With 11 official languages, South Africa is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world. The official languages of this country, as identified by the Constitution, are: Zulu, English, Afrikaans, Swati, Northern Sotho, Venda, Tswana, Ndebele, Xhosa, Sotho, and Tsonga. This linguistic policy recognizes the ethnic diversity within this country and works to promote the use of these languages. The most widely spoken native language here is Zulu, which belongs to Niger-Congo language family. English is the principal language of government and media.

Zulu is the most widely spoken native language in South Africa, with 22.7% of the population reporting it as their first language. English is also understood by a large percentage of the people living here, particularly in urban areas, but it is considered the native language of only 9.6% of the population. The second most widely spoken native language is Xhosa, with 16% of the population claiming it as their first language. This is followed by: Afrikaans (13.5%), Northern Sotho (9.1%), Tswana (8%), Sotho (7.6%), Tsonga (4.5%), Swazi (2.5%), Venda (2.4%), and Ndebele (2.1%).

Since English is so widely understood and used, having a basic understanding of this language is usually enough for most travelers. Some of the phrases, however, are unique to South Africa. For example, saying “just now” means that somebody will do something immediately. Saying “sharp” is similar to saying goodbye or that everything is going really well. Learning some Zulu phrases may also come in handy when traveling to South Africa. These phrases include: akubehkule (cheers or thanks), indaba (a conference), laduma (the crowd’s cheer after a soccer goal is made).

Because of the South African government’s attempt to include all cultures and their languages in the Constitution, very few minority languages are spoken here that are not considered official. In fact, only around 2% of people in this country have a native language that is not recognized as official. Some of the indigenous minority languages spoken here include: Northern Ndebele, Lobedu, Fangalo, and Phuthi. Other minority languages are those used by immigrant communities. Some of the most common of these include: Italian, French, German, Dutch, Hindi, Greek, Tamil, and Urdu.

This page was last modified on May 1st, 2018

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