If you have joined the growing crowd of individuals who are learning Afrikaans, then ‘Well done’ to you. You may have signed up for conversational classes at a school or a private institution or enrolled for an online course, of which there are many.

In recent times, more high-school learners have migrated towards the learning of Afrikaans as a second language, as they deem it easier to learn than some of South Africa's indigenous languages, a fact that can be attested to by anyone who has ever attempted to read or write anything in a language, for example, like isiXhosa.

Learning to speak Afrikaans can be very beneficial as Afrikaans is widely spoken throughout South Africa. It is regarded by many as an easy language to learn, is a language used in business and has many adherents who love the way it rolls off the tongue. Afrikaans-speakers are able to enjoy drama, music (musiek), poetry (poësie), literature (literatuur), drama, TV-series (TV-reekse), magazines (tydskrifte), newspapers (koerante/nuusblaaie) and nowadays, websites (webwerwe).

For many learners of a foreign language, like Afrikaans, the experience is instructional rather than merely a pastime or hobby. People start to experience the world in a totally different way, having to carefully consider what they’re saying and, in particular, their choice of words. This activity, the learning of Afrikaans, is an activity which may open up major opportunities for the student, such as better job prospects or advancement at work and, also, serve to expand your social circle.

There are also added benefits to learning how to speak Afrikaans.

You will relate to Afrikaans-speakers in a whole new way and gain an understanding for the way the look at things (get a better idea of their world-view). Also, you may gain a greater understanding of world history and culture. Since it is a language which has its origins elsewhere, it may also facilitate the learning of languages such as French, German and English… even Indonesian and Malay (spoken by millions in the Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sumatra and a large number of surrounding islands).

two young woman revising
Some Afrikaans words, and the guttural "g" sound can be tricky to pronounce. - Source: Pexels

As stated earlier, many school-goers as an additional language, because they regard it as an easy language to learn. A large number of Afrikaans instructors, teachers or lecturers will be university- or college qualified graduates. As a minimum, your teacher will be a native speaker who has been immersed in the language, its history and supporting culture. An Afrikaans Second Language teacher would, no doubt, also be a wonderful resource, because their experience of learning the language ‘from the outside’ may closely be aligned to yours.

While many people believe that Afrikaans is, not only a beautiful language, but one that is easy to learn, it is important to note that, for you to get a good grounding in Afrikaans, is going to require you to be focused and disciplined, while following a programme of systematic, daily practice.

A skilled Afrikaans teacher will assess your needs and devise a structured programme tailor-made for you.

It is, therefore, important for you to pay careful attention to mistakes which learners of Afrikaans can typically make. Making a note of these and practising daily, so as to avoid repeating these errors, will help to keep you motivated and directed or focused.

To gain a good grasp of Afrikaans, you will spend quite a bit of time working on improving your listening, speaking and writing skills. A good ear will improve your pronunciation of words and aid your reading progress. Very importantly, if the strategies, that you follow, focus on eliminating common errors, your advancement towards becoming bilingual will be accelerated.

So, whether you’re an accomplished Afrikaans learner or a rookie, you must remain disciplined and focused on mastering your lessons on a daily basis. If a particular aspect is concerning or lacking to you, get some help immediately. A tutor or learning programme that is diverse and utilises various techniques, which are specifically directed towards students learning Afrikaans as a second language, will benefit you tremendously.

Your key objective is to eliminate making the same mistakes, over and over again. Someone once teasingly said: “As I get better, I will improve.” With hard work, focus and dedication, you will.

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What Lies Behind the Mistakes that Language Students Make?

Learning to speak Afrikaans, as with other languages foreign to you, is not without its pitfalls. In fact, making mistakes is part of your learning landscape or ‘necessary hiccups’ that a learner of a foreign language must expect. Learners of a new language will make mistakes and below are some of the main reasons for them.

Not all people are born talkative. Thus, some may be reticent and nervous to speak in public. Most people also fear making mistakes and that anxiety can lead to them making more mistakes.

