Serious students know that understanding Africa begins with language study. Language schools in Africa are a big draw not only for students interested in learning critical languages, such as Swahili or Arabic, but also for students who want to practice more common languages, like Portuguese and French, in a very unique context. Students drawn to learn the indigenous African languages will not be short of options, as there are some 2,000 to choose from! No matter what your motivation or language of choice, one truth remains: a strong emphasis on understanding the cultures that accompany your new lingua franca will be central to your language program in Africa.
The location of your language program in Africa will depend primarily on (yup, you guessed it) which language you choose to study! However, the most popular cities for language study in Africa include:
Rabat, Morocco. In between shopping sprees at the local souk, drinking bottomless cups of pipin’ hot mint tea, and planning your Sahara camel back adventure, take time to attend a language school in Morocco. Both French and Arabic are spoken widely in Morocco, so be prepared for a multi-cultural experience unlike anywhere else on the planet.
Cape Town, South Africa. The most cosmopolitan city on the African continent is a big draw for language learners. While you can opt to perfect your English, brush up on your Afrikaans, or tackle a new language altogether (Zulu, anyone?), foreign students can find opportunities to study just about any language in Cape Town. Students can spend their free time working on their galala dance moves, conquering Table Mountain, or pigging out at a local braii.
Cairo, Egypt. Try your luck at mastering Modern Standard Arabic and Egyptian Colloquial Arabic while living, learning, and loving in Cairo. Situated on the Nile river, Cairo is famous for its varied history, its seamlessly multifaith sections, and its fabulously medieval vibes.
Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania. This exotic island destination is 99 percent Muslim, but its highly spiced culture has African, Middle Eastern, and Indian influences. Those who attend language programs in Stone Town will never tire of getting lost in its intricate passageways or watching the sun set across the Indian Ocean. Students will be able to make sense of all those Lion King lyrics as they improve their Swahili skills.
Language Programs in Africa
With over 2,000 languages, Africa is home to over a quarter of of the world's languages, ranging from tonal languages of the Congo to nearly extinct click languages of western South African regions. Did you know there are at least 75 languages in Africa that have more than one million speakers!? The rest of the nation’s languages are spoken by populations ranging from a few hundred to several hundred thousand. Regardless of the number of speakers, here are five of the most popular languages spoken in Africa and where it is best to study each:
- Arabic: Cairo or Alexandria, Egypt, Fez, Meknes, or Rabat, Morocco, and Tunis, Tunisia
- Swahili: Nairobi, Kenya, Morogoro or Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Stone Town, Zanzibar
- French: Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Yaounde, Cameroon, Accra, Ghana, and Dakar, Senegal
- Portuguese: Luanda, Angola and Maputo, Mozambique
- Afrikaans: Pretoria, Cape Town, or Johannesburg, South Africa and Windhoek, Namibia
- Indigenous languages: Take your pick! Somali, Berber, Amharic, Oromo, Hausa, Igbo, Fulani, and Yoruba are spoken by tens of millions of people, and a good place to start when looking for unique language programs in Africa.
Language programs in Africa will not only provide students with the ability to understand, speak, read, and write, but will also serve a functional purpose, to improve your quality of living while abroad. Taking language courses in Africa will open you up to a better understanding of regional commerce, governance, and development.
Take your time when choosing a language program in Africa, as many different types exist. For example, you can choose to do a short-term intensive language program in Africa, at a private school or enterprise. With these types of programs, students typically study the target language for four to six hours daily.
Some students will sign up for university-style programs, where classes are comprised of 20 or more students and taken on campus. Others might be more drawn to smaller group classes, in order to have more attention from their teacher. The good news for international students is that many African universities are rolling out new language programs in order to regularly attract foreign students. Check out language programs in Africa at well known universities like the University of Cape Town in South Africa, The American University in Cairo, Egypt, the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and the Université Mohammed V - Agdal in Morocco.
You may choose to do a homestay so you can practice your language skills 24/7, and truly live in the language. Other students may be more drawn to a one-on-one tutoring type experience. If you need specific advice for a program you are considering, reach out to your program advisor or campus study abroad advisor to get those questions answered!
Scholarships & Costs
If you do not have an attachment to a specific African language, you might want to consider choosing Arabic or Swahili. Both of these languages are in high demand, and therefore, there are many scholarships available that are specifically for students seeking out fluency in these languages (Check for scholarship opportunities in GoAbroad’s Scholarship Directory for language study in Africa).
The cost of living in Africa will likely be relatively cheaper than your home country. Despite the cost of attending language schools in Africa, your flights to remote places, and your visa, you may end up saving money in the long run. Students who are especially committed to adopting the local way of life during their language program in Africa will find themselves with even less of a financial setback.
As one of the more expensive locations for language study in Africa, Accra, Ghana will cost about half of what New York City calls for rent per month; therefore, Accra is not the most budget friendly place, but it can nevertheless be doable with the proper penny pinching beforehand. In contrast, places like Rabat will run you about the same rent as small Midwestern town, while Dar es Salaam, Tanzania is comparable to Phoenix, Arizona. While the cost of living varies across the continent, students are unlikely to return with a souvenir of massive debt regardless of where they pursue language programs in Africa.
Accommodation & Visas
Now that you have a better idea on the type of program you wish to pursue, you’ll need a roof over your head. As a language student in Africa, you will have a number of different accommodation options available to you. It is worth considering the hefty program fees to allow your program provider or language school to sort out your housing on your behalf? Yes. This way, you avoid being scammed, having to jump through a ton of hoops (like opening a local bank account, proof of residency for a certain period of time, or insane upfront rental costs), and the general frustrations that can arise from sorting out the nitty-gritty of a big, international move.
For students who read that and thought: “You don’t know me! I can do it!”, more power to you. But, communicate with your program provider in advance to let them know of your plans, and then get busy and hit the web to find a roommate!
Visa requirements vary significantly from country to country, so it is important that you research intensively the immigration expectations required of you prior to departure. Visas can cost anywhere from $30 to $200, depending on your intention for visiting and the duration of your stay.
Benefits & Challenges
Besides the academic benefits of language learning abroad, increasing your fluency in a foreign language will allow you to reap the rewards of engaging with locals in more meaningful ways. This will only further enhance your overall experience of living and learning in a foreign environment.
Detail Oriented. Students who want to complete language study in Africa should have an ear for detail, as amidst the numerous different languages, it is crucial to be able to detect quickly which one is being spoken. Students should not expect to have a Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone software necessarily ready-made to aid in their studies! Nonetheless, they will enjoy the perks of studying a rare and under-appreciated language, and do their part to preserve the linguistic diversity of the planet.
Culture Vulture. Those who decide to pursue language programs in Africa should also be an individual with a love for African culture, as the local cultures are intimately tied with the languages. The language will present you with a deeper understanding of the social, political, and economic institutions that have both helped and harmed thousands of people in recent history alone. At the heart of it, you will be exposed to languages that have been passed down from generation to generation, sometimes only orally, and be invited into a world that somehow blends Old Africa and New.