Do they Speak English in Uganda? A Question often asked by Tourists

Posted by on November 5, 2019

Travelers to Africa often ask us, “Do they speak English in Uganda?”

How about this for an Answer:  Ugandans speak the Best English in Africa!

“Do they speak English in Uganda?” That is a question we receive in an email from time to time from a Client who is not familiar with Uganda.  The question might surprise some, primarily those who work in government, tourism, Police, Medical professions. Still, to many coming from outside of Uganda, outside of Africa, it is a valid question.

Do They Speak English in Uganda? English is the Official Language, not only that, but according to a study by the World Linguistic Society released in 2017, Ugandans speak the best English in all of Africa, followed by 2. Zambia, 3. South Africa,  4. Kenya, 5. Zimbabwe, 6. Malawi, 7. Ghana, 8. Botswana. 9. Sudan, 10. Rwanda. Tanzania did not even make the top 10 list of Best English Speaking countries.

English is Uganda’s official language and the language of instruction in schools and institutions in the country. Children start studying the language as early as a pre-primary school.

English Speaking Tourists coming on Safari will have no problems ordering food or drink, going on a gorilla or Chimpanzee Trek, or being with a safari driver-guide at their side.  In Uganda, the plus for tourists is that you can have some intelligent conversations in English.

Do They Speak English in Uganda? Yes, a resounding yes Ugandans do a pretty good job at communicating in  English  One may find it enjoyable having Ugandan TV or Radio personality speak in pucker – Queens English, or another one sounding like they come from Seattle, Washington, Cleveland, Ohio.  In some cases, they have been outside of Uganda, while others taught themselves by watching movies and TV in English.

Uganda being the Number 1 English Speaking Country is an Added Plus:  On a Safari, all staff at lodges, rangers in parks, Tourism Police, Porters for your Gorilla Trek, most of all your driver-guide, they all speak English.  There still might be some cultural differences; however, if you talk to English, most everyone that you will be in contact with will understand you, your requests, and be able to attend to your needs. That is a huge added plus when compared to other countries in Africa.

From our perspective, that an added comfort and convenience that most visitors take for granted, not knowing that the Ugandan English Speaker is at home with a few other languages.

 Do They Speak English in Uganda?  Most often, they do, but at times, throw in phrases that you think mean one thing when they say another.  That I sUgLish – Ugandan English, it is English, sounds like English but here and there are phrases you are clueless about such as someone announcing that they are going on a short call and you think they are off to make a phone call while in Uganda it means that they are going to the bathroom. Perplexed, Ugandan English has its own, let us say personality, English with a Ugandan Twist locally referred to as UgLIsh meaning Ugandan English.

UgLish has its critics among Professors, commentators, Educational Officials, Journalists, and others.  All the while, it has become ingrained into everyday conversation, even on Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp.

The Guardian and many other newspapers have written articles on UgLish – the Ugandan form of English.

I think it adds a level of delightful humor into the conversation.

We have a whole page with some of the most common Uglish Phrases that you might find helpful and that most likely you will enjoy.

 Ugandans are friendly, welcoming, and open to learning about your Country. Culturally, at least at the initial meeting, they might be a bit reserved, and that is a cultural thing.  Once they get to know you a bit and they are like people elsewhere enjoying good conservations sprinkled with humor and warmth.

Do They Speak English in Uganda?  Darn, Good English – most of the time, it is not Pucker English and the more informal American Version, it is the down-under Australian – it is English with Ugandan pronunciations.  Simply delightful and refreshing. 

What may surprise you how well young people can speak English. One must take into account that most of them speak another language at home such as Luganda. When Ugandans attend school, they learn English. English is taught beginning in pre-school classes such as “Baby Class.”  Uganda – being Africa’s Top English Speaking Country might surprise you, it surprised many here in the Pearl of Africa.  We, as a Ugandan Tour Operator, are delighted.