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Thank you in south african language
April 26, 2019 Houseguest Thanks 4 comments

Isn’t it slightly annoying when you hear someone foreign talk about a ‘South African’ accent? We hate to break it to you lot, but you’re going to have to be way more specific. Which of the 11 South African languages are you talking about?

Add that to our three capital cities, and you realise that we are country that believes ‘more is better.’ This is a wonderfully diverse nation. Yet we’d bet our last rand that there are virtually no people who can speak a little bit of every language. This is where we come in…

We’ve accumulated a very brief phrase guide for all South African languages. As a bonus, there’s even a small crash-course in South African sign language too. Knowledge is power, so get ready to stock up your arsenal:

Hello, Please and Thank you in 11 South African languages:

Afrikaans:

How many people speak Afrikaans?

Although it is widely spoken across almost all of Mzansi, it is only the second-most popular with an estimated 6.9 million speakers spread across the country.

Most popular area?

It is densely popular across the Northern and Western Capes. However, there are plenty of Afrikaners in every state.

Hello:Hallo
Please: Asseblief
Thank You:Dankie

Ndebele

How many people speak Ndebele?

Little over one million people speak South Africa’s smallest minority language.

Most popular area?

The Northern border of Gauteng and Mpumalanga is effectively the only place you will hear the Ndebele tones

Hello: Salibonani
Please:Ngiyacela
Thank You: Ngiyabonga

Northern Sotho

How many people speak Northern Sotho?

Up to 9 million South Africans can understand Northern Sotho, with more than half of that number who are officially fluent in it.

Most popular area?

Limpopo hosts the majority, but there are Northern Sotho communities dotted around in Gauteng and Mpumalanga.

Hello: Dumela (singular) / Dumelang (plural)
Please:Hle
Thank you: Ke a leboga: (I thank you) / Re a leboga (we thank you)

Sotho

How many people speak Sotho?

The national language of Lesotho has been embraced by 5.6 million South Africans

Most popular area?

Bordering Free State is home to nearly all of these speakers, with Gauteng and the Eastern Cape homing a small contingent of those who know the language.

Hello:Lumela, or Dumelang
Please:Ke kopa hore o
Thank You:Ke a leboha haholo

Swazi

How many people speak Swazi?

If you were paying attention with Sotho, you’ll realise that Swazi also borrows its name from a neighbouring country. South Africa is home to approximately 2.4 million Swazi speakers.

Most popular area?

Next to the border of Swaziland is Mpumalanga, where Northern and Eastern regions have a large number of Swazil linguists.

Hello:Sawubona (actually translates to ‘do you see me’.)
Please: Ngiyacela
Thank You:Ngiyabonga

Tsonga

How many people speak Tsonga?

Roughly three million South Africans speak or at least understand parts of Tsonga.

Most popular area?

It’s a common language used in Mpumalanga, and in Eastern parts of Limpopo

Hello:Xewane, or Ahee (to reply)
Please:Ndza Kombela
Thank You:Ndza Nkhensa

Tswana

How many people speak Tswana?

Census information estimates that 4.1 million people talk this Bantu language.

Most popular area?

North West Province has the monopoly of Tswana linguists, with 63% of the population able to speak the mother tongue of bordering Botswana.

Hello: Dumela
Please: Tswee-Tswee
Thank You:Ke a Leboga, or Ke Itumetse

Venda

How many people speak Venda?

They are the second-smallest minority language in the country, with just 1.2 million speakers. That’s 2.2% of the population.

Most popular area?

Northern Limpopo. In fact, the language is as good as exclusive to this province.

Hello:I nhlikanhi, or Ndaa to a male and Aa to a female
Please:Ndi khou tou humbela
Thank You:Ndo Livhuwa, or Ro Livhuwa

Xhosa

How many people speak Xhosa?

The 2011 census estimates that 7.6 million people speak this language. That’s 18% of SA.

Most popular area?

It is highly popular in the Eastern Cape, and also frequently spoken in the Western Cape and Free State.

Hello:Mholo, or Mholweni
Please: Ndiyacela
Thank You:Enkosi

Zulu

How many people speak Zulu?

Roughly 10 million people speak it as a first language, but up to 50% of South Africa understand Zulu phrases

Most popular area?

