South African Attractions, Events and Things to do - Contact South Africa Explorer - Advertise on South Africa Explorer

Find South African Attractions

South African Languages

South Africa is not called the rainbow nation for nothing! With such a diverse cultural landscape, it was inevitable that the languages of South Africa would also become a hot pot of differences.

Beside the eleven official languages spoken in South Africa, many others, including various African, European and Asian languages are also spoken. Some of the other languages spoken and mentioned in the Constitution include: Khoi, Nama and San languages, sign language, Arabic, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Portuguese, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telegu, and Urdu.

The main language of business, politics, and the media, is English. English is also the most common language most South Africans will be able to understand. South African English, and indeed, most of the other official languages, lend heavily from each other, creating a type of universal South African "slang", which incorporates words from various different languages.

The Eleven Official Languages of South Africa


Xhosa is marked by a number of tongue-clicking sounds. Those that speak the language are usually involved in an ethnic group known as the amaXhosa, with them referring to Xhosa as isiXhosa.

Interestingly, Xhosa is derived from the Khoisan language, and means "angry men". South Africa is known as the Xhosa-people's native land, and the language can be found quite extensively in the Eastern Cape.


Nearly 50% of South African inhabitant understand Zulu, with many Xhosa speakers being quite fluent in Zulu, and vise versa. The Zulu language is spoken especially in KwaZulu Natal, as well as the other African countries of Swaziland and Lesotho.

South African English has borrowed many words from the Zulu language, and incorporated it into its vocabulary. Examples of these are donga (ditch), indaba (conference). Two Zulu animal names, Impala, and Mamba, are included in Standard English.


Afrikaans is a language which is used by many South Africans as either their first, or second language. Afrikaans is widely spoken in Namibia, and spoken partly in Zimbabwe and Botswana. "Afrikaans" in Dutch means "African". The original Afrikaans dialect is referred to by many as Kitchen Dutch, Cape Dutch, or African Dutch.

Although Afrikaans has been labelled by many critics as a "ugly language", lending many words from English, Khoi, Xhosa, Asian Malay, Malagasy, San, Portuguese, and French, the language has gained popularity in many countries. Afrikaans speakers are extremely proud and protective of their language.


Also known as Luvenda, or Tshivenda, the Venda language is widely spoken in the Northern parts of South Africa's Limpopo province. The Venda people show great respect to women, and because of this, women are allowed to become Chiefs of their tribes.


Ndebele is a very popular language in South Africa, and many people can speak this beautiful language. Ndebele speakers are found mainly throughout Gauteng. Ndebele can be divided into two distinct dialects: Southern Ndebele and Northern Ndebele.

Because Ndebele is only spoken by people of the Ndebele culture and also not taught at schools, this language is slowly dying.


Sepedi is also sometimes referred to as Sesotho, or Northern Sotho. Sepedi speakers are generally found in Mpumalanga, Gauteng, and the Limpopo province.


Setswana is more commonly known as Tswana, and it Botswana's national language. The largest source of Setswana speakers are found in the Northern Cape.

Southern Sesotho

Also known as Suto, Souto, Sisutho, and Sutho, the dialects of South Sesotho originates from Suto, Pedi and Tswana. Southern Sesotho is one of the two national languages in Lesotho, and is spoken by more than 85% of its inhabitants.

Southern Sesotho is a complicated language, and difficult for foreign speakers to learn.


Swati is commonly known as Sewati, Swazi, of siSwati, and is widely spoken in Swaziland and South Africa. Because Swati is very similar to Ndebele, Xhosa and Zulu, many people often confuse the four languages.


The Tsonga language is mainly spoken throughout Southern Africa by the Shangaan-Tsonga culture. Main areas include Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, and South Africa. Tsonga does not use the English alphabet, but rather use the Latin alphabet.

For people not born Tsonga, is it an extremely difficult language to learn.