Marvin couldn’t help but smile when he read young Dane’s essay in which he explains that he had seen a suspicious car “there under.” He was busy making English essays when he came across this direct translation from his learner’s native Afrikaans. Such errors are a natural occurrence when one is speaking a tongue foreign to you, as you may first be formulating your thoughts in your mother tongue and then translating them into a second language, such as Afrikaans. The most difficult thing to do, is to imagine your brain as a blank slate onto which this new language has to be written, along with its different word order, spelling, grammar and idiom.

How to Get Started

Uit die staanspoor, (one of many Afrikaans phrases meaning from the very start or the get-go), an almost peerless way to improve your skills in Afrikaans is to work with a native Afrikaans-speaker.

If you choose to immerse yourself in the Afrikaans language by spending time with a family, you would not only be learning and utilising the language daily, but also learning interesting ways in which Afrikaans is used by first-language speakers as well as their traditions, customs, cuisine and dress code. Initially, observing them run over words at a canter or gallop may be intimidating. However, with the passing of time, with encouragement from your hosts, you will soon be joining in full and, hopefully, fluent, intelligible conversation. This is a very good way to learn Afrikaans, as you will be working with a family which also speaks English and is very conversant with Afrikaans and many of its intricacies.

Another brilliant way, of gaining traction in Afrikaans, is to work closely with a native Afrikaans speaker in a method called language exchange. In this approach, half the time is spent speaking your mother tongue and the other half is spent using the mother tongue of your partner. In this way, you are learning Afrikaans, for example, while you’ll be helping your partner acquire English.

red vintage radio
Consider listening to Afrikaans radio stations to increase your daily exposure to the language. - Source: Pixabay

Watch Afrikaans Films and Series

A wonderful way to expose yourself to Afrikaans, in a non-threatening way, is to watch Afrikaans news, movies and soapies. You can always check your understanding of the news by watching it with a native speaker or by checking the English news later on. You could also copy down new words you’ve heard and check them out in your tweetalige or verklarende woordeboek.

Many Afrikaans soapies carry sub-titles which would help your interpretation of whatever situation is playing itself out on “the box”. Viewing movies and soapies or other series can be used to inform the way you utilise Afrikaans in a formal, as opposed to, an informal setting. There are a number of Afrikaans soapies on air, either on the free-to-air format or via a subscription service. Either way, you’ll be able to view and hear spoken Afrikaans daily, generally displaying a very good use of the language in day-to-day settings. You can, additionally, tune your radio in to one of a number of Afrikaans radio stations and listen at home, in your car or even on your phone. This is a great way to stay up to date with what’s happening in the world, in a totally different format!

Read to Write

Indisputably, the basis for a lot of learning is reading. This is why looking for information is called research (re-search). Generally, before the advent of the Internet, people did research by scouring through volumes of books and encyclopaedias.  Even in our modern age of technology, many students can still be encountered poring over volumes of books in libraries. Reading is an invaluable skill which has an undeniable impact on the learning of any subject – even maths has a reading component.

As soon as you start reading you will be faced with Afrikaans spelling, which generally, is not difficult or complicated. For the most part, words are spelled, more or less, in the way they are spoken. Certain letters take on a different sound when they have a caret above them. An example of this is the “ê” as found in the words (pronunced like share without the “h”) and (as in lair... not liar). Others announce the introduction of a separate sound within the word, as in geëet (ge – eet) and voël (pronounced “foo”+ “will”). These little idiosyncrasies will, in due course, become second nature to you as you progress through your learning material with greater confidence every day.

The more one reads, the quicker and deeper your understanding of texts in all their different formats: books, newspaper articles, documents, contracts, advertisements, etc.

So, too, will it influence your writing immeasurably as words, ideas, idioms, writing style and sequencing of ideas will readily spring to mind. You would have become wired to write!

Read Newspapers and Magazines in Afrikaans

A great springboard would be to start reading Afrikaans magazines, – the Huisgenoot, Sarie, Rooi Rose and Weg! – newspapers and novels. Here, again, you are exposed to writing which will influence yours in one way or another. Once you have decided on a magazine, you will be drawn to a particular writer and/or the particular topic they tend to write about and possibly their writing style.

