The Sahel is the semi-arid region just to the south of the Sahara. The term derives from the Arabic term for "shore" (as in southern "shore" of the Sahara). As a climatic region its exact boundaries are subjects of debate, but it is generally accepted as covering all or parts of: Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, and as far east as Sudan.

Linguistically, the region is somewhat less complex than regions to its immediate south, with large populations over wide areas speaking at least one of several languages as mother tongues or second languages, roughly west to east: Wolof; Fula (several varieties across the region); Arabic (several varieties, notably in Mauritania, Chad, and Sudan, not counting use as a language of religion throughout the region); Tamashek dialects (mainly northern Mali and Niger); Manding (notably Mandingo, Malinké, Bambara, Jula); Moore; Songhay and Zarma; and Hausa.

Some of these languages have been the focus of "Cross-border vehicular language" working groups set up by ACALAN.

In discussions of possible standardised keyboard layouts for groups of African languages, one idea was for a "Pan-Sahelian" layout (or set of layouts for QWERTY? and AZERTY) covering the characters use in orthographies of the abovementioned languages.