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

WHAT TO SAY WHEN ...

  • 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

NO ONE SAYS IT QUITE LIKE AN AFRIKAANER

  • 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.

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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

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


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