The Gambia is a beautiful small country on the west coast of Africa, almost completely surrounded by Senegal. It is the smallest country in Africa and has a smallish population of under 2 million, but just how widely spoken is English there? Can tourists expect to get by there without knowing the local languages?
As a former British colony, English is still taught in schools in The Gambia so many people will be able to speak at least some basic English, and fortunately the places where tourists are almost always likely to stay will have people who can speak English because of the country’s growing tourism industry. The Gambia receives plenty of British tourists every year and you will have no problems conversing in English in any major resort there.
With a tropical climate and warm temperatures year round, it is the perfect winter getaway for tourists from northern Europe, especially from the UK, Belgium, Sweden, Germany and Netherlands. See the stats here; by far the most tourists come from the UK, so the main hotels and resorts will be used to dealing with English speakers.
English is actually still the official language of The Gambia as of this writing, having been a former British colony, gaining full independence in 1965. Several years ago the then president Yahya Yammeh made some controversial statements that he planned to drop English as an official language, though talk of this has gone quiet since his ousting in 2017 and for now English remains the official language of government and education.
As an added bonus, the majority of the tourist visits are going to be based in specially built complexes and resorts, who will all have plenty of English speaking staff to accommodate the high number of Brits especially that like to visit every year.
This includes the coastal resorts like Bakau, Fajara and Kotu and the Lemon Creek Hotel Resort in Bijilo. English speakers will have no problems there. The Gambia has a growing tourist industry and the country now features in most top 10 lists for winter getaways for Europeans, with only a 5-6 hour flight from Northern Europe and temperatures in the mid 20s even in winter.
Spoken English in the Main Tourist Areas in The Gambia
Venturing outside the main tourist resorts and complexes in the Gambia, there are some places tourists can visit. Here is a guide to spoken English in the main cities and towns.
Banjul – Capital of the country. Actual city has quite a small population; the greater Banjul metropolitan area is much bigger. English widely spoken in the centre; less so the further you go out. Locals always appreciate the basic greeting “salam alikum”; see below for some more phrases.
Bijilo – Major resort town so English widely spoken in the centre and in all the resorts and complexes. Also loads of bars and restaurants along the main strip where English will be widely spoken.
Jufereh – Popular tourist town 30km inland from the Gambia River. English will be spoken at museums and other attractions.
Bakau – Small town on the coast about 10 miles from Banjul. Popular Kachikally crocodile pool tourist spot; English spoken there and at other attractions.
Serekunda – Larger urban center right on the Atlantic coast. English widely spoken in the centre; also some English bars like The Britannia on the main strip.
Local Language Phrases
The most prevalent everyday language in The Gambia is actually Mandinka, with around 38% of the population speaking it. There are also plenty of other languages spoken like Wollof, but strictly speaking they shouldn’t be needed for English speaking tourists staying on the main tourist paths.
However, here are some basic Mandinka phrases in case you want to use them. As with every country, locals always appreciate tourists even attempting a few words of the local language.
|English||Pronounced in Mandika as:|
|How are you?||Heraba/I be di?|
|Good morning||Hera Laata|
|Good evening||I wuraara|
|Goodbye||Fo Waati Koteng|
|What is your name?||I Ton Ndii?|
If you are wanting to learn some more Mandinka/Mandingo phrases, you can get this in depth phrasebook cheaply off Amazon.