  • If you’re someone who is conversant in multiple languages, you may find that you sometimes mix up languages while attempting to attain fluency in Afrikaans.
  • Honestly, who enjoys learning grammar? Afrikaans grammar is considered easy. However, your grounding in your home language can interfere with your making sense of how best to express your thoughts in Afrikaans.
  • Learners of Afrikaans may struggle with word order, especially, when speaking or writing in the past or future tense as the verb is separated from its auxiliary (helping) verb by several words, which may not be the case in the student’s home language (e.g. Sy het winkel toe gegaan; the verb being het gegaan = went).
  • Afrikaans can come across as very guttural, so pronunciation is oftentimes a problem for anyone used to speaking a non-Germanic language.
  • It is of vital importance that you practise the use of Afrikaans every day. This is vital to ground the grammatical features of the language in your mind. Daily listening, reading, speaking and writing activities will help you to consolidate these interwoven aspects of the language.

Above are outlined only some of the reasons that an Afrikaans second language learner may make mistakes. The discipline of daily revision and practise is extremely important, because you are actually rewiring your brain to operate in a totally different way.

Dedication, discipline and focus are fundamental to your being successful. Any new activity is bound to have little things that trip you up. Go with the flow or better still - roll with the punches. Have some fun. Remember: you're learning something foreign (strange) to you - don’t let your mistakes define you.

How Should You Feel About Making Mistakes in Afrikaans?

Recognise your mistakes as necessary little hiccups on the journey towards proficiency in a new language!

We all make mistakes, right?

Or we take little missteps. Think back to when you were a little baby. You couldn’t walk, but were incredibly brave to attempt to – to leave behind your known way of doing things and try what the people around you were doing. You fell down any times – even hurt yourself – but that didn’t stop you. Furthermore, the people around you were supportive, assisted you, praised and loved you because of how brave you were to try. That same attitude needs to be rekindled and you will look back in pride at how far you’ve come in trying to learn Afrikaans, which may be totally different to your mother tongue!

"Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again." - Nelson Mandela

This is the attitude to adopt when you learn a new language or anything different. You have to positive, even about learning from your mistakes, and try not to repeat the same ones. Remember that a loser is someone who stops trying. So, stumble, many times, but don’t stop moving forward. The amount of growth achieved will be proportionate to the amount of effort you put in. So, once you’ve decided to get started, don’t look back, unless it is to fix the little mistakes that tripped you up. Grow by fixing them.

When learning Afrikaans, remember that pride comes before the fall. Relax, don’t be so tense and rigid. Have fun while you’re learning and tripping up. You’ll end up stronger and more resilient. Think about the analogy where you only learn to ride a bike by getting back onto it. Always know, very clearly, why you started to learn Afrikaans in the first place!

Afrikaans also has a great idiom to keep in mind:

Probeer maak die beste geweer. (Meaning: “Trying makes the best gun.”)

In essence, this means that you’ll never know if you’re able to hit a target, unless you actually shoot!

Before we get to the oft-repeated errors, let it firstly be said that listening to your target language is ultra-important. Listen to native speakers and, where possible, ‘shadow’ them. Shadowing entails working with a partner and repeating what they say. You can continue this practice by repeating what actors say on TV shows. However, this may be a bit challenging as they speak fast. Another great way, is to sing along to Afrikaans songs. Tuning in to an Afrikaans radio station will also aid you in your growth in the language. You may soon find that you’ve latched onto a particular radio personality, because of the way that they speak, or that you’ve started repeating a jingle or the words of an ad. Whatever floats your boat: geniet dit!

This brings us to the mistakes most often repeated by Afrikaans second language learners.

two young women reviewing documents
With practice, you can overcome Afrikaans spelling mistakes. - Source: Pexels

Grammatical Errors (Taalfoute)

1. Vocab and Grammar

Ditch the English! One of the worst things to do is to formulate your thoughts in English and then to translate directly into Afrikaans. This does work … at times. In many occasions, it is not the optimum thing to do, as syntax in Afrikaans can differ considerably from the English. “I am going to the shop” translates correctly as “Ek gaan winkel toe” not as “Ek is gaan toe die winkel.”Also, not all English words have a matching Afrikaans counterpart. School closely resembles skool, but winkel is nowhere close to shop.

