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South Africa’s languages

Ndebele man leaning out of window
An Ndeble man, speaker of isiNdebele

There are 11 official languages spoken in South Africa and many unofficial ones.
English is the official language of business, politics and media but on South Africa's streets you'll find a heady mix of languages spoken from all over the world, most notably Africa, Euroep and Asia.

Most South Africans are multilingual and often mix languages together so you'll hear IsiZulu, for example, peppered with English or Afrikaans phrases.

According to South Africa's 2001 census, 23,8% of the population speaks IsiZulu, followed by the 17,6% who are Xhosa speakers. Only 8% of the population's mother tongue is English. With South Africa's population having increased to just under 50 million in 2010, these figures are somewhat outdated, but do one an indication.

A list of the 11 official languages spoken in South Africa: 

Afrikaans
English
IsiNdebele
IsiXhosa
IsiZulu
Sesotho sa Leboa
Sesotho
Setswana
siSwati
Tshivenda
Xitsonga

The languages you will hear most frequently depends on where you are in the country. For example, in the Eastern Cape, more than 80% fo the population speaks IsiXhosa, while in KwaZulu Natal, isiZulu is most widely spoken.

But tourists need not be concerned. English is widely spoken throughout most of South Africa save for some very rural areas.  

The languages of South Africa fall into two main language families, Nguni and Sotho.  The Nguni languages include isiZulu, isiXhosa, siSwati and isiNdebele, while the Sotho languages encompass Setswana, Sepedi and Sesotho.

Here is a brief South African language guide to some common phrases: 

 

isiXhosa

isiZulu

isiNdebele

Sesotho

Hello

Bhota

Sawubona

Lotjhani

Dumela

How are you?

Unjani?

Unjani?

Unjani?

O kae?

I am fine, thank you

Ndiyaphile, enkosi

Ngisaphila, ngiyabonga

Ngikhona ngiyathokoza

Ke teng

Yes

Ewe

Yebo

Lye

Ee

No

Hayi

Cha

Awa

Tjhee

Please

Nceda

Ngiyakucela

Ngiyabawa

Hle

Thank You

Ndiyabulela

Ngiyabonga

Ngiyathokoza

Ke a leboha

 

Setstwana

Tshivenda

xiTsonga

Siswati

Afrikaans

Dumela

Ndaa/Aa

Avuxeni

Sawubona

Hallo

O kae?

Vho vuwa hani?

Ku njhani?

Unjani?

Hoe gaan dit met jou?

Ke teng

Nne ndo takala vhukuma

Ndzi kona ndza nkhensa

Ngikona ngiyabonga

Goed dankie

Ee

Ee

Ina

Yebo

Ja

Nnyaa

Hai

E-e

Cha

Nee

Tsweetswee

Ndi khou tou humbela

Ndza kombela

Ngiyacela

Asseblief

Ke a leboga

Ndi a livhuwa

Ndzi khense ngopfu

Ngiyabonga

Dankie