Society

What Languages Are Spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

French is the official language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, although an estimated total of 242 languages are spoken throughout the multilingual country.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has a highly diverse linguistic landscape. Ethnologue lists 215 living languages spoken in the country. French is the official language of the country. Kituba, Swahili, Tshiluba, and Lingala are the country's four national languages.

The Official Language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

French has served as the official language of the DRC since Belgian colonial rule in the country. The French language spoken in the DRC exhibits many similarities with Belgian French. The language is widely spoken by the country’s educated and elite class. As of 2014, nearly 47% of the population of the DRC, or about 33 million people, can speak, read and write in French. In Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRC, French is spoken and understood by about 68.5% of the population, and 67% of the city's population can read and write in French. The language acts as a lingua franca in the country and eases communication between the indigenous ethnic communities residing in the country.

National Languages

Kikongo

According to the Constitution of the DRC, Kikongo is a national language of the DRC. However, in fact, Kituba, a Kikongo-based creole, is used by the provincial administration of Kwilu, Kwango, and Bas-Congo. The Kituba language also serves as a vernacular language in many of the country’s urban centers.

Lingala

The Lingala language attained its modern form during the colonial rule in DRC, when missionaries encouraged the spread of the language as a local vehicular language. Lingala was originally spoken in the Congo river’s upper areas, but then rapidly spread to the middle Congo area. It is the major Bantu language spoken in Kinshasa.

Swahili

The Bantu language of Swahili acts as the first language of the Swahili people. Several variations of Swahili are spoken in the DRC, with the dominant one being Kingwana. The languages act as a lingua franca in Eastern Equatorial Africa.

Tshiluba

Two major variations of the Tshiluba language are spoken in the DRC. The Luba-Kasai and the Luba-Lulua that are spoken in the East Kasai Region and the West Kasai Region, respectively. The Luba-Katanga, a closely related language, is spoken in the Katanga Province of the country.

Sign Language

French Sign Language and American Sign Language are the two main varieties of sign language practiced by the deaf community of the DRC. The country hosts 12 institutions for the deaf.

Minority Languages

A large number of minority languages are spoken in the DRC. The most notable among them are Lunda, Budza, Lendu, Zande, Komo, Chokwe, and Nande. The DRC government also plans to introduce the Portuguese language as an optional subject in educational institutions.

More in Society