Nobody likes being left in the dark, right?

This is especially true when everyone around you is having such a good time that it sounds like a party. You catch a word or two, but can’t make head or tail as to what is so funny! That’s when you know that it’s time to enrol for a course to learn to speak Afrikaans.

Where to Start?

So, where do you start? The first thing, a learner of any new language has to do, is to try to speak the language as often as possible. That means, in a sense, wiping the slate clean, ‘forgetting’ your mother tongue. You may be lucky to remember particular words, but the real skill is to string words together in a sentence that makes sense to your listeners.

Tenses, syntax, number, gender and prepositions can all contrive to make absolute nonsense of the idea you are trying to formulate. Additionally, it's not always a good idea to translate English to Afrikaans. The word order does not always follow in the same way as it does in English. This is particularly true when ideas are stated in the past or future tenses.

 

TenseSentence StructureExample Sentence
PresentSubject + Verb + ObjectHy skop die bal.
PastSubject + "het" + Object + "ge"-VerbHy het die bal geskop.
FutureSubject + "sal" + Object + VerbHy sal die bal skop.

So, while the present tense would be formulated in the same way as one would in English, the latter two tenses are somewhat different. This is where daily practice, repetition and working with a native speaker are going to be key.

So, how to learn Afrikaans is really going to be up to you, your particular learning style and your personality. The wise thing to do would be to engage the help of a tutor. A skilful, native Afrikaans speaker will guide your through the correct use of the language as well as the many pitfalls you might fall prey to. He or she will put you in a good position by helping you build your vocabulary, enhance your ability to conduct coherent conversations and bring your writing skills to a functional, if not competent level.

What Goal Do You Want to Achieve?

Your ultimate goal will be a determining factor, in terms of what level of intervention is required. At the very start, your tutor will conduct some sort of test to assess whether you’re an absolute novice, or a learner who is at an intermediate or an advanced level. This information will then be used to structure a curriculum or learning plan to help you advance systematically.

There are a number of ways that you can take your own learning forward, as well. You can, for example:

  1. Set learning goals. Decide what you want to achieve and in what time-frame. Be realistic about those goals.
  2. Start to speak Afrikaans every day. Practice makes perfect, right?
  3. Create a support group which will keep you on track, encouraging you to speak Afrikaans whenever you’re with them.
  4. Listen to Afrikaans radio stations.
  5. Create a playlist of Afrikaans music.
  6. Watch Afrikaans movies. You will be surprised at how many good ones there are.
  7. Start reading Afrikaans books. Your tutor will guide you in terms of the level of difficulty to pitch at.
  8. Make your activities enjoyable.
girls laughing
Find a language buddy to make fast progress in Afrikaans. - Source: Unsplash

Most Frequent Errors to Avoid When Speaking Afrikaans

One of the most common errors that people make is to translate directly from English into Afrikaans. For instance, “What is the time?” when translated directly would be said or written as, “Wat is die tyd?” This is incorrect as this is one occasion where the Afrikaans version of the statement bears no resemblance to its English counterpart. The correct way to say it is, “Hoe laat is dit?”

Another example is the question “What is your name?”. Although it can be translated to “Wat is jou naam?”, a more grammatically correct version would be “Hoe heet jy?” which is totally different. Again, here is an occasion where the guidance of a native speaker would make a significant difference.

To be respectful, Afrikaners (as Afrikaans speakers are sometimes called) would not always use the normal pronoun jy (you) when referring to a senior at work or an older adult, like a grandfather. The term used would be U. For example, they would say “Kan ek u pla?” when asking “May I disturb you?” A further example of this would be “Het u my boodskap gekry?” (Have you received my message?)

Of course, the aim of learning Afrikaans is to speak it. This highlights the importance of not only correct usage of said language, but also the correct pronunciation of words. My pen is in my hand is written the same in both English and Afrikaans, with only the word pen being pronounced the same. Here, reading aloud to a native speaker would be helpful – a skill to be practised daily!

It would be important to learn the alphabet in Afrikaans and, even more important, to learn the sound that letters make singly or when in groups. Below is a guide* to the pronunciation of some letters and sounds commonly encountered.

