Most countries in the world have at least one or two official languages. There are even a few that have no national language, like the United States or Mexico. However, some countries have more than two, three, or even four official languages.
The official language of a country is considered to be the universal language spoken in that country. It is the language often used by the government, schools, institutions, etc… English, for instance, is the most common official language in the world with 55 countries that recognize it as their national language. English is followed by French, Arabic, and Spanish.
There are countries with 11, 16, and there’s even one country with 23 official languages. Are you feeling curious? Well, let’s take a look at these countries where you’ll be able to speak in more than one official language.
3. South Africa – 11
In South Africa, there are about 35 indigenous languages that are still spoken in the country, 10 of those are official languages of the Republic.
South Africa recognizes 11 official languages: English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venḓa, Xhosa, Zulu, and Afrikaans. English is the primary language used by the parliamentary and the state.
Though the other languages might not be official, they are protected by the Constitution of South Africa. Sign Language, for instance, has legal recognition, but it is not considered an official language.
So, if you ever travel to South Africa, you might want to know you can say ‘Hello’ in eleven different ways, such as Sawubona (Zulu), Molo (Xhosa), Hallo (Afrikaans), and many others.
2. Zimbabwe – 16
If you thought 11 was a lot, start taking into consideration it might not be enough. Zimbabwe recognizes 16 official languages out of many others that are spoken by a minority in the country.
Since 2013, the 16 official languages of Zimbabwe are: English, Chewa, Chibarwe, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and unlike the previous country, Zimbabwe does recognize sign language as an official language.
Even though English is considered official, it’s not the most spoken. The most popular is Shona, spoken by 70% of the population, followed by Ndebele, spoken by about 20% of the population.
So maybe you’ll need to learn how to say “hello, how are you?” in these two most spoken official languages to better communicate in Zimbabwe. In Shona it’s “Mhoro, wakadii?”, and in Ndebele is “Salibonani, unjani?”.
1. India – 23
We’ve reached the country with the most official languages in the world. India recognizes 23 official languages. Nevertheless, take note that these languages are official at the regional level, not the national level.
Prepare to be amazed. According to a census done in 2018 by the Indian Registrar General & Census Commissioner: “more than 19,500 languages or dialects are spoken in India as mother tongues”. If you thought 23 was a lot, now you know why India needs so many official languages.
The official languages in India are Bengali, Hindi, Maithili, Nepalese, Sanskrit, Tamil, Urdu, Assamese, Dogri, Kannada, Gujarati, Bodo, Manipur (also known as Meitei), Oriya, Marathi, Santali, Telugu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Malayalam, Konkani, Kashmiri, and English of course.
The two most spoken are Hindi, spoken by 528,347,193 people, and Bengali, spoken by 97,237,669. If you ever find yourself walking around India, you might want to know that “hello” in Hindi is “Namaste”, and in Bengali is “Hyalo”.