Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

Blog - Culture

Languages of the Commonwealth - do they feature in the Commonwealth Games?

Explore the countries that are part of the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Games and the languages they speak.

At the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, English will be the only official language. English is not, however, the only language spoken in the 54 countries and 18 territories that will compete in the Games. When we look at all the languages spoken across the Commonwealth, it paints a diverse picture of the people who inhabit it and the complex histories of Commonwealth member states and territories. LEXIGO has collated a list of languages spoken across the Commonwealth, mostly based on the CIA World Factbook, below.

It would be incorrect to assume that everyone competing in the Commonwealth Games speaks English. As the table below outlines, in many of the competing countries and territories, English is only spoken by officials or a minority. Even in countries where English is spoken by the majority of people, it certainly does not represent the only language widely spoken. In Australia, as discussed in LEXIGO’s blog post about the 2021 Census results, over one in five people speak a language other than English at home. This includes 167 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. In New Zealand, Maori is legally recognised as an official language and is spoken by 4% of the population. 63.7% of Canadians speak English at home, while 20% use Canada’s other official language, French. Even in England itself some people in Cornwell still use the Cornish language (Kernewek).

Currently the Commonwealth does not support linguistic diversity. Eligibility to join the modern Commonwealth includes acceptance of “Commonwealth norms and conventions, such as the use of the English language as the medium of inter-Commonwealth relations”. There could be scope, however, to support the linguistic diversity of its members, as other multilateral organisations have done. For example, French, English and German are the main working languages of the European Union, and a total of 24 languages have official status. Furthermore, the Council of Europe has a Charter for Regional or Minority Languages whereby 79 languages are protected and promoted to enable speakers to use them in public and private life.

Protecting linguistic diversity plays an important role in preserving cultures, the knowledge they encompass and creating equality in multilateral organisations. UNESCO says languages are strategically important to people and the planet because of their “complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development”. With organisations such as the Council of Europe and UNESCO already benefitting and working to protect linguistic diversity, it could be time for the Commonwealth to follow suit. In LEXIGO’s blog post about linguistic diversity vs lingua franca, experts pointed out that “when a social movement operates across language barriers (as opposed to movements where everyone speaks the same native language), deliberations are more equal”.

While linguistic diversity does not appear to be on the agenda for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, there could be an opportunity for Australia’s linguistic diversity to be promoted and used at the Victoria 2026 Commonwealth Games.