Clue in the name. Most speakers live in KwaZulu-Natal, but this has also spilled over into a large Zulu-speaking contingent in Gauteng

Hello:Sawubona
Please:Ngiyacela
Thank You:Ngiyabonga

Read:Apparently, only three people can speak SA’s oldest language: ‘N uu’

How many people speak English in South Africa?

  • Less than 10% of South Africans speak English as a first language
  • The 2011 census of South African Languages accounted for 4.8 million fluent English speakers.
  • The language is only popular in city metropolises (Cape Town, Johannesburg).

And, in South African Sign Language?

  • Between 700,000 – 2,000,000 people have mastered the basics of SASL

Hello:

Please and Thank You: (From 3:31)

Tags:AfrikaansIsiZululistsNdebeleofficial languagesXhosa

South Africa has 11 official languages and it can be confusing to watch people switch between English, Xhosa, Zulu and more, seamlessly. But South African slang is understood, no matter which languages people speak. These are the 38 South African words and phrases you need to know when visiting the country plus basic phrases in the 10 official languages other than English.

South African slang and phrases

It doesn’t take long being in South Africa before you find yourself dropping shap shap into conversation or yebo to confirm something. Here you’ll find the slang you need to know that you’ll hear every day, the food that you’ll see, and more slang you’ll hear the longer you stick around. Then, you’ll find common phrases to keep handy in the 10 South African languages that aren’t English.

Most popular South African slang and phrases

Here are the 18 South African words and phrases you will hear nearly every day.

Howzit? Forget spaces and extra syllables when asking someone how it’s going – smash it all into one word, howzit.

Yebo: Yebo is “yes” in Zulu and commonly used for anything affirmative. Are you coming out tonight? Yebo!

Shap shap/sharp sharp: All good, everything’s in order.

Eish(!): An exclamation. If you’re hurt or exasperated, or surprised as someone’s telling a story – eish!

Lekker: Good, awesome, amazing, cool – basically any positive. Howzit? Lekker bru!

Shame: As in “what a shame.”

Braai: Braai is Afrikaans for barbecue. But traditional braai (as with barbecue) should be cooked with wood or coals, never propane! What’s on the braai? Steak, choppies (pork or lamb chops) or boerewors.

Bliksem: hit, punch, strike. If someone says they’ll bliksem you, get outta there.

Is it/izit? Oh really? Is that so? Is that true?

Yoh: Expresses surprise. Yoh! You scared me.

Now: Now and time are a flexible concept in South Africa, which is why “now” can be a bit confusing. There are three main versions of it: now, just now and now now.

  • Now. Eventually (maybe).
  • Just now. Sooner than now, but still eventually.
  • Now now. The soonest now there is, but still doesn’t mean immediately.

Kak: Sh*t.

Kiff (kif/kief): Cool, awesome, good, nice.

Jol: A jol is a party (or to party). Where’s the jol? Or, let’s have a jol. (also used as a verb, let’s jol)

Robot: street light/traffic light (turn left at the robot).

Ubuntu: a philosophy of family. I am because of you. Human kindness. While it “translates” to different exact wording, it is an important philosophy in South Africa. Read more about Ubuntu here.

South African food

South African food is a style and language unto its own. Here are the most important you need to know.

Boerewors: farmer’s sausage (sometimes spicy) and one of the most common meats you’ll find on the braai.

Biltong: Biltong is like beef jerky, but just not beef. Biltong is dried meat, and can be beef, game (ostrich, kudu, etc.), chicken and even fish.

Bobotie: a baked dish with minced meat, spice and egg custard topping; served with rice and raisins.

Bunny chow: a South African Indian (not traditional Indian) dish made with curry served in a large portion of bread (usually a half loaf of bread); typically spicy.

Dop: a drink (let’s go for a dop). Can also be used as “fail.”

Droewors: dried sausage, similar to biltong or bratwurst.

Padkos: food for the road (e.g. snacks, etc. for a roadtrip).

Pap: traditional porridge made from maize. You will see it EVERYWHERE, but each one is different.

Slap tjips (slap chips): fries, usually soft and oily (with vinegar).

Zaamie/sarmie: sandwich.

More, less common, South African slang you’ll hear or see

On top of the food and the words you will hear daily, there are more that you’ll hear and see throughout your time in South Africa.