So, do not assume that you can simply say that “Ek gaan nou my jersey aantrek”, because it’s called trui in Afrikaans. Having said that, nowadays, Afrikaans native speakers are more accommodating of English words which have somewhat become woven into their speech and is regarded as trendy by some. For example, speakers would refer to “die detail” of a project or say, “Dis ‘n nice plek om to besoek.” While acceptable in a social setting, it’s best to steer clear of this kind of anglisisme in academic settings, where you will be expected to clearly show your proficiency in the language.

There are, of course, some choice words which you can use quite acceptably in social settings:

 

English word (noun)Afrikaans word
Boot (of a car)kattebak
couchrusbank
reverse
-gear
-opposite

-trurat
-teenoorgestelde
jamkonfyt
lifthysbak/hyser
movierolprent/fliek
showvertoning/opvoering
chipsaartappelskyfies/skyfies

Plurals

In English, you can add an “s” to create a plural, in many cases (e.g. ball and balls; tree and trees). So too in Afrikaans, as in seun and seuns; meisie and meisies. However, in Afrikaans, an “s” can only be added to a small number of words. In many cases, the word has to be modified somewhat to create a plural. For example, the word boom would change markedly to its plural bome, as would oog toand oor to ore. Getting them wrong, e.g. booms for bome or oors for ore, would definitely created some mirthful moments among your Afrikaans-speaking friends.

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Mistakes in Pronunciation

Afrikaans pronunciation is vastly different to English is concerned. Words or sentences make resemble one another identically, but will sound totally different.

One of the main causes of this different sound is that distinctly pronounced “r” in Afrikaans.

Roll with the R

Afrikaans has a rolling “R”, like several other languages, including Arabic, Greek, Italian, Russian and Spanish.

The alveolar trill, or rolled R, is a consonant used that is used in a large number (40%) of languages around the globe. The sound is made in the following way:

  • Press your tongue lightly against the front edge of your palate.
  • The tongue tip should be close to your front teeth. However, it should not touch your teeth.
  • Try to say the word “train” while pushing air between tip of your tongue and your front palate.
  • Your tongue will contract slightly. It will also change shape and position. The experience of doing your first one will be trilling (pun intended).

At first, you may find that this is not an easy skill to master, but that will become easier with practice. The sound and experience of producing the trilled R is totally different to the softer-sounding English rolled R.

Initially, you will sound different to a native speaker, who will understand and admire your attempts to improve your pronunciation and sticking with it! Type Afrikaans tutor near me into a Google search to get informed support. You could also listen to recorded lessons on the Internet. Afrikaans lessons for beginners would also be beneficial.

Dipthongs

A dipthong can be defined as “a gliding vowel, a combination of two adjacent vowel sounds within the same syllable." Technically a dipthong is a vowel with two different targets, that is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel.”

There are a few diphthongs that second language Afrikaans learners may find difficult to pronounce:

 

Afrikaans dipthongEnglish translation
brûebridges
koeicow
deurdoor
seersore (a sore or something painful)
diethe/this
mooibeautiful
muur wall
mierant

A native Afrikaans-speaking tutor would be a great resource at this point. Regular, ongoing guidance from him or her would be priceless!

The Guttural G

One of the most difficult sounds to recreate, for most novices, is the “g” with its guttural sound. The Google dictionary describes this sound, called a fricative, as created by the friction of breath in a narrow opening (constricted throat), producing a turbulent airflow. The English word which sounds closest to it is the word “loch” in Loch Ness monster. It’s similar to the sound you would make when trying to eject a fishbone from your throat.

That’s right – you’ve made the sound and didn’t even know it!

