Aerial view of Goree Island in Dakar, Senegal, Africa.

Do People Speak French in Senegal?

The coming of western missionaries to Africa had a profound impact on the continent’s populace. One of these prominent outcomes is language. Senegal’s language is one of its most significant urban attributes. Language in this country can be considered a yardstick that divides its residents into ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic groups.

Indeed! inhabitants of Africa spoke their Language before European explorers arrived. However, forceful occupation by the Europeans led to a drop in language diversity. Foreign languages were embraced and integrated into the culture. If you want to know if they  speak French in Senegal, look no further! 

The short answer is Yes! They speak french in Senegal. French is the official language of the Senegalese population. Even so, it is worth noting that even though French is the official language, it is not the most spoken Language in Senegal. 

If you want to learn more about this subject, consider reading to the end. 

What are the main languages spoken in Senegal?

Report holds that there are currently 38 live languages spoken in Senegal; 7 non-indigenous and 31 indigenous. Of these 38, three are institutional, seven are vigorous, 18 are developing, two are dying, and eight have problems. 

French is the official language commonly used in television and print media. According to statistics, only about 37% of Senegalese can speak french. 

Besides French, Senegal also has Wolof, considered the second national and most widely spoken indigenous language. With 12.2 million speakers (about 80% of Senegalese), 5.9 million people speak it as their first language and 6.3 million as their second. 

Other commonly used indigenous languages are Joola, which has 340,000 speakers; Pulaar (4.2 million speakers), Sooninke, Seereer, Maninkakan, and Seereer (1.7 million speakers), which is either spoken as a first or second language by most Senegalese.  

Why is French less Widely Spoken in Senegal?

The straightforward response to this query is ascribed to Senegal’s diversity of ethnic groups and languages. Some of these languages are widely used by the populace and are recognized as national languages by the government. Because of this, it is now challenging for Senegalese to assimilate French as a daily communication language fully.  

During the expansion of European influence on Africa, many countries, including Great Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal, and France, visited Senegal. Among these countries, France’s impact was most felt. France gained complete control over the territory from 1677 to 1960, when Senegal gained independence.

During this period, the French Language spread and became widely spoken and the first official Language in Senegal. This is also consolidated by the fact that Senegal is a member state of La Francophonie (the body of french-speaking countries).

The existence of other minority languages like Portuguese is another factor contributing to the low percentage of people that speak French. Portugal, as we mentioned previously, was one of the nations that extended its influence in Senegal. Senegal’s government started teaching Portuguese in secondary schools after the country gained its independence, and the country was accepted into the Community of Portuguese Language Countries in 2008.

Note!

Although other languages have gained official status in Senegal and are more widely spoken than French, French remains the country’s government language. This holds for television, all forms of media, seminars, dialogues, conferences, external relations, and much more.

What is the French level in Senegal?

As earlier stated, french is the official language in Senegal. It is the language of instruction in all schools but not the most spoken language in daily communication. French is spoken by 4.3 million people (only about 37% of the Senegalese population) as a second language and 47,000 people as their first language.  

Do they teach French in Schools?

Although Wolof is more widely spoken, all Senegalese who attend school must learn French. For a francophone country, Senegal follows the same curriculum as France and precisely adheres to the French language teaching rules. For this reason, the country is well respected in France. 

Also, as mentioned, french is the main language of instruction in Senegal schools. However, in the early classes, the student’s first language is typically utilized as the language of instruction to learn subjects, including French. In this case, french is taught as a school language, and most of the pupils’ spoken language experiences are oral. 

On the other hand, writing in a second language is learned very differently in school than in situations where students use their native language (s) regularly. In this approach, students’ primary language is used to comprehend subject matter until their competency in French is sufficiently established for use as the language of instruction. 

Also, to help develop students’ literacy abilities, the Ministry of Education, NGOs, civil society organizations, and donors have launched bilingual and multilingual education programs in Senegal. However, multilingual education has yet to be formally adopted or implemented nationally.

Do tourists need to speak French if visiting Senegal?

No! You might need french to communicate in Senegal, but there are other languages used. While Dakar residents speak a wide variety of languages, including English, Wolof, Pular, Serer, etc., french is the official language. 

Also, many scam artists approach visitors in Dakar and pretend to be from their hotel or the airport. If you can’t speak french, ignore any attempts to engage you in conversation on the street. If a street guy is becoming excessively aggressive, tell them “a la prochaine, inshallah,” which simply means “next time, God willing, and place your palm over your heart. This is a polite way of saying you’re not interested.

Can you live in Senegal if you just speak French?

The first factor is the location you’re visiting in Senegal. In Tambacounda and Kolda, fewer people may speak French than in Dakar. However, because about 80% of the general populace speaks Wolof, it is advisable to learn this indigenous language if you plan to live in Senegal for a long time. 

How has the level of French changed over the years?

Early in the 17th Century, France, while colonizing Senegal, attempted to impose its culture while suppressing the Senegalese history and characteristics. The French also enforced the French language as part of their control over culture. The intention was to make French the new language of exchange for Senegalese. They controlled the educational system and used French textbooks to instruct students about French culture in French. This led to a conflict for cultural identity as it sought to emphasize how superior the French way of life was to the Senegalese way of life. 

Today, the official Language of Senegal is still French. However, Wolof, Serer, Mandinka, Pulaar, Diola, and Soninke are still among the ethnic languages officially recognized in Senegal. French is still the official Language of Senegal. According to estimates, 80% of people speak Wolof as a first or second language, compared to 15% to 20% of men and 1% to 2% of women who can speak and comprehend French.

Thinking about traveling to Senegal

Are you considering visiting Senegal? Then the following contacts may be of getting help. 

  • Police 17
  • Ambulance 18
  • Fire 1515
  • Embassy of the United States of America: Dakar, Senegal · +221 33 879 40 00
  • Embassy of Canada: +221 33 889 47 20

Conclusion

To summarize, we’ve discovered that Senegalese speak French in addition to numerous other languages. This is not to say that you cannot visit Senegal if you do not speak French. However, if you do not learn any of the widely spoken languages in Senegal, you may need help communicating and may not enjoy your stay in this lovely country.

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