Country/Territory Languages
Anguilla English
Antigua and Barbuda English (official), Antiguan creole
Australia English, 2.7% Mandarin, 1.4% Arabic, 1.3% Vietnamese, 1.2% Cantonese, 0.9% Punjabi
Bahamas English (official), Creole (among Haitian immigrants)
Bangladesh Bengali
Barbados English (official), Bajan (English-based creole language, widely spoken in informal settings)
Belize English 62.9% (official), Spanish 56.6%, Creole 44.6%, Maya 10.5%, German 3.2%, Garifuna 2.9%, other 1.8%, unknown 0.5%; note – shares sum to more than 100% because some respondents gave more than one answer on the census (2010 est.)
Bermuda English (official), Portuguese
Botswana Setswana 77.3%, Sekalanga 7.4%, Shekgalagadi 3.4%, English (official) 2.8%, Zezuru/Shona 2%, Sesarwa 1.7%, Sembukushu 1.6%, Ndebele 1%, other 2.8% (2011 est.)
British Virgin Islands English
Brunei Malay (Bahasa Melayu) (official), English, Chinese dialects
Cameroon 24 major African language groups, English (official), French (official)
Canada English (official) 58.7%, French (official) 22%, Punjabi 1.4%, Italian 1.3%, Spanish 1.3%, German 1.3%, Cantonese 1.2%, Tagalog 1.2%, Arabic 1.1%, other 10.5% (2011 est.)
Cayman Islands English (official) 90.9%, Spanish 4%, Filipino 3.3%, other 1.7%, unspecified 0.1% (2010 est.)
Cook Islands English (official) 86.4%, Cook Islands Maori (Rarotongan) (official) 76.2%, other 8.3% (2011 est.)
Cyprus Greek (official) 80.9%, Turkish (official) 0.2%, English 4.1%, Romanian 2.9%, Russian 2.5%, Bulgarian 2.2%, Arabic 1.2%, Filipino 1.1%, other 4.3%, unspecified 0.6%; note – data represent only the Republic of Cyprus (2011 est.)
Dominica English (official), French patois
England English, Kernewek
Eswatini English (official, used for government business), siSwati (official)
Falkland Islands English 89%, Spanish 7.7%, other 3.3% (2006 est.)
Fiji English (official), iTaukei (official), Fiji Hindi (official)
Ghana English (official), Asante 16%, Ewe 14%, Fante 11.6%, Boron (Brong) 4.9%, Dagomba 4.4%, Dangme 4.2%, Dagarte (Dagaba) 3.9%, Kokomba 3.5%, Akyem 3.2%, Ga 3.1%, other 31.2% (2010 est.)
Gibraltar English (used in schools and for official purposes), Spanish, Italian, Portuguese
Grenada English (official), French patois
Guernsey English, French, Norman-French dialect spoken in country districts
Guyana English (official), Guyanese Creole, Amerindian languages (including Caribbean and Arawak languages), Indian languages (including Caribbean Hindustani, a dialect of Hindi), Chinese (2014 est.)
India Hindi 43.6%, Bengali 8%, Marathi 6.9%, Telugu 6.7%, Tamil 5.7%, Gujarati 4.6%, Urdu 4.2%, Kannada 3.6%, Odia 3.1%, Malayalam 2.9%, Punjabi 2.7%, Assamese 1.3%, Maithili 1.1%, other 5.6%; note – English enjoys the status of subsidiary official language but is the most important language for national, political, and commercial communication; there are 22 other officially recognized languages: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu; Hindustani is a popular variant of Hindi/Urdu spoken widely throughout northern India but is not an official language (2011 est.)
Isle of Man English, Manx Gaelic (about 2% of the population has some knowledge)
Jamaica English, English patois
Jersey English (official) 94.5%, Portuguese 4.6%, other .9% (includes French (official) and Jerriais)
Kenya English (official), Kiswahili (official), numerous indigenous languages
Kiribati I-Kiribati, English (official)
Lesotho Sesotho (official) (southern Sotho), English (official), Zulu, Xhosa
Malawi English (official), Chewa (common), Lambya, Lomwe, Ngoni, Nkhonde, Nyakyusa, Nyanja, Sena, Tonga, Tumbuka, Yao; note: Chewa and Nyanja are mutually intelligible dialects; Nkhonde and Nyakyusa are mutually intelligible dialects
Malaysia Bahasa Malaysia (official), English, Chinese (Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, Foochow), Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Panjabi, Thai; note – Malaysia has 134 living languages – 112 indigenous languages and 22 non-indigenous languages; in East Malaysia, there are several indigenous languages; the most widely spoken are Iban and Kadazan
Maldives Dhivehi (official, dialect of Sinhala, script derived from Arabic), English (spoken by most government officials)
Malta Maltese (official) 90.1%, English (official) 6%, multilingual 3%, other 0.9% (2005 est.)
Mauritius Creole 86.5%, Bhojpuri 5.3%, French 4.1%, two languages 1.4%, other 2.6% (includes English, one of the two official languages of the National Assembly, which is spoken by less than 1% of the population), unspecified 0.1% (2011 est.)
Montserrat English
Mozambique Makhuwa 26.1%, Portuguese (official) 16.6%, Tsonga 8.6%, Nyanja 8.1, Sena 7.1%, Lomwe 7.1%, Chuwabo 4.7%, Ndau 3.8%, Tswa 3.8%, other Mozambican languages 11.8%, other 0.5%, unspecified 1.8% (2017 est.)
Namibia Oshiwambo languages 49.7%, Nama/Damara 11%, Kavango languages 10.4%, Afrikaans 9.4% (also a common language), Herero languages 9.2%, Zambezi languages 4.9%, English (official) 2.3%, other African languages 1.5%, other European languages 0.7%, other 1% (2016 est.); note: Namibia has 13 recognized national languages, including 10 indigenous African languages and 3 European languages
Nauru Nauruan 93% (official, a distinct Pacific Island language), English 2% (widely understood, spoken, and used for most government and commercial purposes), other 5% (includes I-Kiribati 2% and Chinese 2%) (2011 est.); note: data represent main language spoken at home; Nauruan is spoken by 95% of the population, English by 66%, and other languages by 12%
New Zealand English (de facto official) 95.4%, Maori (de jure official) 4%, Samoan 2.2%, Northern Chinese 2%, Hindi 1.5%, French 1.2%, Yue 1.1%, New Zealand Sign Language (de jure official) 0.5%, other or not stated 17.2% (2018 est.); note: shares sum to 124.1% due to multiple responses on the 2018 census
Nigeria English (official), Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo (Ibo), Fulani, over 500 additional indigenous languages
