taking away all the money to fund access to Advanced Placement classes to improve their accpetance into competitive universities. All the Black and Lation parents could do was stand up and turn their backs at the meeting announcing this. My my, themess that's been made in the New York public education system under the tutilage of primarily Jews to the point where we can't even sue over the lack of education offered and suddenly a Jew advocates for us to learn something? Really? You think we don't know about the videos that were wiped from facebook and personal histories about the anti African hatred in Israel? Not everyone is stupid and blind.

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