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South African Languages: The Basics

Last update on Aug. 2, 2013.

South African Languages: The Basics

When planning to visit another country, a lot of people like to familiarise themselves with the native language. Using at least the basics, such as ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, is seen as a respectful way of acknowledging the country that you’re visiting. Although English is understood throughout most of the tourist areas of South Africa, it is still a nice touch if you can utilise a few of the words during your stay. The country has a very complex system of languages and dialects, so it’s also a good idea to have a basic understanding of this. There are eleven official languages in South Africa. These are:

·      English

·      Afrikaans

·      Zulu

·      Venda

·      Southern Sotho

·      Northern Sotho

·      Xhosa

·      Tsonga

·      Swati

·      Ndebele

·      Tswana

During the first quarter of the 20th century, the two main languages were English and Dutch. Afrikaans, which is very similar to Dutch, took over as an official language in 1961 once South Africa became a republic. English and Afrikaans are the two West-Germanic languages spoken in the country, while the other nine are classified as Bantu languages.

While English is the main language used within the media and the government, only around 9% of South Africans actually speak it as their first language within their homes. The most commonly used language within the home is actually Zulu (used by 23%), followed by Xhosa (used by 16%) and then Afrikaans (14%).

Below are some of the most basic words in both Zulu and Afrikaans that can be used during your visit to the country 

Basic Phrases - Zulu

‘Hello’ – Sawubona

‘Goodbye / See you’ – Hamba kahle

‘Thank you’ - Bonga

Basic Phrases – Afrikaans

‘Hello’ – Hallo

‘Goodbye’ – Totsiens

‘Thank you’ - Dankie

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Claire Cavanagh

This article was written by: Claire Cavanagh

Claire is an experienced blogger with a keen interest in travel. She enjoys city breaks and seeking some sunshine. You can follow Claire Cavanagh on , Twitter and LinkedIn.

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