Afrikaans (like Dutch, Spanish and Arabic) is a phonetic language and, for some, this makes it an easy language to learn. The words (with a few exceptions) are sounded as they are spelled and, so, once you’ve mastered the alphabet sounds, you’ll be well on your way to pronouncing Afrikaans words correctly.
Afrikaans pronunciation of words may vary, depending on where in the country to find yourself. This is, however, not as vast in variation as English pronunciation, if one considers English spoken in Scotland as opposed to the United States. In South Africa, there are four or four main Afrikaans accents.
The first is Standard Afrikaans, which will be the language of purists and of academia. This ‘otherness’ is often encountered inland and may be racially-based. No slang or Anglicisms are used. A purist would insist on using the word “besonderhede”, when the use of the word “detail” has in recent times become acceptable, especially in spoken Afrikaans.
Regarded as inferior by speakers of Standard Afrikaans, Kaaps Afrikaans, the oldest dialect, is used widely in reaches of the Western Cape Province and Namibia. Much of its vocabulary stems from Standard Afrikaans, but it has grammatical elements and expressions which are uniquely its own.
Indigenous groupings and English-speakers also speak a different blend of Afrikaans, not necessarily a dialect, though. It is rather a sort of broken Afrikaans which has a strong accent.
These different groups of speakers, thus, use the language in dissimilar ways. However, what may be regarded as incorrect Afrikaans usage by one group is acceptable to the other, each having a place and a purpose where it is found or located.
How You Can Perfect Your Pronunciation
Afrikaans phonics and pronunciation are based on the same alphabet as is English. The important differences lie in the use of diacritics on certain letters (such as ê) and in the fact that a letter like ‘c’ is used infrequently, e.g. kan and not can, kat and not cat.
The main differences between Afrikaans and say, for example, English are:
- Words are said as they are spelled (phonetic spelling)
- The “rolling r”, which may create some problems for speakers of non-Germanic languages
- Diacritics make certain vowels sound totally different, causing them to have no English equivalent
The pronunciation of Afrikaans words differs considerably from the way a word or phrase would sound, for instance, in English. So, although two words may be spelled exactly the same in both languages, their meanings may differ, as will their pronunciation … very markedly.
An instance of this mutual intelligibility is reflected in a poem which was read by a class in Afrikaans. They were subsequently told by their teacher that it had originally been written in English. Yes, that's right, the poem can be read in - and makes sense in - both English and Afrikaans!
My stories begin as letters
My pen is my wonderland
Word water in my hand
In my pen is wonder ink
Stories sing. Stories sink
My stories loop. My stories stop.
My pen is my wonder mop.
Drink letters. Drink my ink.
My pen is blind. My stories blink.
In most cases the words have identical meanings, except in one or two instances, e.g. ‘word’ in Afrikaans means ‘becomes’. Overall, however, the poem has basically the same interpretation, but the way it would sound in Afrikaans would be totally different and more guttural on occasion, not one word sounding like its English counterpart.
A wonderful place to start is to study, learn and practise is the Afrikaans alphabet. It is exactly the same as the English one, except that diacritics are used on certain vowels. Along with the alphabet, it is important to learn the Afrikaans diphthongs, where letters are sometimes doubled up, e.g. gaan, leen, loop.
Master the Afrikaans alphabet and you will be well on your way to speaking Afrikaans with ease.
What is the Afrikaans Accent?
Interestingly, Afrikaans took second place in a 2019 international survey on accents regarded as sexy, hosted by the website, Big7Travel. It was found by around 1,5 million travellers to be ‘easy on the ear’. Within South Africa itself, locals are far more interested, generally, in the content of a conversation than the way it is said, reflecting a growing tolerance of the way the “taal” is spoken.
There are language experts who believe that the language is favoured because people think of it as romantic and feel that its flow is soft and lyrical. This is definitely borne out when one starts singing along to popular Afrikaans music, which has a beautiful flow and is often very emotive, when its not just pure fun. Germanic in origin, it is, however, not as harsh as Dutch because it doesn’t have consonants and vowels that are harsh on the ear.
