How does a person get started learning a new (foreign) language?

There is no one correct way! There will be always be “different strokes for different folks.”

Reading is not a bad way to begin. Your first exposure to Afrikaans may have been when you spotted a road sign or marking which you didn’t recognise like, Stadig or Lae Brug! It is at this point that your interest to learn the language may have been piqued.

For an English speaker, the learning of Afrikaans may appear daunting, especially when he or she considers the guttural way in which words are pronounced. The sounds created by the letters “g”  and “r” are heavily accentuated and may sound weird or funny to such a learner. The best way to get past this particular obstacle would be daily practice and, in a little while, you would have become more comfortable with the way you sound. At this point, a native speaker of the language is indispensable as a resource.

If you were to think about how to learn Afrikaans, I am sure that you would, inevitably, come to the conclusion that one of the best ways would be to work with a teacher who is a Afrikaans first language speaker.

But where should you begin?

There are two routes which you could follow; one being the informal route, the other being a formal, structured approach. The informal route would involve learning the Afrikaans language as you go about your day-to-day activities: house chores, travelling to and from work, learning during lunch breaks and during your leisure time. The other option would be to enrol for a course to learn the language either in person or remotely.

Informal Learning

Let’s start by listening!

Have you ever found yourself in a public space and thought, “I wonder what language they’re speaking?”

Another early encounter with a foreign language is often by hearing it spoken somewhere; a mall, supermarket, restaurant or on the beach. That is, sometimes, the first indicator that the speaker is a visitor, foreign to the place you’re in. This is precisely the position you are in: you’re either foreign to the place or have simply not endeavoured to speak Afrikaans before. Being amongst Afrikaans speakers every day is going to set you on an amazing trajectory once you start learning from them and imitating their speech (or their use of Afrikaans). You now need to fine tune the instruments at your disposal: yours ears and your voice. Together these two instruments can create wonderful harmonies, but, first, you must listen with great care!

Tune in to Afrikaans Music

Afrikaans music will really take you to the heart and soul of the language. Listening to it regularly will get you practising your speech in a relaxed, fun, non-threatening way, as you sing along to Jantjie Kom Huis Toe (Sonja Herold)  or really have fun with Leeuloop (Robbie Wessels). Many Afrikaans musicians have uploaded their work onto YouTube. You can join Karika as she rides the Riekie Tiekie Trein or enjoy simple kiddies’ videos like Bobbejaan Klim die Berg or Jan Pirrewiet. The repetitive nature of the lyrics will really make your learning fun.

Many South African songs are quite soulful, as you will find when you get into understanding the lyrics of songs like Tussen Treine (Lochner de Kok and Richard van der westhuizen) or the hauntingly beautiful Ek Wil Jou Ken (by Anneli van Rooyen).

silver and brown headphones on table
Have fun learning Afrikaans through music. - Source: Unsplash

Are there Afrikaans songs online? You bet your bottom dollar there are!  Besides just Afrikaans songs, you will discover that there are concerts which you can attend ‘virtually’ which host up to 20 different artists. This way you can enjoy an Inbly Konsert. This is, unfortunately, a concert which charges a fee, but it beats driving out to a concert, having to find parking and then having to deal with crowds of people. Right?

Learn Afrikaans by Watching Movies

Ramp up the rate at which you learn Afrikaans by watching Afrikaans movies!  Brilliant, right? No need for textbooks and various worksheets! You can learn the language while munching away at your bowl of popcorn. Bliss, for many. I’m sure!

So, how do you learn Afrikaans by simply watching movies?

Afrikaans movies allow you to see the language in action! You get to experience the language being used with gusto, grief, passion and excitement. Hopefully, you’ll soon start repeating your favourite lines aloud (think: "Ek wil jou ken; kom saam met my!”). If you have a play-back feature, you can, no doubt, replay your favourite set of lines over and over, while you attempt to enunciate them yourself. An added bonus with many films is sub-titles, where the lines are displayed on the screen in English, for example. This allows you to follow the story-line in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to (without the sub-titles). As you advance and become more confident in the use of the language, you can progress to watching your favourite movie without any sub-titles.

A real South African classic is the movie Fiela se Kind, which is based on a novel by the renowned Dalene Matthee. Based on a true story, it traces what happens to a white child raised by a ‘non-white’ family in the area of Knysna between !865 – 1885, and explores the themes of racial prejudice and intolerance: features key to an understanding of all that is South African.

Follow an Afrikaans Series on TV

If Afrikaans movies don’t catch your fancy, follow a series on TV.

