Countries with Multiple National Languages
While every country in the world has residents who speak a multitude of languages, the majority have a singular ‘official language’. There are however exceptions to this and we have put together a list of some of the worlds countries with multiple national languages.
This list is not exhaustive as there are dozens, particularly in Africa, of countries which have up to four or more national languages. These are however more well-known and great examples of multi-lingual countries.
Countries with Multiple National Languages
Canada – English and French
The USA’s northern sibling is the second largest country in the world. Covering nearly 10 million square kilometres, and with a population of 38 million, Canada is a vast country.
The first European explorers landed in 1497 under the banner of Henry VII of England. However, despite discovering the land we now know as Canada, England did not set up a permanent colony on the land. This meant that when the land was re-visited in 1534 by Jacques Cartier he was able to claim the land in the name of Francis I of France.
Over the following centuries wars and battles tore apart North America and Canada between the British, French and Spanish. As it stands today, Canada is part of the Commonwealth and has English and French as its official languages. However, certain areas and cities in the East of the country, such as Montreal and Quebec favour the use of French over English.
Belgium – Dutch, French and German
Nestled between France, Germany and the Netherlands on the Western European coast, it is no surprise that Belgium has more than one official language. Home to Brussels, considered to be the capital of the European Union, Belgium’s language usage is divided across the country.
The primary language of the three used across the country is Dutch, or Flemish. The use of this language is primarily contained to the north of the country. This is primarily due to its distance from the Netherlands. This area of the country, classed as the Flemish Region is also home to over half of the population of the country.
The second most popular language in Belgium is French. This again can be attributed to the size of the border between the two and the use of the language within the capital city region.
German is spoken in a much smaller region of the country, with only 77,000 people residing there. The use of German as an official language however can be linked back to the first and second world wars. During these periods this region of Belgium was annexed by Germany. It was however returned after the war but the use of Germany in the region has remained.
Malta – Maltese and English
This small Mediterranean island has a rich and important history. Malta has been considered a British colony since 1814. At this time it was granted to England as a part of the Treaty of Paris. Its strategic location makes it ideal for shipping and was used as a key stop-off point for those reaching India via the Suez Canal. During the Second World War it was also used as a stronghold for battles taking place in Southern Italy and North Africa.
The use of English in Malta is vast with over 88% of the population being able to speak it fluently. As a part of the Commonwealth, it is no wonder that English is so widespread in Malta and is classed as an official language.
Switzerland – German, French, Italian and Romansh
When looking at countries with multiple national languages, it is impossible to not include Switzerland. Switzerland lists German, French, Italian and Romansh as its official languages, impressive for such a small country. Romansh however has a very niche use in a very small percent of the population.
Despite its size, Switzerland is relatively easily divided into areas of language use. As with Belgium, the use of each language can be directly attributed to its proximity to its neighbours borders.
The use of German in Switzerland, at over 62%, can be predominately found in the north and central parts of the country. While French, spoken by 22% of the population, is most common in the east and Italian in the south.
The use of Romansh, a localised dialect, is more sporadic. Its prominence is most found in the Swiss canton of the Grissons. Here, all governmental communications are produced in Romansh as well as the other official languages.
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