 

Letter/SoundSounds like … (in English)Afrikaans word example
au in cupkap
aau in cup but longer like aahdaad
aaiy in whylaai
chsh in shotChina/Sjina
dt in hatbed
ee in angelbevat
êai in hairhê/sê
eeee in deereen
eë/iëea in fear pronounced as two soundsleër/vliër
eeuew in fewleeu
eiay in playseil
euee in deer with pouted lipsdeur
ggutteral sound like ch in lochgeld
iei in sicksiek
jy in youjaar
knas c in cat + n in noknoop
ngng in singvang
oo in fort but shorteroggend
ooy in boypotjie
ôau in causemôre
oe in doervermoë
rr in dairy, but lightly rolledduiker
tjch in chunktjank
uiay in play but longer with pouted lipslui
uuee in breed but with lips poutedduur
vf in funvul
wv in visitwater
yay in playyster

*When the sound made is the same as in English, it has not been included.

Terminology When Writing

When writing, a very interesting phenomenon is that a single idea is written as a single word. Some very long words have come about because of this. A bathroom window would be written as badkamervenster. This rule is, of course, very helpful when writing, but would not really be noticed when speaking.

The Total Book of South African Records reflects the following word as the longest word in Afrikaans: Tweedehandsemotorverkoopsmannevakbondstakingsvergaderingsameroeperstoespraakskrywers -persverklaringuitreikingsmediakonferensieaankondiging.

It contains 136 letters and means "issuable media conference's announcement at a press release regarding the convener's speech at a secondhand car dealership union's strike meeting”. Now that’s a mouthful, don’t you think?

Words, used when writing formal letters or emails, are poles apart from their English equivalents.

  • Dear Sir would be written as Geagte Heer
  • Dear Madam as Geagte Dame
  • Yours truly as Die uwe
  • The Manager as Die Bestuurder
  • Someone acting in a particular capacity would be referred to a die Agerende Bestuurder (acting manager)
  • The Editor would be addressed as Die Redakteur.

Another interesting feature is that in Afrikaans the first line of the address in a letter is written back to front, in a sense. 149 Jacaranda Street will be written as Jacarandalaan 149.

Learn these protocols to bring you writing to a level which is acceptable, if not flawless and surprise your Afrikaans-speaking colleagues and friends.

“We are going to the beach tomorrow” is transcribed as “Môre gaan ons strand toe”.  This is because Afrikaans sentences are sequenced according the rule which says Tyd, wyse, plek (Time, manner, place) and, so, your direct translation from English would come across as very lopsided. Similarly, “I am going to the shop now” would translate to Ek gaan nou winkel toe.

Let’s Add in a Musical Spin

If it is your aim to learn Afrikaans on a conversational level, then a great and relaxing way to learn the language would be to listen to Afrikaans music. It would be very beneficial if you were to create an Afrikaans playlist that you could listen to as you commuted to and from work. That would be great in a car, as you could be belting out the lyrics without too many bemused stares.

Afrikaans music has many hangers-on and for good reason. The lyrics are very often, well-constructed and the musical compositions are, generally, very good. Some of the vocals are also exceptional. You will be spoilt for choice. Your selection will range from the serious and evocative Kaal Voor Jou by Christa Visser, to the lighter Ek Ruil Jou vir My by Karlien van Jaarsveld to the fun Lekkerder op My Trekker by Brendan Peyper.

Some of the songs have repetitive lyrics which will help you practise in an easy, fun way. You could pretty soon be belting out the lyrics of one of these or dancing and singing to the grinding sounds of Leeuloop (by Robbie Wessels). Watch the videos and soon you’ll be repeating "tennisballe, krieketballe, snoekerballe as jy wil … Solank jy net leeuloop."

Words like geleidelik, verleidelik and verduidelik will suddenly be part of your daily Afrikaans vocabulary. Just take careful note of how you walk! One thing is sure, this is one lekker Afrikaans song to add an element of fun to your learning of the language.

radio on outside table
Listen to Afrikaans music to improve your vocabulary. - Source: Unsplash

What Makes Afrikaans a Great Language to Learn?

What’s great about Afrikaans is that it’s an uncomplicated language. The table below sets out how simply the tenses are applied, no matter how the number of the subject (noun) changes.

 

EnglishAfrikaans
I am tired.Ek is moeg.
He/She is tired.Hy/Sy is moeg.
We are tired.Ons is moeg.

Your progress through the language should be quite swift as there are far fewer grammatical rules to memorise than in many other languages.

A verb is a verb, period!

The same rule applies no matter what tense is used. In the future tense the verb sal is used (Ek sal moeg wees; Hy sal moeg wees; Ons sal moeg wees). In the past tense the sentences will read: Ek was moeg; Hy was moeg; Ons was moeg.

