Languages in South Africa

There are 11 official languages in South Africa: English, Afrikaans and the nine indigenous languages: isiZulu, isiXhosa, isiNdebele, siSwati, Setswana, Xitsonga, Sepedi, Tshivenda and Sesotho.

Use of Languages in South Africa

English is the most commonly spoken language in official and commercial public life. However, English is only the fifth most spoken home language representing a mere 9.6% of the population.

Afrikaans is the second most spoken language in South Africa.  The language is only 90 years old, it is officially the youngest language in the world.

Zulu is the most commonly spoken mother tongue (22.7% ), followed by isiXhosa (16%) then Afrikaaans (13.5%), Sesotho sa Leboa (7.6%),  English (9.6%) and the remaining six languages. Figures according to the SA Census 2011.

South African English

South African creativity has developed its own version of English which combines the influences of the many other languages spoken in the country such as Xhosa, Zulu or even French, Portuguese and German.

The traditional Oxford Dictionary incorporated many South African words which have become common usage, such as kraal (village of huts) and trek (travel by ox-wagon).

Over the years, South Africans have developed their own South African way of speaking and there are many words which are unique to South Africa as you can see below.

Typical South African Slang


  • You are totally outraged or surprised .... jislaaik
  • You want to express how nice something is .... lekker
  • You want to say “what ever” ...jawelnofine
  • You hurt yourself  ..... eina
  • You are not sure what to answer....Ja nee
  • You want to say everything is good and in order... shap shap
  • You want to express surprise or disbelier ....eish


  • Babbelas: meaning a hangover
  • Bliksem: to punch someone or as an expression of surprise
  • Dinges: thingamabob, a wotzit or a whatchamacallit
  • Howzit: how is it going? How are you?
  • Jol: to have fun or a party
  • Nooit: never, no way, unbelievable!
  • Voetsek: go away

The 'Living in South Africa' book includes three comprehensive pages of typical South African Slang words.

 A listing of South African Slang words can also be found here.

Wise Words

No matter what your language, let us always remember the quote from Nelson Mandela: 

'If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.'

Read some amazing facts even most South Africans won't know here.

Looking for more info on languages in South Africa?

To learn more about this awesome country and its friendly people, make sure to get our handbook which you also can order from us directly.

If you are interested in more in-depth, well-researched, up-to-date information and more South Africa facts:

Order your copy of the Living in South Africa guidebook directly from us. Now available as softcover and eBook.


This post was shared by Derryn on SMILE 90.4fm Thursday breakfast show with Bobby Brown and Tracey Lange. For more of Derryn's weekly Awesome South Africa insights, tune into SMILE 90.4 fm every Thursday morning at 7.10am or listen via live streaming. Courtesy of Awesome South Africa


Image credits for Languages in South Africa page:, SATourism and own images

Return from Languages in South Africa to Basic Facts

Back to Living in South Africa Homepage

Share this page:
Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Your book is fabulous. It will be of great benefit to any inbound expat to the country.
~ Alta McMaster, Global Mobility Manager, PwC

Recent Articles

  1. Events in March: What to do and what to see in March 2020

    Mar 02, 20 09:11 AM

    Read about our favourite events in March 2020 and enjoy living in South Africa

    Read More

  2. South Africa Food Festivals | Food & Wine | Expo | Shows | Events 2020

    Jan 14, 20 05:57 AM

    South Africa food festivals are a heaven for foodies, gourmets and all who enjoy good food and drink

    Read More

  3. Events in January 2020: What to do and what to see in South Africa

    Jan 13, 20 03:27 AM

    Find here the best Events in January 2020 when visiting or living in South Africa

    Read More

South Africa Facts

  Culture Guide    

Provinces Overview

    City Portraits     

Travel to South Africa - Image by aero ikarus/wikipedia


doctor, image by Shutterstock

    Daily Living      

Jobs in South Africa

   Work & Study    

Image by Shutterstock

    Things to do     

image by Shutterstock

    Helpful Hints     

What's New? 

Get your FREE

Enjoy Living in South Africa 


Subscribe here:

E-mail Address
First Name

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Lekker Living in South Africa.

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter