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Countries that speak surprising languages

Countries that speak surprising languages

Throughout the world, languages are as diverse as the people who speak them. In total, there are about 6,909 distinct languages spoken in different regions of the world — not counting the thousands that have become extinct over time. Of course, most people in France speak French and people in Spain speak Spanish, but there are plenty of countries whose languages might surprise you. Here are some countries that speak surprising languages.

Angola

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Angola is a country on the southwestern coast of Africa. While it may be a part of Africa physically, linguistically, it belongs in Europe. Like Brazil in terms of its cultural uniqueness compared to neighboring nations, Angola’s official and most widely spoken language is Portuguese. English and French are also spoken in Angola, along with several native African languages and even some Asian languages.

Lebanon

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Lebanon is a small Middle Eastern country on the Mediterranean coast just north of Israel. Like most Middle Eastern countries, the official language of Lebanon is Arabic, but it’s not the preferred language of most Lebanese.

Due to its colonial history, most Lebanese people speak French and many do so now since Arabic isn't as prevalent. Teachers even become increasingly frustrated when they ask questions in Arabic — the official language of the education system — and students respond in French.

Spain and France

Group of dancers performing traditional Basque dance at folk festival
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Yes, Spanish and French are the primary languages of Spain and France respectively, but there’s a small region on the border between the two countries that speaks an entirely different language altogether. That language is called Basque.

The origins of Basque are surrounded in mystery. It’s believed that the people of what’s known as Basque Country have lived there for over 6,000 years — well before Indo-Europeans inhabited the area. What makes the language especially strange is that it has no relation to the other languages used in the area. It’s completely unique. Basque is the primary language for over 700,000 people in Basque Country and a second language for roughly two million more.

Suriname

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There are only five countries in the world that use Dutch as a primary language and Suriname is one of them. Suriname is a small country on the northern coast of South America. While most of its neighbors speak Spanish (or Portuguese in Brazil’s case), Suriname has retained much of its colonial history and continues to use Dutch as its primary and official language. The language has evolved over time into a different dialect called Surinamese Dutch, but it can still be understood by native Dutch speakers just like Americans can understand Australian or British English speakers.

Equatorial Guinea

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Equatorial Guinea is an African country located on the Gulf of Guinea to the south of Cameroon and it’s the only African country that speaks Spanish as its national and official language.

The country was once a colony of Spain, but even after it declared its independence, the people kept the language. The dialect known as Equatoguinean Spanish is spoken by over 70 percent of the population and is the primary language used in government, business, and education.

To help with international trade from its neighbors, Equatorial Guinea has also adopted French and Portuguese as official languages. There are also around 15 native African languages used at local levels throughout the country.

Zimbabwe

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When it comes to language diversity, it’s hard to beat Zimbabwe. The small south African country holds the world record for the most official languages of any country with 16 officially recognized national languages:

  • English
  • Chewa
  • Chibarwe
  • Koisan
  • Nambya
  • Ndau
  • Ndebele
  • Shangani
  • Shona
  • Sotho
  • Tonga
  • Tswana
  • Venda
  • Xhosa
  • Zimbabwean Sign Language

English is the primary language for government, business, and education, but Shona is the preferred language for almost 70 percent of the population. Xhosa is a unique African language that’s spoken in several regions of Southern Africa including Zimbabwe and South Africa. It’s spoken using clicking sounds embedded in many of the words, which makes it notoriously difficult for foreigners to learn.

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