The Official Languages of Madagascar

Portrait of a Malagasy woman in a traditional face mask holding a basket on her head

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Madagascar has two official languages: Malagasy and French. Both were named official languages of the newly established Malagasy Republic in the first Constitution of 1958. In 2007, the Constitution named English as an official language as well; however, this decision was reversed during a referendum held in 2010. Malagasy is by far the most widely spoken language. Nevertheless, many people involved in the tourism industry speak some English, while visitors with a good understanding of French will be at an advantage in making themselves understood. 

History of the Official Languages


Several different dialects of Malagasy are spoken in Madagascar, though all of them are mutually intelligible. They can be divided geographically into two groups: the five Eastern dialects (spoken in the central plateau and much of northern Madagascar) and six Western dialects (predominantly spoken in the southern half of the island). Of all the Malagasy dialects, Merina is considered the standard and is generally understood throughout the country. 

Malagasy is part of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian family of languages, and is most similar to languages spoken in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. This makes the island unique from the East African mainland, where Bantu (of African origin) languages dominate. The reason for this is that Madagascar was first settled by traders from maritime Southeast Asia who arrived in outrigger canoes between 350 B.C. and 550 A.D. The majority of these settlers were from the Sunda Islands (including areas of modern Indonesia, Borneo, Brunei, and East Timor). 

The Malagasy language evolved with exposure to other settlers and traders and was particularly influenced by the Bantu migrants who began to arrive from East Africa in the 9th century. As a result, some Malagasy words are of Bantu, Swahili, Arab, English, and French origin. 


The status of French as an official language of Madagascar dates back to the country’s establishment as a French protectorate (in 1883) and then as a French colony (in 1896). Madagascar continued under French rule for over 60 years, only gaining full independence again in 1960. 

Where Are the Languages Spoken?

Malagasy is the lingua franca in Madagascar, and is spoken as a first language by most Malagasy people. In public schools, it is used as the language of instruction for all subjects up to grade five; and then for history and Malagasy language lessons thereafter. Outside Madagascar, Malagasy is spoken by expatriate communities; mostly on neighboring Indian Ocean islands like Mauritius, Comoros, and Réunion. 

In Madagascar, French is used as the medium of instruction for higher grades and is spoken primarily by the educated population as a second language. It is frequently used in business. According to L’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, over 4 million Malagasy people speak French, with 5 percent considered fully Francophone and another 15.4 percent considered partially francophone. Globally, French is an official language in 29 countries, is the fifth most spoken language in the world, and has approximately 277 million speakers worldwide.

Basic Words and Phrases (Malagasy)


Hello Salama
Good Night Tafandria mandry
Goodbye Veloma


My name is... Ny anarako dia...
I'm from the U.S.A. Avy any U.S.A aho
What's your name? Iza ny anaranao?
Pleased to meet you Faly mahafantatra anao


Please Azafady
Thank you Misaotra 
You're welcome Tsisy fisaorana
I'm sorry Miala tsiny
Excuse me Azafady
Welcome Tonga soa
How are you? Manao ahoana?
I’m fine, thank you Tsara fa misaotra
Good luck Mirary soa e
Congratulations Arahabaina
Have a nice day

Mirary anao tontolo andro mahafinaritra

It's delicious Matsiro io

Going Deeper

Do you speak English? Mahay teny Anglisy ve ianao?
Do you understand? Azonao ve?
I don't understand Tsy azoko
I do not speak Malagasy Tsy mahay teny Malagasy aho
Please speak more slowly Mitenena moramora azafady
Please say that again Dia ilazao indray azafady
How do you say...? Ahoana ny fiteny hoe…?


One Isa/iray
Two Roa
Three Telo
Four Efatra
Five Dimy
Six Enina
Seven Fito
Eight Valo
Nine Sivy
Ten Folo


Stop Mijanona
Watch out Mitandrema
Help Vonjeo
Fire Afo
Go away Mandehana
Call the police Antsoy ny polisy
I need a doctor Mila dokotera aho
Can you help me please? Afaka manampy ahy ve ianao azafady?

Other Essentials

Yes Eny
No Tsia, or tsy (before a verb)
Maybe Angamba
I don't know Tsy fantatro
How much? Ohatrinona?
How do I get to...? Ahoana no hahatongavako any…?
Where are the toilets? Aiza ny efitrano fivoahana?

Basic Words and Phrases (French)


Hello Bonjour
Good evening Bonsoir
Good night Bonne nuit
Goodbye Au revoir


My name is... Je m’appelle…
I'm from the U.S.A. Je viens des U.S.A .
What's your name? Comment vous appelez-vous?
Pleased to meet you Enchanté


Please S'il vous plaît
Thank you Merci
You're welcome Je vous en prie
I'm sorry Je suis désolé
Excuse me Excusez-moi
Welcome Bienvenue
How are you? Comment allez-vous?
I'm well, thank you Je vais bien, merci
Good luck Bonne chance
Congratulations Félicitations
Have a nice day Bonne journée
This is delicious C'est délicieux

Making Yourself Understood 

Do you speak English? Parlez vous Anglais?
Do you understand? Comprenez vous?
I don't understand Je ne comprends pas
I speak a little French Je parle un peu Français
Please speak more slowly Parlez plus lentement s'il vous plaît
Please say that again Redites ça, s'il vous plaît
How do you French? Comment dit-on...en Français?


One Une/un
Two Deux
Three Trois
Four Quatre
Five Cinq
Six Six
Seven Sept
Eight Huit
Nine Neuve/neuf
Ten Dix


Stop Arrêtez
Watch out Faites attention
Help Aidez-moi
Fire Feu
Leave me alone Laissez moi tranquille
Call the police Appelle la police
I need a doctor J'ai besoin d'un docteur

Other Essentials

Yes Oui
No Non
Maybe Peut être
I don't know Je ne sais pas
How much? Combien?
How do I get to...? Comment puis-je aller à…?
Where are the toilets? Où sont les toilettes?