The languages of Uganda are numerous and diverse, adding up to as many as 41 languages in total. What makes it easier to find common ground is the fact that none of the ethnic groups make up the majority of the country’s population.

National languages are a source of pride and unity, but for most African countries, the trophy has to be shared among multiple ethnic dialects.

Having an official language makes communication easier at every step of the way; whether it is in government, education, or even healthcare.

There is cohesion now, but it wasn’t always like that.

For the longest time, English dominated as the only official language while Luganda and Swahili competed for second place.

This article details the history of language policies in Uganda and provides a comprehensive list of the current living languages in the country.

Uganda’s Language Policy: A Brief History

English first gained so much glory and prestige in the country because of colonization. Aristocrats and government staff used this language back them, associating it with high class and good education.

Ugandans articulate English words more fluently than other English-speaking nations in the continent.

In 1972, only 21% of Ugandans could communicate in English.

English was then established as the official teaching language across all school years.

In 2002, the literacy rate in the country for people aged between 15 and 24 went up to 76.2%.

The education system was reviewed in 2004 and language specialists suggested the inclusion of mother-tongue education in the earlier years of the curriculum.

And the benefits were tremendous.

Young learners in Uganda mostly speak in their native languages, so it’s unreasonable to expect them to grasp English as soon as they start their classes.

In 2007, Uganda introduced the Mother-tongue policy in schools.

Under this new law, learners were taught in the native language of their area during their first three years. English was introduced as well but as an individual subject.

In the fourth year, the curriculum elevated English to one of the primary languages of instruction. In the fifth year of school, English became the only language of instruction.

This slow transition helped young learners understand the curriculum better.

As expected, the policy mostly applied to the rural schools where everyone was more likely to relate to one mother-tongue.

But even in urban schools where English was the primary language of instruction, it was still a requirement to teach mother-tongue as a subject.

Ugandan residents took to English better than any other country in Africa. A report by the World Linguistic Society revealed that Ugandans articulate English words more fluently than other English-speaking nations in the continent.

Today, the citizens of the country may have to learn English as they navigate the education, corporate, and government systems.

Learning the language also exposes them to multiple opportunities, both within and outside the country.

While English is functional as the official language of Uganda, Swahili is more symbolic.

This language features in Uganda’s courts and shilling notes, but that’s about it. Swahili is disregarded in most schools and general social interactions.

What is the National Language of Uganda?

National languages are a source of pride and unity, but for most African countries, the trophy has to be shared among multiple ethnic dialects.

It is the norm for African countries to have more than one official language.

South Africa has 11, including Afrikaans, Xhosa, and English. Zimbabwe has 15 official languages that include Bemba, Lozi, and Lunda.

The languages of Uganda fall into four main categories; Bantu, Nilotic, Central Sudanic, and Kuliak.

Although there are 41 living languages in the country, the recognized official language is English. Luganda and Swahili are also widely spoken, but they are not the official languages of the country.


English is among the most widely spoken languages in the world. Every country or region has its own unique dialect that slightly varies from other English dialects.

There is American English, UK English, and when you go to Uganda, you are likely to hear what is known as Uglish (Ugandan English).

What Influences Uglish?

As with any other country, Ugandans have carried their native-speaking patterns over to English. For instance, the languages under the Banty family don’t have consonants that are sounded alone.

Where there is a consonant, there has to be an accompanying vowel.

This is why a word like ‘pen’ is likely to be pronounced as ‘peni’ in Uglish. ‘Alfred’ becomes something like ‘Alifuredi.’

languages of uganda


Luganda is the most spoken indigenous tongue in the country. This language is spoken by the Baganda who make up 16.7% of Uganda’s population.

Luganda speakers reside both in the South Eastern (along the Lake Victoria shores) and Northern (along the shores of Lake Kyoga) regions of Uganda.

People use it to communicate in trade, transport, media, and even corporate business.

Luganda is spoken by the biggest ethnic group in the country; the Buganda.

This language is used everywhere; in inter-ethnic communication, music, telecommunication, and religious preaching.

It was the official language of Uganda in 1912, and when Swahili briefly replaced it in 1928, the Buganda quickly contested the decision and won.