Babbelas/babbelaas: hangover.

Bakkie (pronounced bucky): A pickup truck or ute. Expect the back filled with people.

Bru (bra): bro or dude.

Fong Kong: cheap/fake knockoffs or products sold on the street or in “China” (where the Chinese shops are in whichever city you’re in).

Shebeen: unlicensed tavern/bar. Term comes from Irish, but came to South Africa during Apartheid, when black South Africans wanted a place to drink.

Skyf: cigarette.

Sho’t left: comes from taxi lingo, meaning “just over there” or “around the corner.”

Soapie: soap opera.

Tekkie (takkie/tacky): sneakers.

Umlungu: white man.

Other British English words: Because of South Africa’s relation to the commonwealth, you can expect to hear British English more common than American English. This means an elevator is a lift, a trunk if a boot, fries are chips, and chips are crisps.

South African languages

South Africa’s population is nearly 56 million, and the country is known for the diversity of languages. English is the most spoken language on the continent, but not in the country. Less than 10% of South Africans speak English as their first language, though visitors will notice that most people they interact with speak it well.

The 11 languages spoken in South Africa are: English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Southern Sotho, Northern Sotho, Tswana, Venda, Tsonga, Swati and Ndebele.

South African languages as a first language

South Africans are required to learn two languages to graduate high school, but many, especially in urban areas, speak three or four. Below is the breakdown of South African languages spoken as a first language, according to the 2011 census.

LanguageNumber% of population
Zulu (isiZulu)11,587,37422.7%
Xhosa(isiXhosa)8,154,25816.0%
Afrikaans6,855,08213.5%
English4,892,6239.6%
Northern Sotho (Sesotho sa Leboa)4,618,5769.1%
Tswana (Setswana)4,067,2488.0%
Sesotho3,849,5637.6%
Tsonga (Xitsonga)2,277,1484.5%
Swati (siSwati)1,297,0462.5%
Venda (Tshivenḓa)1,209,3882.4%
Ndebele (isiNdebele)1,090,2232.1%
SA Sign Language234,6550.5%
Other languages828,2581.6%

Greetings in South African languages

Now that you know the common South African slang that you can use, no matter the language of the person you’re speaking to, here’s a few more phrases in each of South Africa’s 10 languages other than English.

These languages are all spoken in such close proximity, so you will notice that there are a lot of similarities. One commonality among most (apart from some of the words) is that the words you use will be different if you are addressing a single person or a group (as well as males or females). If you want to learn more about South African languages, or any one of them in particular, SAlanguages.com is a good resource.

Zulu (isiZulu) words and phrases

The most spoken language in South Africa is Zulu; Zulu is primarily spoken in the eastern part of the country. Here are a few Zulu words and phrases to use. Find additional phrases here.

Hello:sawubona (singular)saniboni (plural)
How are you:unjani (singular)ninjani (plural)
I’m well:ngiphilile / ngikhona
Thank you:ngiyabonga (singular)siyabonga (plural)
Please:ake / ngicela / siza 
You’re welcome:wamukelekile / kulungile
Yes:yebo
No:cha

Xhosa (isiXhosa) words and phrases

Xhosa is the language you probably associate with clicks. You can learn more about the sounds of Xhosa here (as well as additional phrases).

Hello:molo (singular)mholweni (plural)
How are you:unjani (singular)kunjani (plural)
I’m well:ndi lungile
Thank you:enkosi / ndiyabulela
Please:ndicela
You’re welcome:wamkelekile
Yes:ewe
No:hayi

Afrikaans words and phrases

Afrikaans is one of the, if not the, youngest languages in the world. It has blended roots, but most recognizable is the Dutch roots. Find more Afrikaans phrases here(and an explanation of the differences between Dutch and Afrikaans.

Hello:haai / hallo / goeie dag
How are you:hoe gaan dit
I’m well:dit gaan goed
Thank you:baie dankie [pronounced like “buy a donkey”]
Please:asseblief
You’re welcome:dis ‘n plesier
Yes:ja
No:nee

Northern Sotho (aka Sepedi) words and phrases

Northern Sotho is part of the Sotho language group and Sepedi is considered a dialect of Northern Sotho, though often used interchangeably as the name of the language. Here are some more helpful phrases.

