The Power of a Second Language in Africa

The Power of a Second Language in AfricaBy Bolaji Sofoluwe

It is very interesting how much  people talk about how the world is becoming a global village.  What’s more interesting is the way not many people understand and realise the importance of a second language!

Since Africa is my speciality where it comes to business consulting and talent management, I always tend to gravitate towards the power of a second language in this culturally vast and rich society.

Of course, it is important to note that even though over 3000 languages are spoken in Africa, most African countries speak English, French, Arabic, Portuguese and Spanish.  This makes about 63% of the African population bilingual.

A second language helps you break barriers and makes you an instant insider. You break ice and warm up relationships – be it business or personal quite easily.  In some extreme circumstances, language could be the difference between life and death…

I have found myself going into countries, cities or villages; where the residents have been initially hostile because they realise I am English and then the quickly warm to me when they realise I speak their language.  They open up more, no longer see you more as an ally than as a threat, and are more open to the idea of doing business with you.

I suppose it will be safe to say that some of these rules apply to universal scenarios.  I challenge you to try and see the difference between being able to communicate with someone in their first or second language, and the use of dramatic and sometimes bizarre gesticulations. If you are not a sign language expert, in some cases and across cultural divides, you will find either yourself looking quite silly or the person you are trying to communicate with concluding that you assume they are silly!!!

If you want to succeed in Business in Africa particularly, take the time, and the effort to learn to speak a second language. It doesn’t have to be fluent but it will go a mighty long way.

Author Bio

Passionate about all things Africa, English born and African raised Bolaji is a Partner and Head of Strategy at ETK Consulting. ETK is a London based company with a special emphasis on African market entry for individuals and businesses as well as unique talent management solutions for African companies.

As well as English, she is fluent in French and speaks some Yoruba, Hausa and Efik (all native languages of West Africa).  She is an avid supporter of the work going on at Colchester’s Connect to English, as she believes language is a strong business tool, especially when exploring new markets.

Bolaji Sofoluwe

Partner and Head, Strategy


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