This will encourage you to stay the course and complete reading the entire article or series of articles. We would suggest that you have a tweetalige woordeboek (bilingual dictionary) at hand. Of course, nowadays, many publications can also be accessed online, facilitating the enjoyment of magazine and newspaper articles wherever you have cell-phone reception.

Read Novels and Poetry

If you have a smattering of Afrikaans as a background, you may want to delve deeper into the treasure trove of Afrikaans literature available: novels, poetry, prose and drama.

Poetry, with is rhythm and rhyme, casts a quick spotlight on the use of the language, in that it is much shorter than a novel, drama or biography. The light, of course, can shine with quite a great intensity as the poet plays either with words or with their multiple meanings and/or inferences. The type of poem – serious, fun, historical – can be chosen on the basis of what you feel you would like to engage in at that particular point. All in all, this will prove to be another wonderful way to engage with what is regarded as the youngest official language in the world.

neat row of books in library
There are many great Afrikaans books to delve into. - Source: Unsplash

Once you have achieved a greater deal of proficiency in Afrikaans, you can advance to reading more voluminous texts. Afrikaans has many great writers, some of whom have received legendary status in the country, given the fact that many of them have been studied by learners at schools for close on to 100 years, at least. They are also proudly quoted by Afrikaners, who are very passionate about their language, culture and traditions. Great Afrikaans books have been authored by the likes of N.P. van wyk Louw (Raka), Dalene Matthee (Fiela se Kind) and Deon Meyer (Ikarus and Onsigbaar). They head up a list of distinguished writers who have achieved great literary recognition in South Africa and even abroad.

You will find that these writers have excelled at crafting poetry, novels as well as short stories, as in the case of S.J. Naudé, whose debut publication, Alfabet van die Voëls, achieved critical acclaim, as did his novel Die Derde Spoel (The Third Reel). As indicated, this last-mentioned text is written in both English and Afrikaans and, if one has a mind to, could be read concurrently, the English version casting light and translation on the Afrikaans.

Writing in Afrikaans

You are now ready to start composing texts in Afrikaans, having immersed yourself, through reading, in the warmth, rhythm, vocabulary and idiom of the language. You would also have encountered different writing styles and may have started to gravitate towards the style of one or more of your now-favourite authors.

A fun way to get started would be to write notes or little poems to friends and Afrikaans-speakers you know. Their responses would soon indicate to you how quickly your learning is progressing, or not.

A good way to start is to write an Afrikaans letter to your tutor, a friend or a colleague, who can then critique your rendition objectively (at least ask them to). They will then be able to advise you on how to set out the letter and the correct language to use when greeting a male or female addressee.

arrangement of brightly coloured magazines
You can easily access Afrikaans magazine articles in hard copy or on your smartphone. - Source: Pixabay

Further, they will also guide you, in terms of how to close your letter. You will also receive guidance on how to structure a friendly (personal) letter as opposed to a business letter. This would be an excellent way to start off your first ventures into the world of writing in Afrikaans as your texts do not have to be lengthy and you would have some knowledge of letter-writing from doing so at school in your mother tongue. This exercise should definitely prove to be a confidence booster! Another interesting way to get started is to try your hand at poetry.

Longer texts, like essays, can now be attempted. Here, at least, you can fall back on the skills you employed in creating texts in your home language. Utilise those skills to plan your essay so that there is a wonderful, fluid flow to your composition (pardon the pun). Now the idioms, turn of phrase and Afrikaans vocabulary you have gleaned from your listening, reading and viewing will all come into play and flavour your writing in your own inimitable (onnavolgbaar) way.

There is no doubt that co-operation with a skilled tutor, knowledgeable in Afrikaans, will, no doubt, soon have you on a star-ward bound trajectory! Superprof have wonderful, highly skilled tutors who can help you on your way. Simply visit their website to set you off on the right foot. Voorwaarts!

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