What Are the 11 Official Languages in South Africa?

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Language diversity in South Africa is evident from the fact that there are eleven official languages in South Africa. You may wonder what these languages are – here you will find out! I will also provide information on greetings in the 11 South African languages and how to say thank you in the South African languages.

Some South African Language Facts

The 11 official South African languages include English, Afrikaans, Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Swati, Southern Sotho, Sepedi, Tsonga, Tswana and Venda. Most South Africans speak at least two languages – typically English with one of the other languages.

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Looking at the pie chart, the most commonly spoken languages in South Africa are:

  • Zulu, also known as isiZulu, is spoken by 21% of South Africans;
  • 15% of South Africans speak Xhosa (or isiXhosa); and
  • 13,1% of South African speak Afrikaans.

English is the fourth most commonly spoken language in South Africa, with approximately 12% of South Africans speaking English.

Official Languages of South Africa: English

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South Africa used to be a British colony, and during this period, the British enforced the use of English. As a result, when the country became a union in 1910, it had two official languages, of which English was one.

Although only the fourth most commonly spoken of the official languages, English is widely used as the administrative and business language. You should find that you can communicate with most South Africans in English alone.

Official Languages of South Africa: Afrikaans

When the country became a union in 1910, Afrikaans was one of two official languages. During apartheid, Afrikaans was one of the compulsory languages in schools. Today, it is the primary language spoken in the Northern Cape and Western Cape Provinces of South Africa.

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Official Languages of South Africa: Zulu

A quarter of South Africans speak Zulu, making it the most widely spoken language in South Africa. In the KwaZulu-Natal Province, Zulu is the dominant language.

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Official Languages of South Africa: Xhosa

Xhosa is the second most widely spoken of the 11 official South African languages. It is the primary language spoken in the Eastern Cape Province. Many people know Xhosa as the click-click language since it requires a clicking sound to pronounce many words. Former President Nelson Mandela was a native Xhosa speaker.

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Official Languages of South Africa: Ndebele

Ndebele is the least spoken of the 11 official languages, and most of the Ndebele speakers live in the Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa.

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Official Languages of South Africa: Southern Sotho

There are 3 Sotho languages spoken in South Africa, of which Southern Sotho or Sesotho is mainly spoken in the Free State Province of South Africa.

Official Languages of South Africa: Sepedi

Sepedi is the second of the Sotho languages spoken in South Africa, and most Sepedi speakers live in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. Sepedi follows Zulu and Xhosa as the third most spoken Bantu languages.

Official Languages of South Africa: Tswana

Tswana is the third of the Sotho languages spoken by South Africans. Although it is mainly spoken in the North-West Province, South Africa’s neighbour country, Botswana, also speaks Tswana.

Official Languages of South Africa: Swati

Swati is primarily spoken in the Mpumalanga province.

Official Languages of South Africa: Venda

Venda is the second least spoken of the 11 official languages in South Africa – after Ndebele. Most of the Venda-speaking population stays in the northern areas of the Limpopo Province.

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Official Languages of South Africa: Tsonga

Tsonga is one of the minority languages in South Africa and is mainly spoken along the South African and Mozambique borders.

Greetings in All 11 South African Languages

Whether you visit Johannesburg or Cape Town, locals appreciate it when foreigners try to learn some essential words in their language. Don’t be shy – South Africans are friendly and will appreciate your effort. To help you make an impression, let’s look at the greetings in all eleven South African languages.

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How to Say Hello

Here is how to say hello in all these languages:

LanguageWord
EnglishHello!
AfrikaansHallo!
ZuluSawubona!
XhosaMolo!
NdebeleLotjhani!
SesothoDumela!
SepediDumela!
TswanaDumela!
SwatiSawubona!
VendaAvuxeni!
TsongaNdaa!

How to Say Goodbye

Here is how to say goodbye in all the South African languages:

LanguageWord
EnglishGoodbye
AfrikaansTotsiens
ZuluHamba kahle
XhosaSala kakhule
NdebeleLisale kuhle
SesothoSala hantle
SepediSala hantle
TswanaSala sentle
SwatiSala kahle
VendaKha vha sale
TsongaSala kahle

How to Say Thank You

Here is how to say thank you in the South African languages:

LanguageWord
EnglishThank you
AfrikaansDankie
ZuluNgiyabonga
XhosaEnkosi
NdebeleNgiyabonga
SesothoKe a leboha
SepediKe a leboga
TswanaKe a leboga
SwatiNgiyabonga Ngiyabonga kakhulu
VendaNdo livhuwa Ro livhuwa Ndo livhuwa nga maanda
TsongaNdza nkhensa Ndzi khense ngopfu Inkomu swinene

Source: https://southafrica-info.com/arts-culture/11-languages-south-africa/ & https://omniglot.com/index.htm


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By Sunelle

Editor of the South Africa Travel Blog that focuses on travel to South Africa, including destinations, attractions, accommodation, food & drink.