Learning a foreign language without the help of a native speaker will never be a truly genuine and in-depth venture into the language, its roots and the supporting culture.

Immersion is the ultimate way to learning a language like Afrikaans, as it would be for a language like Japanese. You would learn so much more than merely a language, as you would be exposed to the culture that goes along with it, the dress code (if not completely Westernised), people’s favourite cuisine and past-times.

Immersion also facilitates the second important component: daily use of the language. These two methods of learning make one reflect on how a little child is exposed to a language and how the building blocks are put in place, one by one … over time. So, while you don’t have all that amount of time available to you, at least be cognisant of the fact that learning how to speak Afrikaans, with any degree of fluency, will take time.

Why Study Afrikaans

The reasons for learning this interesting language are numerous. You may be a student with an aptitude for languages and relish the challenge of mastering yet another; one that is totally different to your own. Alternately, you may want to advance at work or seek a post where an excellent written and verbal communication skills in Afrikaans are prerequisites. Who knows, you may have moved into a neighbourhood where you deem it necessary or polite to communicate with your new neighbours in their home tongue. This, of course, would encourage easier assimilation into the community.

Study in an Afrikaans-Speaking Area

While South Africa is the only country where Afrikaans is spoken extensively, don’t for one moment think that is only country where you will encounter the language. There are large concentrations of people who speak Afrikaans in other African countries, like Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. But, in the main, your greatest exposure will occur in in the land at the southern tip of Africa.

Being based in an Afrikaans-speaking environment, you’ll be exposed to the language, its idiom and nuances on a daily basis. This will deepen your appreciation and understanding of the language and enhance your fluency. Becoming fully bilingual will, of necessity, take an extended period of immersion, possibly twelve months.

books stacked neatly against wall
Improve your vocabulary by reading as many Afrikaans books as you can. | Source: Unsplash

What do you have to do?

Immersion aids your learning of Afrikaans on several levels. Initially, you may think that you sound weird speaking Afrikaans, much like when you hear your own recorded voice for the first time. However, you’re amongst others who sound exactly the same and are there to assist you, not make fun of you. Notwithstanding, it is also true, that they may also find your first utterances amusing. Just know that they will be just as excited as you will be to see you grow in confidence and fluency. Soon they’ll be toasting your improvement in their language, since Afrikaans is closely associated to the culture of many folk in South Africa and is something of which they’re very proud.

Your ultimate goal must be to progress to a point where you can readily string together Afrikaans sentences and hold a coherent conversation. It will be important to learn the language as if you’re writing onto a blank page, slate or board.

The best way to do this is to start thinking in Afrikaans and not to formulate sentences in your home language and then translating.

This can lead to some really hilarious moments. For example, I went to the shop doesn’t translate into Ek gegaan toe die winkel, but rather Ek het winkel toe gegaan.

This also highlights the importance of learning the grammatical structure of Afrikaans which will facilitate the order in which words are used to construct sentences. Afrikaans belongs to the group of SOV languages where the subject is placed before an object/person, which is followed by the verb at the end of the sentence.

Also, remember that there is no one ideal time at which to learn Afrikaans. Even if you did not grow up with Afrikaans and speak it as a child, you will carry your acquired language skills with you throughout life, especially if you practise speaking the language every day. Your language, listening and speaking skills will be honed and you’ll become a good speaker of the language, regardless of age!

I Know Some Afrikaans

Many people, even South African citizens, have little or no background in the use Afrikaans. Some speak it somewhat haltingly or without any confidence, because their exposure to and use of Afrikaans was inadequate.

Not knowing a language well can be a recipe for disaster, or at least embarrassment. As William Shakespeare wrote: “A little learning is a dangerous thing.”

So, to avoid landing in a humiliating situation or making a fool of yourself “drink deeply.” Make sure that you devote adequate time to the pursuit of knowledge of Afrikaans to the extent where you can converse with others and make yourself understood comfortably.

Watch Afrikaans Movies, Series and Soapies

A great and fun way to expand your knowledge base, would be to watch an Afrikaans movie. There are several good ones which can be watched conveniently on your computer or cell phone. Story-lines are often very good as is the dialogue and cinematography. Many of these movies also carry sub-titles. Some of these movies contain either serious drama or hilarious comedy, guaranteed to give your abs a good work-out and significantly bring down your stress levels. There are also quite a number of Afrikaans series and soapies on TV, some of which are screened daily during the work-week, both on free-to-air offerings and on pay channels.

Listening to Afrikaans songs and radio would also contribute tremendously to your developing good and proper command of this language which derives from Dutch and several indigenous South African languages.

woman watching tv and using remote control
Watch Afrikaans series and soapies to help improve your understanding of the language. | Source: Unsplash

Get an Afrikaans-Speaking Buddy on Social Media

Nowadays, there are numerous options available to you if immersion is not a possibility. You can enquire on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook about Afrikaans-speakers who could help you out.

You could have a daily or weekly chat with your Afrikaans “buddy” via Skype or a Whatsapp video call. The convenience and security of this arrangement are two major plusses! Here you’ll have a supportive teammate who is available when you are, wherever both of you are. This is where you turn technology to your advantage and nobody will mind you being on your phone … again.

Find Afrikaans Clubs and Organisations

Wherever South Africans find themselves overseas, they inevitably find a way to get together. The one factor which links them and gives them a sense of comfort is to be able to converse in their mother-tongue and have their humour (read jokes) understood. And, if you’ve ever tried, you’ll know that an Afrikaans joke just doesn’t work when told in English, for example.

If you were overseas, in London, UK, for example, you will find a way to embrace Afrikaans and the culture via the numerous organisations, shops, pubs, magazines and websites dedicated to South Africans.

The Braai Club is a social club that arranges braais for South Africans. There is no charge to get involved in the club’s activities which includes sharing their braaing expertise with their UK hosts. So, gear up and get ready for immersion, post haste! At the braai (barbecue), a bru (mate/brother) may offer you a piece of boerewors (sausage) or biltong (cured sausage) or pap (cooked maize meal).

There are also international theatre and comedy festivals which provide an opportunity for you to enjoy Afrikaans (and other languages) in an informal manner and in a relaxed atmosphere. So keep your eyes open for details of such events on social media.

woman using white smartphone
Change the language of your smartphone to Afrikaans for daily language practice. | Source: Unsplash

The Sooner You Get Started the Better

Young children, who grow up with something (e.g. cell phones) are very often far more conversant in their use than adults. It is, thus, also true of children who have learned a language, like Afrikaans, straight of the womb and, in a sense, even in the womb. Not everyone is in that position. An adult learning Afrikaans for the first time would, no doubt, be at a disadvantage as opposed to such a child. Here, there is a chance for a symbiotic relationship with the one learning a language from the other; you Afrikaans and teaching your home tongue … an opportunity for mutual growth, with a child or adult.

Your options for growth and learning are several, taking in language schools, schools, universities and private tutors. Find an excellent tutor by visiting the Superprof website! This will turn out to be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made!

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