Spelling Mistakes

Compound Words

In most cases, Afrikaans words are compounded, i.e. that when two or more words combine to make up one concept, they are generally written as one word. Examples of these are toon + nael make toonnael (toe nail); also, a long word like motor + werktuigkundige (motor mechanic) is spelled motorwerktuigkundige. When in doubt, write it as one word!

However, there are exceptions to this rule. Where the meaning of words would change when they are combined, the words are kept separate. Examples of these are mediese fonds (medical aid/fund) and skool visse (school or shoal of fish). Combining the last two words would cause the connotation that the fish are people in a school.

Other Common Spelling Mistakes

There are several other spelling mistakes which even native speakers make. You can make quite an impression among your Afrikaans-speaking friends when you display your first-class spelling skills.

Below follows a selection of often misspelt words, some borrowed from other languages:

 

Incorrect spellingCorrect spellingEnglish translation
agressieaggressieaggression
burgermeesterburgemeestermayor
deurgansdeurgaansthroughout
epose-posemail
geintereseerdgeïnteresseerdinterested
herinderherinnerremind
huistoehuis toe(in relation to) going home
interresantinteressantinteresting
onmiddelik onmiddellik immediately
waardeur waardeer appreciate

Don’t Stress Over Making Mistakes in Afrikaans

The sooner you realise that it's normal to make mistakes, the better. Nobel prize winners and children, apparently, have one thing in common: they refuse to let mistakes throw them off course! This makes sense if you consider how long it actually took you to learn your mother tongue before anyone (other than your mother) could make sense of what you were saying. However, you didn’t throw in the towel. You persevered and now you can speak your native language fluently.

If you struggle is still very real, then Afrikaans lessons for beginners would definitely help you.

man and woman working together at desk
Learn from your mistakes, and you will make progress in Afrikaans. - Source: Pexels

How to Avoid Making Embarrassing Afrikaans Mistakes

Be open to the influences of native speakers and qualified tutors and teachers who are willing to guide you. A seasoned tutor, in particular, will structure a graded course which is responsive to your needs.

Below are some avoidable slip-ups that students make when learning Afrikaans as a second language.

Not Making Listening Your Focus

Your first encounter with a language is aurally – you hear it. You will then firstly try to copy what you’ve heard by repeatedly saying or singing a word or a phrase, even if you don’t know the meaning. Je t’aime, que sera or livin la via loca come to mind. It is, therefore, very important to listen to native speakers doing there thing. If you can engage with one daily and that would really put your one a one-way course to success. This daily interaction, fine-tuning if you will, will help to boost your confidence as you receive positive feedback from your mentor. Also, make a daily habit of listening to Afrikaans music, radio stations, news broadcasts, TV shows and podcasts.

Trying to Learn Too Much Vocabulary

When faced with learning a new language you may feel intimidated and overwhelmed by what you may regard as a mammoth task. Yes, there are hundreds of words that you won’t know or what connotation to use certain words or phrases in. What is helpful is to know is that you don’t need to learn every word in your target language. In a large number of languages, you only really utilise around 300 words repeatedly in daily conversation. Thus, it is absolutely, not necessary to learn hundreds of words which you are not going to require to be able to interact meaningfully with Afrikaans-speakers.

Viewing Learning Afrikaans as a Chore

Have very clear in your mind why you initially set out to learn this new language. See it as a pleasurable experience in which you are achieving growth and, possibly, growing a new world-view, circle of friends and, even, a whole new lifestyle. You will keep your motivation levels high if you view this experience as one through which you learn more about the Afrikaans culture, make friends and start to understand Afrikaans TV shows, songs and movies. See it as opening up a new window on life.

The most difficult thing about learning to speak Afrikaans, is to remain consistent – consistent in learning and incorporating it into your life daily! Keep putting in the effort, especially when you get it wrong. You will find that, once your Afrikaans-speaking friends perceive how serious you are about learning their language, the floodgates of support will open … and you’ll never walk alone!

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Trevor

Career teacher turned writer. Passionate about family, running, and the great outdoors.