Niue Niuean (official) 46% (a Polynesian language closely related to Tongan and Samoan), Niuean and English 32%, English (official) 11%, Niuean and others 5%, other 6% (2011 est.)
Norfolk Island English (official) 44.9%, Norfolk (also known as Norfuk or Norf’k, which is a mixture of 18th century English and ancient Tahitian) 40.3%, Fijian 1.8%, other 6.8%, unspecified 6.2% (2016 est.)
Northern Ireland Irish (Gaelic), Ulster Scots and English.
Pakistan Punjabi 48%, Sindhi 12%, Saraiki (a Punjabi variant) 10%, Pashto (alternate name, Pashtu) 8%, Urdu (official) 8%, Balochi 3%, Hindko 2%, Brahui 1%, English (official; lingua franca of Pakistani elite and most government ministries), Burushaski, and other 8%
Papua New Guinea Tok Pisin (official), English (official), Hiri Motu (official), some 839 indigenous languages spoken (about 12% of the world’s total); many languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers; note: Tok Pisin, a creole language, is widely used and understood; English is spoken by 1%-2%; Hiri Motu is spoken by less than 2%
Rwanda Kinyarwanda (official, universal Bantu vernacular) 93.2%, French (official) <0.1, English (official) <0.1, Swahili/Kiswahili (official, used in commercial centers) <0.1, more than one language, other 6.3%, unspecified 0.3% (2002 est.)
Samoa Samoan (Polynesian) (official) 91.1%, Samoan/English 6.7%, English (official) 0.5%, other 0.2%, unspecified 1.6% (2006 est.)
Scotland Scotland has three main languages, English, Scottish Gaelic, and Scots.
Seychelles Seychellois Creole (official) 89.1%, English (official) 5.1%, French (official) 0.7%, other 3.8%, unspecified 1.4% (2010 est.)
Sierra Leone English (official, regular use limited to literate minority), Mende (principal vernacular in the south), Temne (principal vernacular in the north), Krio (English-based Creole, spoken by the descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who were settled in the Freetown area, a lingua franca and a first language for 10% of the population but understood by 95%)
Singapore English (official) 48.3%, Mandarin (official) 29.9%, other Chinese dialects (includes Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka) 8.7%, Malay (official) 9.2%, Tamil (official) 2.5%, other 1.4%; note – data represent language most frequently spoken at home (2020 est.)
Solomon Islands Melanesian pidgin (in much of the country is lingua franca), English (official but spoken by only 1%-2% of the population), 120 indigenous languages
South Africa isiZulu (official) 25.3%, isiXhosa (official) 14.8%, Afrikaans (official) 12.2%, Sepedi (official) 10.1%, Setswana (official) 9.1%, English (official) 8.1%, Sesotho (official) 7.9%, Xitsonga (official) 3.6%, siSwati (official) 2.8%, Tshivenda (official) 2.5%, isiNdebele (official) 1.6%, other (includes Khoi, Nama, and San languages) 2%; note – data represent language spoken most often at home (2018 est.)
Sri Lanka Sinhala (official and national language) 87%, Tamil (official and national language) 28.5%, English 23.8% (2012 est.); note: data represent main languages spoken by the population aged 10 years and older; shares sum to more than 100% because some respondents gave more than one answer on the census; English is commonly used in government and is referred to as the “link language” in the constitution
St Helena English
St Kitts and Nevis English; Saint Kitts Creole
St Lucia English; Antillean Creole
St Vincent and the Grenadines English; Vincentian Creole
Tanzania Kiswahili or Swahili (official), Kiunguja (name for Swahili in Zanzibar), English (official, primary language of commerce, administration, and higher education), Arabic (widely spoken in Zanzibar), many local languages; note – Kiswahili (Swahili) is the mother tongue of the Bantu people living in Zanzibar and nearby coastal Tanzania; although Kiswahili is Bantu in structure and origin, its vocabulary draws on a variety of sources including Arabic and English; it has become the lingua franca of central and eastern Africa; the first language of most people is one of the local languages
The Gambia English (official), Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, other indigenous vernaculars
Tonga Tongan and English 76.8%, Tongan, English, and other language 10.6%, Tongan only (official) 8.7%, English only (official) 0.7%, other 1.7%, none 2.2% (2016 est.)
Trinidad and Tobago English (official), Trinidadian Creole English, Tobagonian Creole English, Caribbean Hindustani (a dialect of Hindi), Trinidadian Creole French, Spanish, Chinese
Turks and Caicos Islands English
Tuvalu Tuvaluan (official), English (official), Samoan, Kiribati (on the island of Nui)
Uganda English (official language, taught in schools, used in courts of law and by most newspapers and some radio broadcasts), Ganda or Luganda (most widely used of the Niger-Congo languages and the language used most often in the capital), other Niger-Congo languages, Nilo-Saharan languages, Swahili (official), Arabic
Vanuatu local languages (more than 100) 63.2%, Bislama (official; creole) 33.7%, English (official) 2%, French (official) 0.6%, other 0.5% (2009 est.)
Wales Welsh, English
Zambia Bemba 33.4%, Nyanja 14.7%, Tonga 11.4%, Lozi 5.5%, Chewa 4.5%, Nsenga 2.9%, Tumbuka 2.5%, Lunda (North Western) 1.9%, Kaonde 1.8%, Lala 1.8%, Lamba 1.8%, English (official) 1.7%, Luvale 1.5%, Mambwe 1.3%, Namwanga 1.2%, Lenje 1.1%, Bisa 1%, other 9.7%, unspecified 0.2% (2010 est.); note: Zambia is said to have over 70 languages, although many of these may be considered dialects; all of Zambia’s major languages are members of the Bantu family; Chewa and Nyanja are mutually intelligible dialects

Written by Sophia Dickinson, LEXIGO: Sophia is a writer and communications consultant with 10 years’ experience in the public service and not-for-profit sectors. She has also taught English in France and spent a year working at a local NGO in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. She is passionate about writing, intercultural communication and languages (she speaks French, Indonesian and is learning Spanish). Read more about her experiences here.