Hello:dumela (singular)dumelang (plural)
How are you:o kae (singular)le kae (plural)
I’m well:ke gonare gona
Thank you:ke a leboga
Please:hle / ka kgopelo
You’re welcome:go leboga rena
Yes:ee
No:aowa

Tswana (Setswana) words and phrases

Tswana comes is spoken in the northern parts of South Africa and its origins are in Botswana. Learn more phrases here.

Hello:dumela
How are you:o tsogile jang / le kae (singular)le tsogile jang (plural)
I’m well:ke tsogile sentle / ke teng
Thank you:ke a leboga
Please:tseeetswee
You’re welcome:o amogelesegile
Yes:ee
No:nnyaa

Sesotho words and phrases

Sesotho originates in Lesotho and is also spoken in Free State and Gauteng in South Africa. You can find more phrases here.

Hello:dumela / khotsodumelang (plural)
How are you:o kae / u phela joang
I’m well:ke teng / kea phela
Thank you:ke a leboha
Please:hle
You’re welcome:o amohetswe
Yes:ee
No:tjhee

Tsonga (Xitsonga) words and phrases

Tsonga is one of the later languages to arrive to South Africa, though the Bantu language is also spoken in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. You can find more phrases here.

Hello:avuxeni
How are you:ku njhani
I’m well:ndzi kona
Thank you:ndzi khense ngopfu
Please:ndza kombela
Yes:ina
No:e-e

Swati (Swazi/siSwati) words and phrases

Swati is the language of Swaziland (now known as Eswatini), a country enveloped by South Africa. It shares many words with Zulu and Ndebele. You can find more Swazi phrases here.

Hello:sawubona (singular)saniboni (plural)
How are you:unjani (singular)ninjani (plural)
I’m well:ngikhona / ngiyaphilasikhona / siyaphila
Thank you:ngiyabonga
Please:ngiyacela
You’re welcome:wamukelekile
Yes:yebo
No:cha / chake

Venda (Tshivenda) words and phrases

Venda is a Bantu language, spoken in South Africa as well as Zimbabwe. You can find additional phrases here.

Hello:ndaa (male) / aa (female)
How are you:ku njhani / vho vuwa hani / hu ita hani
I’m well:ndo vuwa / nne ndo takala vhukuma
Thank you:ndo livhuwa / ro livhuwa
Please:ndi khou tou humbela
You’re welcome:no tanganedziwa
Yes:ee
No:hai

Ndebele (isiNdebele) words and phrases

isiNdebele is heard mostly in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and, less commonly, Gauteng. Ndebele is separated into Northern and Southern. Here are more phrases to learn.

Hello:lotjhani / salibonani 
How are you:unjani (singular)linjani (plural)
I’m well:ngiyaphila / ngikhona (singular)siyaphila / sikhona (plural)
Thank you:ngiyabonga (singular)siyabonga (plural)
Please:ngiyacela 
You’re welcome:kulungile 
Yes:lye / ye 
No:hayi 

English in South Africa

While English is spoken by less than 10% of the population as a first or home language, it is commonly spoken in official and commercial areas. You’ll notice South African English is similar to British English, but with its own unique features. If you are in major cities, you can expect to communicate easily with English.

Pin to share South African slang and South African languages

     

Contents of this post (expand/collapse)

These 17 South African English phrases will give you some local slang you Afrikaans; Zulu (This is the most-spoken language in South Africa.) In addition to learning South African English, try learning more about Zulu or Xhosa or the Sotho shame” for pretty much any situation, such as giving thanks, shouting praise.

The wild, endless plains of Namibia’s deserts, the rugged coastlines of South Africa, the roar of Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the oasis of Botswana’s Okavango Delta; Southern Africa is wildly diverse, and strikingly beautiful.

But perhaps nothing here is as diverse as the thousands of languages spoken, each as varied and vibrant as the many communities and countries they belong to. In Southern Africa alone, an estimated 1,500-2,000 native languages are spoken across every single day. In addition to that, when the Colonial European empires carved the entire African continent up between them, they introduced English (and to a lesser extent, French, Dutch, Portuguese, and German too).

So what does this mean for you as a traveller in Southern Africa?

