A Guide to All the Languages in South Africa

By Remitbee - Feb 3, 2022

South Africa has a rich culture and natural resources, attracting most tourists. For a landmass of more than 100 million sq. m, it isn't surprising that South Africa has a comprehensive collection of languages and dialects.

How many languages are there in South Africa?

There are eleven (11) official languages in South Africa, but the people there speak around 35 languages. This article will delve into the official and most spoken languages in South Africa! Keep reading.

South Africans are English-Fluent!

The native languages are still widely spoken by many South African households, but most urbanized locals use English. South Africa is a former part of the British Colonial Empire for everybody's information. That is why English is still widely used in schools, government documents, mass media, or even daily or informal communication.

South Africans are fluent English speakers, to put it simply! In time, the people also developed a way to creatively code-switch between English and their native languages.

Native Official Languages in South Africa

IsiZulu

This language originated from the Zulu people, and it's among the most commonly used South African official languages. Like many African country languages, IsiZulu is also very dynamic. It has adopted words from English and native African languages and fits well with English code-switching. The IsiZulu language is used by more than 10 million people in South Africa. It is one of the easiest to learn and understand!

IsiXhosa

Like the IsiZulu, the Xhosa language is also a Nguni language. It shares many similarities with the Zulu language, except with sound and some words. As with many African languages, the IsiXhosa is also a tongue-clicking language. But unlike the Zulu language, the IsiXhosa can be difficult to learn. But overall, it's beautiful to hear!

Afrikaans

Afrikaans is one of the most widely-used African languages by country. Its origin traces back to the 1600s, evolving from the Netherlands and sharing a few words with Khoisan and German languages. Although a native African language, Afrikaans is only used by more than 12% of the population. Most of its speakers live in the Western, Eastern, and Northern Cape. Some people in KwaZulu-Natal also speak Afrikaans as a second or third language.

Sesotho

Also known as the Southern Sotho language, the Sesotho is one of the widely used South African languages. In addition to more than 30 consonants, it uses nine vowels, each with five letters. It is also particular with nasal sounds. But concerning other official languages in South Africa, it is easiest to understand. It has approximately 4 million speakers, mostly found in the Free States, Gauteng, Tshwane, and Johannesburg.

IsiNdebele

IsiNdebele has often been deemed an "unknown" language because only the minority uses it. Most Ndebele speakers are found in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Polokwane, and Mokopane. This language isn't taught in schools, so family lines pass it. Despite that, a Ndebele radio station was established to keep this language alive.

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Sepedi

Like the IsiNdebele, the Sepedi is also spoken by the Gauteng, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga people. It has many similarities with the Sesotho language. Approximately there are 4.2 million South Africans speak Sepedi. And the unique thing about this language - it's been long associated with the most interesting South African cultures and traditions!

Setswana

As with most languages in South Africa, Setswana also belongs to the Nganu-Bantu language. Its sound is similar mainly to the Sotho languages. Aside from being an official language, it's also used as a lingua franca, which means many people use it as a second language. It's also one of the oldest, as the experts believe it is the first Sotho language spoken in Africa. Overall, over 8% of the people speak Setswana.

SiSwati

The Swati language is also a part of the Nguni languages. This language is one of the native South African languages taught in schools. As a result, many people can use this as a second or third language. The characteristics of the Swati language are closest to that of the Ndebele, Zulu, and Xhosa languages. In total, there are 3.7 million speakers of this language.

Tshivenda

Most of its speakers are Limpopo natives. As with Sepedi, Tshivenda is also related to exciting traditions. Aside from that, it is spoken chiefly by royal-blooded families. The Venda language uses the Latin script with five extra accents, some circumflexes and overdots. There are over 2 million people who speak this, with over 1 million of them as native speakers.

Xitsonga

It is closely related to the Tswa and Ronga languages. Most of its native speakers are found in Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gaza, Maputo, and Chiredzi. Xitsonga is one of the oldest languages in South Africa, tracing back long before the settlement of most African ethnicities. It is also one of the complex but amusing languages in South Africa. Overall, it has approximately 4 to 5 million speakers.

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