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Phrases You Need to Know Before Visiting South Africa


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Thalia O.

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South Africa Language, Travel Tips, Phrases To Learn

So you’ve already booked your flight to Cape Town or Pretoria? Well, you better arm yourself with a dictionary of the South African language. Or you can simply read on ’cause we’re giving you the phrases you need to know before you set foot on South African soil.


One thing you’ll surely encounter in your travels is the language barrier. That’s why many frequent travellers suggest learning a few key phrases in the language of the country you’re travelling to before even setting foot on their soil. Same goes if you’re planning to go to South Africa or any other country.


But before we get into the phrases, let’s talk about why learning a little of the native language is so important and just what language is spoken in South Africa.


Why Learn Key Phrases?

South African Phrases, South African Language, South Africa

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Doesn’t everyone speak English?! The short and very succinct answer to that is no.


Though many countries do teach it, English isn’t global language. Plus, many travellers find it rude to assume. Learning a few key phrases in the South African language can help you find places easier and it shows a level of respect for your host country.


This will go a long way to earning a little patience and understanding from the locals. It also feels good when you have finally conquered a phrase and are able to use it to get a task done. By learning a few phrases, you may find the locals more willing to help you out too.


Coupled with a meaningful understanding of charades, we can assure you that you’ll get exactly what you ask for, arrive at the right destination and won’t make anyone angry as you travel through their beautiful country.


What Language Do South Africans Speak?

South African Language, South Africa

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South Africa like many countries is a mix of cultures. This is apparent in the many languages that are spoken within its borders. The question which South African Language to speak then becomes an important one to ponder. Officially 11 different languages are spoken in South Africa.


These include English and Afrikaans, which is a derivation of Dutch, and several African languages like Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, Tsonga, N. & S. Sotho, Tswana, Nanda, and Swati. So, you can see that the South African language is quite intricate to manoeuvre.


Depending on the part of South Africa, you may find any number of combinations of the above languages spoken. The one thing you must keep in consideration is that the language of Afrikaans can be disrespectful in some neighbourhoods or parts of South Africa, so many people often suggest to simply stick with English.


But if you want to try your hand at one of the official languages then check out the phrases you need to know in the South African language, Afrikaans, that we have put together below.


What Is Afrikaans? Origins Of The Language


The South African language, Afrikaans, began with the Protestant settlers that found their way to the cape in the 1600s. Arriving there and settling as part of one of the largest trade routes at the time, the settlers soon found their way to colonisation. The language began to grow and add to the Dutch base words from both the African and Malay dialects of the region.


Most often you say the words phonetically as they are spelled. If you happen to speak German or Dutch, you should be able to acclimate to Afrikaans easily. Now let’s talk a little about communication etiquette before we break down those must-know phrases that’ll help your trip go smoothly.


Some Tips On Etiquette

Etiquette, South African Language, South Africa

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Besides learning the South African language, you also need to consider how your mannerisms and etiquette as you explore the country. Often times the etiquette you need to observe in any country is common sense. In South Africa, it’s no different.


To make sure you start out on the good foot, here are some of the dos and don’ts of communication. The first thing to know is that South Africans really put high regard on politeness and respect.


This means when someone greets you, you should great them back. No nodding or smiling. Make sure you give the reply in a worded acknowledgement.


So, if someone says “Hello, how are you?” Don’t give short or slang answers. Make sure it’s a full sentence and thought should be applied to your answer. 


You also need to understand that this country has had a turbulent past. If someone begins to discuss this, it’s polite and courteous to really show empathy and sympathy for the hard times they’ve been through. You should always pay attention and communicate face to face.


The South Africans are also very warming and hospitable. In order to not offend anyone, you should try to give it back as much as you can. When talking, make sure you don’t instigate a conversation about religion, politics, racism.


Phrases To Know 

South African Language, South Africa

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There are key phrases that every traveller should know when travelling. Below we have taken some of these and translated them from Afrikaans to English. By learning these phrases, you’ll be able to navigate, order and have some basic conversations with any locals you need to and feel a little more confident.


Here are 20 of the most needed phrases in Afrikaans:


1. Hello – Hallo (hal-low)

2. Thank you – Dankie (dahn-key)

3. Please – Asseblief (ah-she-bleef)

4. You’re Welcome – Plesier (pleh-seer)

5. Yes – Ja

6. No – Nee (knee-ah)

7. Good-bye – Totsiens (tot-seens)

8. Excuse me – Verskoon my (fer-skoen may)

9. My name is… – My naam is… (may naam iss)

10. Pleased to meet you – Aangename kennis (aan-he-naam-eh ken-nes)

11. Do you speak English? – Praat jy Engels? (praat yay enn-els)

12. What’s your name? – Wat is jou naam? (vat iss yo naam?)

13. How much does it cost? – Hoeveel kos dit? (who-feel kos dit?)

14. Where are the bathrooms? – Waar is die toilet? (vaar iss dee toy-let)

15. The menu, please – Die spyskaart asseblief (dee shpays-kart ah-she-bleef)

16. The check, please – Die rekening asseblief (dee reh-ken-ning ah-seh-bleef)

17. When does it open? – Wanneer maak dit oop? (van-near maak dit oo-ep)

18 When does it close? – Wanneer maak dit toe? (van-nee maak dit too)

19. Could you please talk more slowly? – Kan jy asseblief stadiger praat? (kan jay ah-she-bleef sta-de-her praat)

20. Could you repeat that, please? -Kan jy dit asseblief herhaal? (kan jay dit ah-she-bleef her-haal)


Many other phrases could be helpful on your trip to South Africa, but these are the bare necessities that’ll help you navigate these unfamiliar waters. By adding these phrases into your lexicon and not being afraid to ask someone if you don’t know how to say or what to say, you’ll find that your South African language dictionary will grow as you wander through this amazing country.


Where You Can Learn The Language?

South African Language, South Africa

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Besides learning the phrases above, if you have the time to learn this South African language then go ahead. Several online resources and even a few apps like Mondly has Afrikaans as a language choice.


You can also always head down to your local book store or check out their online shop and find a phrasebook you can carry with you. Heck, there are even YouTube channels that can help you out.


Final Thoughts…

South African Language, South Africa

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Armed with these phrases and an understanding of the South African language and culture, you’ll be well on your way to having an amazing adventure. Taking the time to learn key phrases and using them will allow you a level of connection with the locals that could bring you some unique and awe-inspiring opportunities you may not have received if you just rolled into the country expecting everyone to speak your language.


Plus, you may be able to make friends and grow your circle to include travellers from around the world. So, we hope that with the above key phrases guide with its English to Afrikaans translation, you’ll be able to enjoy and build unforgettable memories on your trip to South Africa.


Enjoy your trip to South Africa, and don’t be scared to try some of these phrases. Totsiens!


Use your new language tools and speak the South African language as you explore Cape Town, South Africa!