Well, for the most part it means you could backpack your way from Lilongwe to Cape Town, right through multiple diverse countries, and never pass through one where English isn’t recognised as an official language. You could even rely solely upon your own mother tongue to get by – as most people will have at least a basic understanding of English.

You could do that – but as we know, the best experiences happen when you step outside your comfort zone and stumble through some unfamiliar phrases with the smiling storekeeper you’ve just met. Learning a few words in the local language will gain you a lot of respect, and help you understand the local culture in the process.

So you know your lekker from your nnyaa, here’s your beginner’s guide to who speaks what, and where, in Southern Africa.

Botswana

Official Languages: English

National Language: Setswana

Left over from years of colonial rule, English is now the official language of Botswana and is spoken widely in most urban or tourist areas.  Alongside this, almost 90% of locals in Botswana speak Setswana (also known as Tswana) as their mother tongue.

The word ‘pula’ holds special significance for locals in semi-arid Botswana. Literally translated to ‘let there be rain’ (a blessed event in this dry country), it’s also the name given to the local currency. In other contexts it means ‘shield’ and has become the enthusiastic cheer for football crowds or village gatherings.

Hello: Dumelarra (man) / Dumelamma (woman) [doo-mel-ah rrah / doo-mel-ah-mmah]

How are you? O tsogile jang, Le kae, or Wareng?

Yes: Ee

No: Nnyaa

Thank You: Ke itumetse or Ke aleboga

Goodbye: Tsamaya sentle (said to the person leaving). Sala sentle (said when you’re the one leaving)

Malawi

Official language: English

National language: Chichewa

Other important languages: Chinyanja, Chiyao and Chitumbuka

English is commonly used and understood in Malawi, particularly in tourist areas.

For a more authentic experience – and the chance to impress the extremely friendly locals with your efforts – try the following Chichewa phrases:

Hello: Moni [moa-nee]

How are you? Muli bwanji [ moo-ley-bwan-gee]

Yes: Eya [eh-ya]

No: Ayi [ayee]

Thank You: Zikomo [zee-koh-moh]

Goodbye: Ndapita [n-da-pee-tah]

Mozambique

Official Language: Portuguese

Other important languages: Around 43 (mostly Bantu) languages, the most common including: Lomwe, Makhuwa, Ndau and Tsonga.

Inherited from colonial times and spoken by around 50% of the population, Portuguese is both the official language of Mozambique, and the most widely spoken.

When first meeting someone in Mozambique it’s tradition to finish the conversation with this lovely, hopeful phrase ‘estamos juntos’: we are together.

Hello: Bomdia (bohm-dee-ya) – Good morning. Boatarde (bo-ah-tar-dee) – Good afternoon. Boanoite (bo-ah-noyteh) – Good night

How are you? Como Esta (co-mow-ehs-tah)?

Yes: Sim

No: Não (now)

Thank You: Obrigado (ohb-ree-gah-do)

Goodbye: Adeus

Namibia

Official Language: English

Other important languages spoken: Oshiwambo, Khoekhoe, Afrikaans, Kwangali, Herero

Namibians commonly speak two or three (or more!) languages; English, a native tongue like Oshiwambo (spoken by 49% of the population), and either German or Afrikaans.

In fact, due to the country’s colonial history you’ll hear German pretty regularly around areas like Swakopmund, while Afrikaans often functions as the lingua franca between locals.

Due to their proximity (and at one point, a shared history as one country), many South African slang words have also crept their way into Namibian conversation.

If you arrive at a social gathering and your host asks if you’d like a koue enetjie, answer ‘ja!’, and wait as they bring you out a nice, cold beer.

South Africa

Official Languages: Afrikaans, English, Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, Venda, Swati, Sesotho, Sepedi, Tsonga and Tswana.

With over 11 official languages (and a few more unofficial) South Africa really is the rainbow nation!

English is the lingua franca when it comes to business, politics, and media, but out on the streets you’re far more likely to hear a heady mix of tribal mother tongues, English, and Afrikaans (derived from 17th century colonial Dutch).

As a tourist, all you’ll really need is English to get by – but if you can whip out one of these phrases you’re sure to impress all your new South African buddies!

Jol [jowl]: have fun, party, or club. For example, “Last night was a jol!”

