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Languages spoken in The Gambia

My Magazine 2022/02
4 min
Author: Maitri Sivaraman
Gambia is a beautiful small anglophone country located in between a francophone country. So, it is surrounded by the French speaking Senegal and yet has managed to remain an English-speaking country after British Colonization. Its beauty lies in the beautiful unity seen amongst their diverse ethnic groups. You can witness a community where the Wolofs, the Mandinkas, the Pulars, The Manjagos, The Sereres, all living in perfect harmony.

The Gambia has different ethnic groups speaking its own unique language in style. One interesting part is that the ethnic groups are also named and identified with their languages, as is the case in many cultures. However, English is the official language of The Gambia. All government offices have their documents written in English.

Wolof is spoken by the Wolofs, Mandinka is spoken by the Mandingos, Jola is spoken by the Jolas, Pulaar is spoken by the Fulas, Serer Is spoken by the Serers, Sarahoule is spoken by the Sarahoules also known as Soninkes and Creole spoken by Akus. Because Senegal is a francophone neighboring country, a little French can be seen spoken in the bordering villages between Gambia and Senegal.

The prominent languages spoken across the capital cities are Wolof, Mandinka, Pulaar. The dialects of the languages differ from each community to the other. The Fana Fana ethnic groups speak Wolof, but the dialect is slightly different than the Banjul Wolof. Similar is the case with the Mandinka spoken in the villages with the Mandinka spoken in the cities. This is because of the infiltration of some English vocabulary into the languages in the cities because of their interaction with the British during colonial times.

To help children, read and understand the national languages, the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education has integrated the National languages into the reading program. Schools now have Textbooks of National languages written using English scripts. Languages like Wolof, Pular, Mandinka, Serer, Jola, Manjago and Serahoule are taught in schools. If the class has two different groups of children speaking two different languages, they are sent to different teachers to learn their respective language. An interesting pilot study was recently conducted to show how the learning of these national languages had a good impact in children’s reading abilities in English.

As a tourist, do you want to learn any of the languages in The Gambia? Don’t worry, there are well-trained teachers and renowned institutions available to teach these national languages.

Alliance Francis is one renowned institution where you can learn the language of your interest. There are Gambian nationals who are well versed with the language who can come home and teach you the language of your interest. You can pay them an agreed amount and their time is very flexible to suit your schedule. These teachers spend an hour or two with you over a period and can teach you the basics of any language. If you are a person who does not have time, you can go to Timbooktoo bookshop in Fajara and get books that will guide you with basic vocabulary and sentences to help you navigate your way into a Gambian market and buy basic things.

But before deciding on the method of learning a language in Gambia, you need to decide which language you want to learn. That decision can be made deciding on the area in which you live, the people you interact with and the purpose of your visit. For example, businessmen in the cities prefer to learn the Wolof, Mandinka and the Pular to help them with their customers for daily conversations.

Last but not the least, an important point to note is that, even if you do not know any of the languages, the people of Gambia are so friendly that they will help to translate what you intend to express.  Most of them are fluent in English and can help you wherever you go. So, you can manage to stay and get things done in Gambia using your drivers’, gardeners’ help just with your knowledge of English.

Please also check our monthly dictionary of Wolof and Mandinka words.  

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