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Language and Communication



Introduction

Between them, Ugandans speak an impressive forty or more different languages.This is a result of Uganda's ethnically diverse history, and the adoption of English as the main language during Uganda's colonial years.

With English as the language of government and trade, no single native language rose to prominence before independence, although during the early 20th century Swahili was taught in schools and it became the unofficial second language.

Since September 2005 English and Swahili have been the 'official' first and second national languages.

However, as you travel around Uganda you may notice that the local languages vary. You will hear, among other languages, Luganda and Lusoga in Central Uganda, Lugweree, Kumam, Lugisu and Lumasaba in Eastern Uganda, Lumasaba and Ateso in Northern areas, and Runyankole, Rukiga and Runyankore in the west.

 

Day to Day Communication

You will find that all educated people speak English, and English speaking visitors will have no problems shopping, dealing with official figures, reading signs and getting around. The level of spoken English tends to diminish somewhat as you travel further from the main cities and towns, but in even the most rural backwaters, basic English is spoken by shop keepers,police etc.

Although Swahili is the official second language, you probably won't hear it being spoken unless you are in the east of the country close to the Kenyan border. The 'lingua franca' varies, although the Ugandan government states that Luganda is Uganda's most widely spoken native language. This is the preferred language used when Ugandans living around the capital are talking between themselves and don't need to use English.

Elsewhere other traditional languages persist, as mentioned above, but with English and a little Luganda you stand a good chance of being understood.

Tourist related facilities, from airports to souvenir stalls, will all expect business to be done in English - it's assumed you speak English if you are white - even if you happen to be Danish or French. Likewise, signs to tourist attractions are mostly in English and local taxi / bodaboda drivers will recognise the English versions of local place names.

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