One Afrikaans writer, Diana Ferrus, actually believes that the country is moving closer to having one accent - that it is now a melting pot that truly is melting.
Why it is Important for Afrikaans Users to be Flexible
Afrikaans is the world’s youngest language and, as such, is dependent on a growing number of speakers to survive. More and more speakers will contribute, over time, to a greater variety of ways in which the language is spoken, as their native tongues will colour the way they pronounce words considerably (taking into account that South Africa has eleven official languages). This is why, commendably, the populace has in recent times become more tolerant in terms of what is important when the language is used – communication.
Adults, with all their preconceived ideas about what is true Afrikaans, have had to ‘come to the party’ as children do and have had to leave those notions of ‘pure Afrikaans’ behind them, in a commitment towards the growing of the language as a part of a greater ideal – nation-building.
Listen to Improve Your Afrikaans Pronunciation
If you cannot attend classes and intend to learn Afrikaans at home or online, it is important for you to hear the language spoken as often as possible. This is possible in today’s modern world, as you have many technological resources at your fingertips. You may explore the Internet, where there are many native Afrikaans-speakers presenting interesting short lessons which cover almost all aspects of spoken Afrikaans. They make use of visual aids and grant you the opportunity to practise your spoken Afrikaans by repeating words, phrases and sentences after them. You will find them pleasant folks to work with.
Online, there are also a number of sites which allow you to listen to yourself pronounce words or statements in Afrikaans and help you to reach a desirable level of proficiency – a great and non-judgemental way for you to practise and progress!
You will also be able to find Afrikaans films, series and comedies online or, specifically on YouTube, many of which carry sub-titles. These will definitely become indispensable aids as you can pause, rewind and repeat parts of these presentations at your leisure.
Of course, on a daily basis, you have to engage with Afrikaans speakers and practise active listening and also steel yourself to use the language when around them. Experiment with this group, with whom you will become more comfortable every day, and use them to practise anything new you may have heard, checking whether your pronunciation and interpretation are correct.
The Afrikaans pronunciation of words may be a bit prickly for English speakers as there are a number of sounds which are not encountered in English. The table below reflects a few Afrikaans sounds and approximately what they would sound like in English.
|Letter/s||Approximate English pronunciation||Example of an Afrikaans word|
|a||the "u" sound in: jump, plus||kap|
|aa||the "a" sound in: Taj Mahal||daad|
|aai||the "y" sound in: why||saai|
|c||the "s" sound in: sun||Celsius|
|ê||the "ai" sound in: hair||hê|
|eeu||the "ea" sound plus the "oo" sound in: east +look||leeu|
|tj||the "ch" sound in: chat||tjank|
This table, in a small way, highlights some of the different sounds that you will have to master when trying to improve your Afrikaans pronunciation.
Find Opportunities to Improve Your Afrikaans Proficiency
Singing to Afrikaans songs is, without a doubt, a great way to practise your Afrikaans speech and pronunciation. Afrikaans movies will also give you a leg up. There are also other ways.
One of the best ways is to engage with a good first-language speaker, who will help you overcome many obstacles as stumble from on success to the next. They will help you identify the correct words and phrases to use in an official environment (office, meeting or interview) as opposed to playful, easy language used by friends and acquaintances.
Immersion, which is learning the Afrikaans language by surrounding yourself with native speakers, is another great way to improve your knowledge and language skills. This experience will ‘soak’ you in the language and help you to think in Afrikaans and not to, firstly formulate thoughts in your mother tongue and then translate them into Afrikaans. You’ll be riding a bike without training wheels!
They will help you distinguish between the meaning of words like “miere” and “mure”, which are pronounced exactly the same. When someone says, “Ek voel hoe loop die miere oor my,” you will know that the meant, “I can feel ants walking over me,” and not “walls walking over me.”
A professional, qualified Superprof tutor will also serve to take you on that magic carpet ride into a whole new world. Skilful and experienced these folks, some of whom have many years of experience, will soon have you singing Afrikaans standards and reciting wonderful poetry or acting out very emotional dramas, like Fiela se Kind.
Good luck as you enter on a voyage of discovery into what some like to call a beautiful language! Voorspoed!