Languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Map - DR Congo, major languages.svg
Map showing the distribution of the four national languages in the Congo
NationalKituba, Lingala, Swahili and Tshiluba
IndigenousMore than 200
SignedAmerican Sign Language (Francophone African Sign Language)
Keyboard layout
KB France.svg
Lingua francaFrench, Kikongo ya leta, Lingala, Swahili and Tshiluba

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a multilingual country where an estimated total of 242 languages are spoken. Ethnologue lists 215 living languages.[1] The official language, inherited from the colonial period, is French. Four other languages, three of them Bantu based, have the status of national language: Kikongo, Lingala, Swahili and Tshiluba.

51% of the total population speaks French[2] and 74% are using French as a lingua franca.[3]

When the country was a Belgian colony, it had already instituted teaching and use of the four national languages in primary schools, making it one of the few African nations to have had literacy in local languages during the European colonial period. French remains the official language in the Congolese government and is spoken by half of the population.


See also: African French

Banner in French in Kinshasa
Banner in French in Kinshasa

French is the official language of the country since its colonial period under Belgian rule. Therefore, the variety of French used in the DRC has many similarities with Belgian French. French has been maintained as the official language since the time of independence because it is widely spoken in the capital of the country-Kinshasa, it belongs to none of the indigenous ethnic groups and eases communication between them as well as with the rest of the Francophonie, which includes many African countries. According to a 2018 OIF report, 42.5 million Congolese people (50.6% of the population) can read and write in French.[4][5] In the capital city Kinshasa, 67% of the population can read and write French, and 68.5% can speak and understand it.[6] The Democratic Republic of the Congo currently has the largest population of any country with French as its official language.[7]

According to a 2021 survey, French was the most spoken language in the country: a total of 74% of Congolese (79% of men, and 68% of women) reported using French as a language of communication.[3]


Dutch was the historical second language of the Congo State from 1885 to 1908 and of the Belgian Congo from 1908 to 1960, and during this period its archives were bilingual French/Dutch. However, French was largely favored by the Belgian administration. A good knowledge of the French language was necessary to obtain a promotion in the colony and the Dutch-speakers were therefore more dispersed in the provinces while the French-speakers were grouped together in the cities. At the Colonial School of Tervuren, the first promotion to follow a cycle of studies in Dutch did not graduate until 1937. Dutch was used as a code language during times of trouble to convey messages that even educated Congolese cannot understand, which has accentuated the mistrust of the Congolese towards this language.

Yet the vast majority of Catholic missionaries, priests and nuns sent to the Congo were Flemish. Speaking different Dutch dialects, the Flemings however preferred to teach in the indigenous languages of the Congo, unlike the French speakers who did not hesitate to teach their language. In 1954, in response to the demands of the Congolese themselves, the Belgian Minister of Education Auguste Buisseret adopted the principle of providing education in French in the Congo from the following year, a concession intended above all to calm the ardor independentists. The measure is however strongly opposed by the Flemish and Catholic right which advocates the continuation of education in local languages, and supported by the French-speaking and anticlerical left.

Dutch was not retained as one of the official languages in 1961, and its teaching was completely stopped in 1970. It was nevertheless still spoken by approximately 200,000 people in 1980. In February 2014, the embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands indicated that there were approximately 420,000 Dutch speakers of all ages in the DRC, spread throughout the territory, with very isolated groups. Dutch speakers are very scattered over the vastness of the Congolese territory. It is spoken by older people, but also by younger people, and the number of native speakers is unknown. Dutch speakers are most often perfectly bilingual French/Dutch, Dutch/Lingala, or Dutch/English. Due to its isolation from the Dutch spoken in Europe, it tends to have incorporated many French, English, or Lingala words.


President Kabila grew up and studied in Tanzania, English is used by ministers, and on certain official occasions. Moreover, English is the language most often used by the UN soldiers present in the DRC, and by a large number of Congolese refugees (often since the 1960s) who return to the country, and who previously lived in the surrounding English-speaking countries (Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda...).

Kikongo ya leta

The constitution says Kikongo is one of the national languages, but in fact it is a Kikongo-based creole, Kituba (Kikongo ya Leta "Kikongo of the government", Leta being derived from French l'État "the State") that is used in the constitution and by the administration in the provinces of Bas-Congo (which is inhabited by the Bakongo), Kwango, and Kwilu. Kituba has become a vehicular language in many urban centres including Kikwit, Bandundu, Matadi, Boma and Muanda.[8][9][10][11]


Lingala is a language which gained its modern form in the colonial period, with the push of missionaries to standardize and teach a local lingua franca. It was originally spoken in the upper Congo river area but rapidly spread to the middle Congo area and eventually became the major Bantu language in Kinshasa.

