Afrikaans is a language which is widely spoken in South Africa, Namibia and parts of Botswana. You may, however, encounter the language in many corners of the world, because Afrikaners, as some Afrikaans speakers are called, have emigrated as farmers to South America and other African countries.

Ex-pats (Saffers, as they are sometimes called) can be encountered on virtually every continent as many highly-skilled individuals have pursued better opportunities across the globe. When they manage to get together, there is no doubt that the medium of communication is Afrikaans. This is the glue that holds them together so far away from home and the many things and people they hold dear.

The Afrikaans Language

Afrikaans grew out of a mixture of Dutch, Malaysian languages and some indigenous languages spoken in the Cape, subsequent to the Dutch occupation of the area at the southern tip of Africa. The language developed as a vernacular, virtually a street language, and was frowned upon as not being equal to its Dutch ‘mother’. Many speak it today with gusto and pride as it became a symbol of pride amongst a particular group, the Afrikaners.

It is spoken in all of the nine provinces of the country and has such a passionate following that you will find Afrikaans newspapers, books (novels and plays), radio- and TV stations, music, opera and movies.

It is a language rich in culture and tradition with many pithy, pointed sayings.

Stille waters, dieper grond, onder draai die duiwel rond” refers to the fact that people who are quiet, might be hiding dark secrets. “Aanhouer wen!” means, very simply, that you’re a winner if you don’t give up. Wie laaste lag, lag die lekkerste! refers to the person who has the last laugh. Learn some sayings, like these, to colour your Afrikaans beautifully!

Today, interestingly, there is a growing trend towards the learning of Afrikaans, in schools. Many learners see it as an easier language to study when compared to some of the indigenous languages on offer. This number will be added to when one considers the number of immigrants from neighbouring countries. Many of these individuals may be absorbed into communities in the northern part of the country. Here, they may find employment which brings them into contact with Afrikaans-speakers on a daily basis. It is going to be very important, for someone in such a position, to learn and start speaking Afrikaans as soon as he or she can.

The options available are many. You will have to consider your individual situation and decide which route to follow. You may decide that as you’re an absolute novice, that you require individualised tuition and guidance. You may then decide to immerse yourself in one-to-one sessions with an Afrikaans tutor, or if you have a greater deal of proficiency or love group settings, you may opt for a tutor or teacher who offers small classes. In this situation, would, possibly, find support from learners who are the same situation as you are. Skills that will be developed here, will be listening, reading, speaking and writing.

old television
Watch Afrikaans films, series and soapies to immerse yourself in the language.- Source: Unsplash

Afrikaans Sounds Different (Some Say Weird)

The first thing that you will notice about the Afrikaans language, is that it sounds very rough, as in “Gaan jy alweer winkel toe?” The “g” and “r” are enunciated in a very pronounced way. At first, you will find speaking in this way very unusual, but once you hear that that is exactly the way Afrikaans-speakers sound, you will start to warm to the idea.

A good place to start is by learning the alphabet. You will immediately discover that ‘a’ is pronounced ‘ah’ or ‘uh’, so that appel would be said as uh-pill (uh is said quickly). The letter ‘c’ is seldom used in Afrikaans, the letter of choice being ‘k’. “Cheese” translates into ‘kaas’ and acre into ‘akker’ with a great stress on the ‘r’, which gives the language the distinctive guttural tones, along with ‘g’ and ‘k’, as in the words gekry or gebruik.

The interesting ‘r’-sound is made by blowing over the tongue, which vibrates against the palate. This approximates closely to the action created, in the mouth, when we make the sound “Grrr!” in English.

‘Q’ (pronounced kie) is another letter that is seldom used. It is only found in a handful of words, which are very often absorbed from English or another language. Examples of these are quiche, Qur’aan, Qwabe (a Nguni clan) and Qwaqwa (a former “bantustan”). An exercise in working your way through the alphabet would be extremely beneficial, as you would already start practising Afrikaans pronunciation on a small scale. This is definitely going to assist you once you really start speaking Afrikaans and having to pronounce multiple words.

