What Languages Are Spoken In Malawi?

Liwonde National Park in Malawi.
Liwonde National Park in Malawi.

Malawi is a highly diverse country found in the continent of Africa; its diversity is evident from the many languages spoken in the country. Of the many languages spoken, English is the official language of Malawi while Chichewa is the national language. There are other numerous languages also spoken in the country. However, English which is more often a second language and remains an important language in the country due to the country's history as a British colony. On the other hand, Chichewa is a native language almost spoken by about half of Malawi's population.

Chichewa: National Language Of Malawi

Chichewa, also was known as Chinyanja, Chewa or Nyanja is the native language of about half of Malawi's population and is the country's official language. At present, Chichewa is the most common language spoken in Malawi mostly in the southern and central regions of the country. The government of Malawi further promotes active command and functional literacy of the language through media usage. A variety of educational programs and research activities are held, all under the Chichewa Board which is currently known as the Center for Language Studies.

English: Official Language Of Malawi

Being the official language of Malawi, English was first introduced to the country towards the end of the 19th century. The introduction was a result of the influence of the arrival of the British African Lakes Corporation, missionaries, explorers, and the colonial administrators who were present since the British Central Africa Protectorate was established in the 1890s. However, following the country's independence, the language managed to remain prevalent. According to Malawi's Constitution, English is the statutory national language. English is also the language that students in international schools are taught in, while in government schools they learn it as a second language.


The Yao which is a Bantu language in Africa comprises of approximately 2 million speakers in Malawi. Mangoche is the language's main dialect which is mostly spoken in the regions of Lake Malawi. The Yao language is also known by several other names including Jao, Ayo, Adsoa, Achawa, Djao, ChiYao, waJao, Hyao, Veiao among others. Most Yao speakers in Malawi live in the country's southern region.


Also known as Citumbuka, Chitumbuka, or Tumbuka is among the native languages spoken in Malawi mostly in the country's Northern Region. The language is spoken by about 9.5% of the population of Malawi. Tumbuka lost its status as the country's official language following the one nation, one language policy implemented since 1968 by former Malawian president Hastings Kamuzu Banda. As a result, the language was removed from the print media, the school curriculum, and the national radio. However, efforts of returning Tumbuka programs on the radio have started again.

Other Languages Spoken In Malawi

Malawi, unlike many African countries that have hundreds of languages, has about 16 living languages. Most of these languages consist of very few speakers. The other living languages in the country include the Malawian Lomwe that have 850 speakers mostly living in southeastern regions of the country, the Nyakyusa-Ngonde language having about 300,000 speakers mostly living in regions around the north end of Lake Malawi. Other languages include Malawian Sena with 270,000 speakers living in the south and the Tonga language with an estimated 170,000 speakers mainly living in the Nkhata Bay District, on the shores of Lake Malawi. There are also smaller numbers of Malawian people who speak Zulu and Afrikaans which are among the two important languages spoken in the nearby country of South Africa. The rest of the languages include Lambya, Kacchi, Kokola, Ndali, Nyiha, and Nyika.


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