Lingala was made the official language of the army under Mobutu, but since the rebellions, the army has also used Swahili in the east. With the transition period and the consolidation of different armed groups into the Congolese Army, the linguistic policy has returned to its previous form and Lingala is again the official language of the Army.

A 2021 survey found that Lingala was the second-most spoken language in the country, used by 59% of the population (62% of men and 56% of women).[12]


Swahili is the most widespread lingua franca spoken in Eastern Equatorial Africa. Many variations of Swahili are spoken in the country but the major one is Kingwana, sometimes called Copperbelt Swahili, especially in the Katanga area.


The constitution does not specify which of the two major variations of Tshiluba is the national language. Luba-Kasai is spoken in the East Kasai Region (Luba people) and Luba-Lulua is used in the West Kasai Region among the Bena Lulua people. Luba-Kasai seems to be the language used by the administration. A related language, known as Luba-Katanga, is spoken in Katanga Province.

Sign languages

There are 12 deaf institutions in the country, and most teach French Sign Language or variations.[citation needed] American Sign Language is also practiced in the country.

Other languages

The most notable other languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are Mashi, Mongo, Lunda, Kilega, Tetela, Chokwe, Budza, Ngbandi, Lendu, Mangbetu, Yombe, Nande, Ngbaka, Zande, Lugbara and Komo. Considerable numbers of people in eastern Congo who came from Rwanda in either pre-colonial or recent times speak Kinyarwanda.

As of 2010 the government decided to include Portuguese as an optional language at schools as a response to Brazil's increasing influence on the continent, and of the growing and considerable Angolan and Mozambican immigrant communities.[13]

Among the various forms of slang spoken in the Congo, Indubil has been noted since around the 1960s[14] and continues to evolve today.[15]


  1. ^ Languages of Democratic Republic of the Congo,
  2. ^ La langue française dans le monde, Éditions Gallimard, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie
  3. ^ a b "Target Survey: French, the most spoken language in DRC, far ahead of Lingala". 10 July 2021.
  4. ^ Langue française dans le monde 2015-2018, Éditions Gallimard.
  5. ^ Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (2014). La langue française dans le monde 2014. Paris: Éditions Nathan. p. 17. ISBN 978-2-09-882654-0. Archived from the original on 2015-07-02. Retrieved 2015-05-16.
  6. ^ Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (2014). La langue française dans le monde 2014. Paris: Éditions Nathan. p. 30. ISBN 978-2-09-882654-0. Archived from the original on 2015-07-02. Retrieved 2015-05-16.
  7. ^ "The Countries That Speak the Most French (Besides France)". Frenchly. 2020-05-15. Retrieved 2022-06-29.
  8. ^ Salikoko S. Mufwene, Kituba, Kileta, or Kikongo? What's in a name?, University of Chicago, Dans: Le nom des langues III. Le nom des langues en Afrique sub-saharienne : pratiques dénominations, catégorisations. Naming Languages in Sub-Saharan Africa: Practices, Names, Categorisations (sous la direction de C. de Féral), Louvain-la-Neuve, Peeters, BCILL 124, 2009, p. 211-222
  9. ^ Foreign Service Institute (U.S.) and Lloyd Balderston Swift, Kituba; Basic Course, Department of State, 1963, p. 10
  10. ^ "Kikongo-Kituba". Britannica. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  11. ^ Jean-Claude Bruneau (2011). "Les nouvelles provinces de la République Démocratique du Congo : construction territoriale et ethnicités". L'Espace Politique (in French) (7). doi:10.4000/espacepolitique.1296.
  12. ^ "Target Survey: French, the most spoken language in DRC, far ahead of Lingala". 10 July 2021.
  13. ^ TSF. (July 4th). Português adoptado como língua opcional nas escolas da RD Congo, accessed on July 4, 2010
  14. ^ "Ghetto Blaster : Et la rumba congolaise rythma les indépendances". Retrieved 20 February 2011.
  15. ^ Georges Mulumbwa Mutambwa. "The spread of Indubil through DR Congo: context and modalities". Archived from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 20 February 2011.

Further reading