Some are broadcast on free-to-air TV and some are on subscription channels, like DSTV, Netflix and the like. Programmes like 7de laan and Suid-Ooster have a large following and may soon have you ensnared. The language use is easy, not very complicated, and is supported by English sub-titles.

close up of television
Watching Afrikaans movies and tv shows are informal ways to build your Afrikaans vocabulary. - Source: Unsplash

Stuck for what to watch? Use the Internet to help you locate and identify the best Afrikaans series to watch. There is you will find a list which ranks some of them in terms of popularity. In the mix, you will come across series like Binnelanders, Getroud Met Rugby, Vetkoek Paleis and Orkney Snork Nie. You will soon be drawn in to the stories as they are either funny or have a good, solid and serious storyline. The sub-titles will keep you involved in case you lose track of what is happening in the story.

This is a nice and informal way to build your Afrikaans vocabulary, which you subsequently, have to try out on family, friends and colleagues. They will be amazed at the leaps and bounds you have made all on your own, because, hopefully, you’ll be using the words and phrases in their correct context.

Reading

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends:

They are most accessible and wisest of counsellors,

          And the most patient of teachers.” – Charles William Eliot

Another  sure-fire way to learn to speak Afrikaans is to read!

You will benefit no end by actively embarking on a reading journey which will expose you, at a deeper level to Afrikaans; its writers, stories, people and culture. There are many Afrikaans writers who are known across the world and many are renowned for having written captivating, enthralling stories. With a good dictionary by you side, you will not only plumb the depths of the South African narrative, but improve your Afrikaans vocabulary exponentially.

On a much lighter note, you can expose yourself to Afrikaans magazines. Huisgenoot is the magazine with the highest circulation in South Africa (2 million people read it every week). It is a family magazine of general interest. Choose the one you like from titles such as Weg!, Mense (Afrikaans version of People magazine),  Rooi Rose and Sarie.

If you don’t locate these in a store, browse for your favourite one online. Again, these magazines will expand your vocabulary and also expose you to all that Afrikaans speaker hold dear, such as kampeer en braai.

Attend the theatre. Well, it doesn’t have to be pure theatre! The new High Street Theatre, situated in Cape Town, presents mainly Afrikaans work, but includes a bit of cabaret. That sounds like a mixture of learning and chilling to me! So, if theatre is not really your thing, here would be a semi-theatrical setting where Afrikaans will be presented in a light-hearted and, possibly, funny, tongue-in-cheek way.

Some fun Afrikaans theatre is also on offer in shows such as Pille en Brille, Ai Meraai and Dot Serfontein Vertel. Be soon to take in one of these as you explore the South African cultural scene. You may just give your belly muscles a good work-out, bring down your overall stress levels and expand your Afrikaans vocabulary. You would also be immersed in your Afrikaans experience to a far greater degree due to this close interaction with people who live and breathe the language. Who knows; after the show you may be invited home to enjoy ‘n potjie or ‘n tjop en ‘n dop.

Speaking

shop sign in afrikaans and english
Practise speaking Afrikaans whenever you're out and about. - Source: Unsplash

If you consider yourself an absolute novice, kick off with very basic texts to help you learn a few key words and phrases, like, “Goeie more. Hoe gaan dit?” Your response, when asked this would be, “Met my gaan dit baie goed, dankie.” However, in the hurried and harried times we live in, people very often simply say, “Goed. Dankie.” For greater exposure to the language, respond in the longer format. It will sound good to the person addressed. S/he will appreciate you making the effort to speak his or her language properly! You know, there are purists everywhere!

All of the above can be considered informal Afrikaans courses as your learning will be casual, fun and, to a degree, not structured or formally crafted.

There will be many occasions when you will be called upon to translate English to Afrikaans. On these occasions, it would be good to have a reliable bilingual dictionary (tweetalige woordeboek) at hand. Another great resource would be a relative, friend or colleague who is an Afrikaans first language speaker. A teacher, who has grown up using the language and then taught it, can of course not be trumped as a guide. They can advise you as to when a particular definition is to be adopted, according to the context within which a word is used. Another aid, of course, is the Internet where an online dictionary can be accessed. While such an application may pronounce words for you, it cannot hear you and correct any mispronunciation on your part.

Practise Speaking Afrikaans Daily!

You must speak a language regularly to learn it! Right?

Reading texts silently is not going to serve much purpose. Running your eyes over pages of a book is not going enable you to pronounce the words correctly. This must be practised on a native speaker or while enlisting the help of an online application or website. The ultimate response would be a “Well done!” or “Excellent” from your tutor. Find a newspaper or magazine article a start practising

Formal Learning

“I am quite gregarious and love working in a group! I don’t have the discipline to work on my own? “

These would certainly be reasons enough to enrol for a course with some or other institution or with a private tutor.

Throughout South Africa, there a language schools, colleges and even universities which offer Afrikaans as a subject. In making one of these your choice, you will be guided by your reason to study or learn the language. You would enrol at a language school if your wish is to make yourself understood in your workplace, where you may be surrounded by Afrikaans speakers. Your growing proficiency will impress them tremendously!

