South Africa has 11 official languages and a multilingual population fluent in at least two. IsiZulu and isiXhosa are the largest languages, while English is spoken at home by only one in 10 people – most of them not white.
Mixed with over a dozen African languages for over two centuries, spiced by imports from British, Dutch and Portuguese colonies, South African English has its own rich, varied and sometimes weird flavour.
The home language of most people in KwaZulu-Natal is, unsurprisingly, isiZulu. In the Eastern Cape it’s isiXhosa. Around half the people of the Western Cape and Northern Cape speak Afrikaans. In Gauteng and Mpumalanga, no single language dominates.
Each of South Africa’s 11 languages has a fascinating vocabulary, with some words and phrases influenced by other languages, and many unique to that language. Learn a little South African with these animations.
Nearly a third of black South Africans speak isiZulu as a first language, and 20% speak isiXhosa. Three-quarters of coloured people speak Afrikaans, and 86% of Indian South Africans speak English. Sixty percent of white people speak Afrikaans, and 30% speak English.