There are also very simply only three tenses: present, past and future (Teenwoordige-, verlede- and toekomende Tyd). So, there is no tangling with the perfect and the continuous tenses as are encountered in a language like English. In all, English has twelve tenses including monstrous ones like the present perfect continuous tense. What a mouthful! Very differently, Afrikaans tenses, in particular, fit the K.I.S.S. way of thinking: keep it simple, stupid! New learners soon appreciate this simplicity!

Greetings and Other Everyday Sayings

Below are Afrikaans greetings and common sayings that are important for you to know. The pronunciation of each term is shown in brackets.

  • Hello - Hallo (hah-low)
  • Good evening - Goeienaand (gwee-uh-naand)
  • Good afternoon - Goeiemiddag (gwee-uh-muh-dach)
  • Good day - Goeiedag (gwee-uh-dach)
  • Hoe gaan dit? (hoo gahn duht) - How are you?
  • Goed, en met jou? (goot ehn meht yoe) - Fine, and you?
  • Goed dankie (goot dung-key) - Fine thanks.
  • My naam is ... (may nahm uhs ...) - My name is ...
  • Asseblief (ah-suh-bleef) - Please
  • Dankie (dung-key) - Thank you

These are a good way to start off when meeting someone. They are merely introductions and are not to be regarded as actually being a conversation. They will express to your conversation partner that you are willing to do the hard work in terms of learning his or her mother tongue.

Let’s Eat

When deciding on a meal you will have to choose between kitskos (fast food) and 'n restaurant ete (meal). It would be nice if you addressed the waiter (kelner) in the following way: Bring asseblief vir ons 'n bottel rooi wyn.

When ready to order : Ek wil graag die hoender bestel, asseblief. At fish shop you would order vis en slap tjips (fish and chips), met sout en asyn, asseblief (with salt and vinegar, please.).

When ordering a burger, you could choose between hoender (chicken) or beesvleis (beef), met of sonder kaas (with or without cheese). Your drink you could order sonder ys (without ice).

At the local store, where you order across the counter, the polite way to ask for an item would be: Mag ek ‘n pakkie skyfies kry, asseblief? (May I get a packet of chips please?)

At the filling station or garage, you may ask the attendant to fill the tank or to provide 300 rands worth of fuel. Maak die tenk vol, asseblief or Kan ek drie honderd rand brandstof kry asseblief. In real life, most people simply say drie honderd rand, asseblief, since petrol is the only thing you buy there, other than diesel and oil.

Apps to Help You Along

man using smartphone
- Source: Unsplash

On the Internet, there are a number of applications or sites that you could use in your study of Afrikaans. The most popular of these are Babbel, Duolingo, Mondly, Memrise and Rosetta Stone, to name a few. They are listed in no particular order as each one has its own particular strengths and weaknesses (dislikes amongst users). One may be good for a school-like kind of experience, another may be good for studying multiple languages, still another will help you learn to speak a new language casually.

One set of learning software is great at providing exposure to grammar, another is reputed to have the best free course software, while another is regarded as the best to assist with cultural immersion. There’s even an app that’s rated as the best for learning on the go. Also note that while some apps attach a fee to the provision of their services, quite a number are free (gratis). Check these out, speak to people, until you find the one that suits your needs! And, get clicking!

How Much Time Do I Need to Learn Afrikaans?

It is important to remember that native speakers of a language spent many years learning and growing along with their knowledge of their mother-tongue. That is why, it will take quite a bit of time, months or maybe a year or longer, for you to develop an acceptable level of proficiency in Afrikaans.

Once again, the level you want to achieve, will be determined by what your original goal is or was. A level, which can assist you get by on a day-to-day basis, is not going to take very long to achieve. Full proficiency, however, is going to take much longer and is going to require dedication, determination, discipline and a never-say-die attitude.

If you’re aiming for proficiency, be prepared to dedicate at least 30 minutes per day to private study/practice, as you would when learning to play a musical instrument.

This short period won’t tire you and may help you stay with the programme and encourage regular, ongoing study!

Also, know that there are several tutoring platforms who have a selection of tutors available, who are geared up to assist you. They’re eagerly waiting for you to make contact with one of them. On Superprof, the first lesson is generally free, so why not give one of the tutors a shot?

Jy wil mos nie jou geld mors nie! Né?

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Trevor

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