Enrolling for a degree course may be necessary if you wish to bag that promotion post at a company like Virseker (which loosely translates into “for sure”), which is a short-term insurance company which operates almost exclusively in Afrikaans, their motto is, “Jou versekering, jou mense, jou taal” (translated means “Your Insurance, your people, your language).

You will be interacting with Afrikaans native speakers daily. Therefore, it would be important for you to have reached a high level of proficiency. You must follow quite an intensive course of study and be exposed to Afrikaans daily, so that you can assimilate a lot of the idiom and the use of and the play on words. Building up a very good vocabulary will allow you to engage with native speakers in a professional setting comfortably. To prepare yourself for a task of this nature, you have expose yourself to speakers who use Afrikaans as a home language. Listen to them conduct a conversation and try to copy elements that you think are good. Listen particularly, to how they start and conclude statements and questions. Also, of course, take note of how they issue commands and note people’s responses.

Go Online

The Internet places numerous resources at your fingertips, literally, not only virtually! Online, there websites and various applications (apps) which can assist and guide you through many different aspects of Afrikaans. Online dictionaries can help you find the definitions of words and aid you in their pronunciation. You could also enter whole sentences into an application or onto Google Translate, where it will be correctly transcribed into Afrikaans. It will be show you, for example, that in Afrikaans I love you is said, “Ek bemin jou”, “Ek het jou lief” or “Ek is lief vir jou.”

woman seated outside holding tablet
Connect with an online Afrikaans tutor, wherever you are. - Source: Unsplash

On the world-wide web, you can locate language schools and institutions of higher learning. You can explore the various options online before deciding which way you would like to learn. A language school would, in all probability, offer you classes which you have to attend at their premises. This would, of necessity, involve travel. They may also offer some sort of support online. A college or university may offer their courses either at their physical campuses, along with online support. Some universities, like UNISA (the University of South Africa) offers distance learning (e-learning) with limited tutorials which take place once or twice a year. Assignments are also done and submitted online.

The down side of distance learning is that you will have no physical or close contact with your tutor, which can be very beneficial when you’re studying a language which you don’t use or haven’t been exposed to on a daily basis. Little children learn a language by hearing it every day and attempting it as they grow older. Their little missteps are corrected by older, more seasoned practitioners. You will not have such a resource or the luxury of all that time at your disposal.

Your best bet would be to locate a private tutor online!

Find a Private Afrikaans Tutor

There are hundreds of Afrikaans tutors throughout South Africa. Many of them are native speakers of the language and so, will serve as great guides to a novice.

Superprof is a platform which will connect you with a host of excellent, vetted tutors, all passionate about Afrikaans and about sharing their knowledge with you. A number of these tutors are themselves college or university graduates and are capable of assisting you in improving your proficiency in Afrikaans to a very high level. Others are qualified teachers, who have many years of experience, not only teaching Afrikaans, but also in sequencing a comprehensive series of structured lessons. They will, thus, aid your progression from novice to master in a very informed, logical way.

These tutors will also help you to assess your progress over time. Their regular and timeous feedback will keep you motivated and assist you to identify areas to concentrate more time and effort on. These skilled professionals have the ability not only to guide your reading, but to structure a reading course which will be appropriate for what your expressed needs are.

A good tutor will identify titles for you to read, given your level of understanding of Afrikaans. They will recommend authors, plays, novels and biographies or non-fiction which will be of interest to you or which will be directly related your stated goals. If it is your aim to utilise your skills in a business setting, you tutor can assist you to prepare presentations and guide you in terms of the appropriate terminology to use. They will also help you learn to write well in Afrikaans; teaching you to structurie letters effectively in the correct business format.

The Superprof website is set up in a very easy-to-use way. You can, at a glance, view the various tutors and locate one close to you. This individual will be conversant with your surroundings and, possibly the challenges you may face, as regards to access to infrastructure, like public transport to get you to a school, class or library. These would, no doubt, impact on the time of day you will be available to attend classes and whether you will have access to a library and possibly free Internet access. They may even know if your area has already been provided with fibre cabling.

What these tutors charge per hour and whether they will travel or are able to conduct classes over the Internet are all reflected on the Superprof website. The tutors experience is also provided along with the levels at which  they have experience of teaching Afrikaans. They generally reply to an enquiring within a few hours. Professional, don’t you think? The cherry on the cake: most Superprof tutors offer the first lesson at no charge. This gives you the opportunity to first engage with a tutor and suss him or her out, before you make a decision as to your compatibility. You could, additionally, peruse the reviews placed by previous students to give you an idea of the kind of person you will be engaging with and what their success rate is. The only other thing to consider is whether your identified tutor is available when you are. If yes, engage!

Hit that website. Yes, Superprof! Go for it! Join the growing group of South Africa’s young people who are gravitating towards this portal and all it has to offer! You will not be disappointed! Vir seker!

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Trevor

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