Just like English was seen as the language of the rich and educated, Luganda was the language of the Baganda. The leaders of the ethnic group favored Luganda and its speakers over other Ugandans. The Baganda chiefs then developed the language for literacy, religion, and education.

Despite their efforts (or rather because of them), Luganda has been turned down more than once as the country’s national language.

Luganda is mostly spoken in the urban areas of Kampala.

Simple Luganda Phrases for Tourists

When you visit tourist destinations in Uganda, you will find that most people speak English. But just in case you need to communicate in the most widely spoken native language, Luganda, here are some simple phrases you can learn in a day or two:

  •  Oli otya – How are you?
  •  Ssebo – Sir
  • Nnyabo – Madam
  • Weebale – Thank you
  • Owange – Excuse me
  • Amazzi – Water
  • Nkooye – I am tired
  • Mukwano – My friend

Ugandan hospitality is famous all across the world. The people are friendly and helpful, and with these simple Luganda phrases, you can enrich your travel experience and connect to the locals more.


In 1962, after Uganda attained independence, English because the official language of the country. It was a neutral language that everyone in the office, government, and education related to.

Swahili is the most influential lingua franca in East Africa. This makes it one of the best languages to learn for translation.

In 1972, about 35% of Ugandan citizens could speak this language well. It was the official language of administration, trade, and education in the country for a time, but it wasn’t long before Luganda became the official language once more.

Idi Amin Dada’s regime saw the increased use of Swahili, a language that represented slavery and bondage to most Ugandans in the central region.

In the Northern region, however, where the residents were recruited into the prestigious national army, Swahili had a different status.

Its use in the army only made Swahili more revolting to central Uganda. It came to be seen as the language of the army command, undisciplined soldiers, and theft.

Swahili did not grow to be as prominent in Uganda as it was in other East African countries.

While English is functional as the official language of Uganda, Swahili is more symbolic.

This language features in Uganda’s courts and shilling notes, but that’s about it. Most schools and general social interactions disregard Swahili and instead go for English or Luganda.

The Diverse Languages of Uganda.

Here are 15 languages spoken in Uganda:

  • English
  • Swahili
  • Luganda
  • Runyankore
  • Rutooro
  • Lusoga
  • Soo
  • Karamojong
  • Bari
  • Alur
  • Acholi
  • Lango
  • Adhola
  • Kuman
  • Ik

The UN recognizes only 6 languages as official; Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

Body Language in Uganda.

Body language is important in communication. From facial expressions and posture to hand gestures, the ability to understand body language instantly makes you a better listener.

But keep in mind that body language changes according to culture.

In Islamic countries, for instance, men cannot shake hands with women outside their families. While others may find it aggressive, some cultures respect and encourage firm handshakes. Eye contact, physical contact, and even sitting postures can all change depending on where you are in the world.

Handshakes are a normal thing in Uganda, for both men and women.

Hugging is also acceptable, but you might want to avoid kissing in public.

Swahili, a lingua franca of Eastern and Central Africa, functions as the second official national language of Uganda.


The diversity of language is a beautiful thing indeed – and a terrible thing to waste.

The presence of so many different languages shouldn’t intimidate you. The truth is, the majority of the world only speaks a small percentage of the languages that exist.

However, it helps to know the multiple languages that co-exist within different countries.

This is how language works in Uganda.

English is for formal communications in government, education, and corporate systems.

Luganda is the language of the people. You will hear this language in inter-ethnic communication, media, and telecommunications, church preaching, as well as in urban music.

Even the Ugandans who are not part of the Baganda ethnicity find themselves speaking Luganda because it is so common. Since this dialect dominates Kampala, the capital city of the country, it’s almost essential for urban area citizens to learn it.

Swahili makes an appearance on the Ugandan shilling notes, and also features on notice boards at the court.

Uganda is part of the East African Community.

Looking for Ugandan Language Translators?

Uganda has multiple diverse languages.

In as much as there are English speakers in the country, it is essential to translate your content so that it suits the specific needs of your audience.

Native translation is the way to go!

When marketing your brand to Uganda, it’s advisable to translate your content to Luganda and Swahili. They are the two most spoken languages in the country, second to English.

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