The Use of the German Language in Africa

It may seem odd to think that there is any connection between the German language and the African continent, but there is one, even though it is now a bit tenuous. Germany at one time had four African colonies, Togo, Cameroon, South West Africa (now Namibia) and Tanganyika (now Tanzania). It lost all its colonies after the end of the First World War, three to Britain and Cameroon to France. Tanzania still has a few old German buildings from the earlier German colonial era, but it is in Namibia where the strongest German influence still exists.

3% of Namibia’s population speaks German as a first language, although that percentage is declining. Most of Namibia’s German speaking population is now quite old, but around Windhoek, the nation’s capital, there is still quite a significant German speaking community, the largest in Africa.

Africa of course has a large number of individual independent nations, all of which are attempting to develop themselves at different rates.  Modern Germany has a large role to play in Africa, simply because it has a huge influence in the European Union (E.U.), which is a significant aid provider and economic partner with many African countries today.

Germans are a very important part of the tourist market in those African countries where tourism is an important part of the local economy (East Africa, Southern Africa,Tunisia and Egypt). Wildlife viewing is the most important draw card for German tourists.

For German translators and the German translation industry in general, there are definitely opportunities available in Africa. The main languages needed to be translated are Arabic (North Africa) and Kiswahili (East Africa) with Amharic and Zulu the next in prevalence.

Many African countries still use the old colonial language as at least one of their official languages. The most important languages are English, French, Portuguese and Italian in that order. The fact that so many European languages are widely used across Africa presents a good opportunity for bilingual or multilingual German English translators or German French translators who wish to work in the African translation market.