Afrikaans Pronunciation - Mistakes to Avoid

“One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” - Proverb

Afrikaans is spoken with several different accents in South Africa. Therefore, what sounds correct to one group of speakers, is foreign to another. The way Afrikaans words are pronounced depends largely upon the situation (literally and figuratively) you find yourself in.

  • Kaap Afrikaans is spoken in the Western Cape and Namibia. It is the oldest dialect and closely resembles the way the language was first spoken. Some frown upon Kaap Afrikaans as an inferior version of the language, while others love it for being expressive and melodious.
  • Standard Afrikaans is often used in the interior of the country. It can be regarded as a “pure” version of the language, which is the what lecturers, academics, purists and businesspeople would use.

It is, therefore, not easy to identify exactly what a “mistake” in pronunciation is because what one group accepts as everyday pronunciation, another frowns upon.

So, what are you to do?

woman reading on e-reader
Improve your vocabulary by reading Afrikaans novels and poetry. - Source: Unsplash

Go with the flow. The language you speak must appeal to the ear of your listeners, especially if your goal is to make yourself understood in your day-to-day activities and surroundings. Immersion, a programme which entails living with a native speaking family, could provide the necessary ‘training’ you require.

If, however, you have to use Afrikaans in formal settings at work, for example, you will be exposed to Standard Afrikaans to quite a degree. Here, formal classes or private Afrikaans lessons with a qualified tutor would be a non-negotiable. These would ensure that you followed a structure curriculum which would strengthen your understanding and use of formal Afrikaans.

Help Yourself

Apart from enrolling for classes, here are a few tips to help you gain a greater level of proficiency in Afrikaans:

  1. Listen with great care to Afrikaans in use. Play songs on your phone (or Ipod) or on your car radio. A great way to learn a language is to sing along to songs. Think of the Spanish, French or Italian songs you may have sung to, without really knowing what the words or the song meant. Recall Dean Martin singing “That’s Amore”, Robbie Nevil rendering “C’est la Vie” or Doris Day singing “Que sera, sera”. Belt it out and express yourself in a new language, like Afrikaans, with no inhibitions!
  2. Make a recording of yourself speaking Afrikaans. Improve your speech by comparing your recording to a native speaker’s pronunciation.
  3. Watch Afrikaans movies and series on TV and focus on the way the actors ‘mouth’ the words they’re using. Subsequently, practise these words in front of a mirror while you pay attention to your own mouth.
  4. Befriend an Afrikaans mother-tongue speaker. Use him or her as a sounding board. He or she will help you tremendously with pronunciation and register. This should make your journey more comfortable, less unnerving! But remember: the more speed bumps, the more learning!
  5. Make mistakes! It’s okay. Even native speakers do! Learn from them (and their mistakes). Keep on trying; never give up!

Get Some Outside Help

To further your cause, there are several avenues you can follow.

  1. Access the internet to help expand your vocabulary. There, you will find word lists which various first-language contributors think are useful to know. Copy them into a notebook and practise them on friends, family, other Afrikaans learners and speakers. The Internet, not only provides you with a list of words, it also allows you to click and listen to how they are pronounced.
  2. Use a good bilingual dictionary. This is an invaluable aid which will help you find the appropriate definition of a word quickly. Use this to translate English to Afrikaans or vice versa. The help of your phone or computer could also be enlisted when you are on the go. This will speedily help you find the longest Afrikaans word (136 letters long), i.e. Tweedehandsemotorverkoopsmannevakbondstakingsvergaderingsameroeperstoespraak -skrywerspersverklaringuitreikingsmediakonferensieaankondiging. It means "issuable media conference's announcement at a press release regarding the convener's speech at a second-hand car dealership union's strike meeting ”.
  3. Enrol for an Afrikaans course. If you want your learning to progress in a very systematic, structured way, enlist the services of a trained tutor. He or she will evaluate the level you are at, put together a curriculum tailored to your needs and fine-tune your foray into this new, strange language in a very clinical way.

Courses are offered throughout the country, online, at your home or on the campus of a college, university or language school. All that’s left for you to consider is the cost and where and how you wish to pursue the study of the language of Totius, Ronelda Kamfer, Sol Plaatje, Andre Brink, Dalene Matthee, among others.

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