Hamar women from the Omo Valley in Ethiopia

Do People Speak English in Ethiopia?

  1. Ethiopian Languages
  2. English Proficiency in Ethiopia
  3. Can You Get By Speaking Only English in Ethiopia?
  4. Conclusion

English is a widely spoken language around the world, and it is often used as a common language for business, education, and tourism. However, the question remains: do they speak English in Ethiopia? Yes, however, it is not the most commonly spoken language among the general population, as many Ethiopians speak their regional language as their first language.

In this article, we will explore the role of English in Ethiopia and examine the factors that contribute to its usage in the country.

Ethiopian Languages

Ethiopia is a country that boasts a diverse range of languages, with over 80 languages spoken within its borders. These languages can be classified into four major language groups: Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic, and Nilo-Saharan.

Official Languages

The Ethiopian Constitution recognizes Amharic as the official language of the country. It is spoken by over 20 million people and is the second most widely spoken Semitic language after Arabic. The Constitution also recognizes Oromo, Tigrigna, Somali, Afar, Sidamo, Wolaytta, Gurage, Hadiyya, and other local languages as regional working languages.

Regional Languages

In addition to the official languages, there are several regional languages spoken in Ethiopia. Oromo is the most widely spoken language in the country, with over 25 million speakers. It is primarily spoken in the central and southern parts of Ethiopia and is the working language of the Oromia region. Tigrigna is another widely spoken language, primarily spoken in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia.

English as a Foreign Language

English is not an official language in Ethiopia, but it is taught as a foreign language in schools and is widely spoken in urban areas. It is the language of instruction in higher education and is the primary language used in international business and diplomacy.

While English proficiency varies across the country, it is generally higher among younger generations and those living in urban areas.

Overall, Ethiopia’s linguistic diversity is a testament to its rich cultural heritage and serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving and promoting multilingualism.

English Proficiency in Ethiopia

Due to Ethiopia’s history of colonization and foreign influence, English has become a popular language for communication in certain industries, such as tourism and international business. However, the level of English proficiency varies depending on the region and the individual.

History of English in Ethiopia

English has been taught in Ethiopian schools since the early 1900s. During the British occupation of Ethiopia in 1941, English became more widely spoken, and it has since become the most commonly spoken foreign language in the country. English is also the language of instruction in higher education institutions.

Current State of English Proficiency

According to the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) 2022, Ethiopia ranks 73rd out of 100 countries, with a proficiency level of “low.” This means that most Ethiopians have a basic understanding of English but struggle with more complex language skills. However, there are significant regional variations in English proficiency across the country, with Addis Ababa, the capital, having the highest proficiency level.

Factors Affecting English Proficiency

Several factors contribute to the relatively low level of English proficiency in Ethiopia. Firstly, English is not the primary language of instruction in primary and secondary schools, which limits the amount of exposure that students have to the language. Secondly, there is a shortage of qualified English teachers in the country, particularly in rural areas. Finally, socioeconomic factors such as poverty and lack of access to education can also affect English proficiency levels. In conclusion, while English is widely spoken in Ethiopia, the country’s proficiency level remains relatively low. Efforts to improve English language education and teacher training could help to raise proficiency levels and provide more opportunities for Ethiopians to participate in the global economy.

Can You Get By Speaking Only English in Ethiopia?

Travel Tips for English Speakers in Ethiopia

English is widely spoken in Ethiopia, particularly in the larger cities such as Addis Ababa. However, it is important to note that the official language of the country is Amharic, and not everyone speaks English fluently.

If you are traveling to Ethiopia and only speak English, there are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Learn a few basic Amharic phrases to help you communicate with locals, such as greetings and basic questions.
  • Carry a phrasebook or translation app with you to help you communicate when necessary.
  • Stick to tourist areas and larger cities where English is more commonly spoken.
  • Be patient and respectful when communicating with locals who may not speak English fluently.

Overall, while it is possible to get by speaking only English in Ethiopia, it is important to be respectful of the local language and culture. Taking the time to learn a few basic phrases and being patient when communicating can go a long way in making your trip more enjoyable and memorable.


English has become an important language in Ethiopia, serving as a medium of instruction in schools, a language of commerce and international communication, and a tool for accessing higher education and job opportunities. Despite the challenges of teaching and learning in a foreign language, many Ethiopians have embraced English as a means of advancing their personal and national goals.

However, the dominance of English has also raised concerns about the marginalization of local languages and cultures, as well as the perpetuation of colonial legacies and power imbalances. Some argue that Ethiopia should promote multilingualism and language diversity, rather than relying on a single language for all purposes.

Moreover, the status of English in Ethiopia is not without controversy, as some see it as a symbol of Western imperialism and cultural hegemony. Others view it as a pragmatic solution to the country’s linguistic diversity and economic challenges. Ultimately, the role of English in Ethiopia is a complex and evolving issue, shaped by historical, political, social, and economic factors.