Braai [Br-eye]: A method of barbecuing meat over hot coals, generally seen as a social gathering, e.g. “Come over, we’re having a braai!”

Lekker [leh-kerr]: Good, cool, attractive, tasty. “Man, that braai was lekker!”

Zambia

Official Language: English

Local languages: 72

English, the language of the colonial period, is most commonly used for business and education and is widely spoken throughout all urban and tourist areas.

Other important languages include Bemba (the mother tongue spoken by over half the population), followed by Nyanja (very similar to Chichewa), Tonga, and Lozi.

                                    Bemba                                                                          Nyanja

Hello                        Shani [shah-nee]                                                      Bwanji [bwan-gee]

How are you?          Uli Shani? [ooh-lee shah-nee]                              Muli Bwanji [moo-ley bwan-gee]

Yes                            Ee                                                                                Eya / ee

No                             Awe [ah-wee]                                                            Ayi

Thank You               Natotela [nah-to-tey-la]                                        Zikomo [zee-koh-moh]

Goodbye                  Shalapo [shah-la-poh]                                            Pitani Bwino [pit-ahny bwee-no]

When meeting a Zambian for the first time, you should always greet the person formally by asking how they are. For example (in Nyanja):

Person 1: “Muli Bwanji?” – How are you?

Person 2: “Bueno. bwanji?” – OK, how are you?

Person 1: “Bueno!” – OK.

Zimbabwe

Official Languages: 16 – English, (chi)Shona, (isi)Ndebele, Chewa, Chibarwe, Kalanga, Tsoa, Nambya, Ndau, Shangani, Shona, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa

While the mother tongue of most people in Zimbabwe is either chiShona (most widely spoken) or isiNdebele (similar to Zulu), most business and media is conducted in English.

You may also come across a mix of isiNdebele, chiShona, and English spoken by locals in some areas. This is Chilapalapa, and while not recognised as an official language, was in common usage (particularly in mining areas) during colonial times. Despite being seen historically as the ‘language of the colonial oppressor’, it has enjoyed a revival in recent times.

Some useful phrases in Zimbabwe include:

Tatenda:  A shorter way of saying thank you. Also a very popular name in Zimbabwe

Shamwari: Don’t know someone’s name? Shamwari means ‘friend’, and is always used if you don’t know somebody. Everyone has a shamwari in Zimbabwe!

Kunjan: Hi there

Mangwanani:  good morning

Masikati: good afternoon

Want to practise your new vocab out Southern Africa? Find all the info on our expert-led small group adventures.

Words by the lovely team at The Common Wanderer, check out their Instagram for some serious wanderlust inspo

A language guide for Southern Africa was last modified: June 25th, 2019 by The Common Wanderer

Feeling inspired?

Greetings in 11 Official Languages

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Useful Zulu phrases

A collection of useful phrases in Zulu, a Bantu language spoken mainly in South Africa

Jump to phrases

See these phrases in any combination of two languages in the Phrase Finder. If you can provide recordings, corrections or additional translations, please contact me.

Key to abbreviations: frm = formal, inf = informal, sg = singular (said to one person), pl = plural (said to more than one person).

Recordings and corrections by Cynthia Nozwelo

Download all the sound files (1.2 MB)

If you would like to make any corrections or additions to this page, or if you can provide recordings, please contact me.

Information about Zulu | Phrases | Numbers | Family Words | Tongue twisters | Tower of Babel | Songs | Learning materials

Links

Other collections of Zulu phrases
http://www.phrasebase.com/forum/read.php?TID=7760
http://www.linguanaut.com/english_zulu.htm
http://www.cyberserv.co.za/users/~jako/lang/zulwrd.htm
http://africanlanguages.com/zulu/
http://www.codezulu.com/isizulu.asp
http://saharanvibe.blogspot.com/2007/03/zulu-language.html

Phrases in Niger-Congo languages

Bemba, Chichewa, Efik, Ewe, Fula, Herero, Igbo, Kikuyu, Kinyarwanda, Lingala, Lozi, Luganda, Mossi, Ndebele (Northern - South Africa), Ndebele (Northern - Zimbabwe), Ndebele (Southern)Nkore, Northern Sotho, Sesotho, Shona, Swahili, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Tumbuka, Twi, Umbundu, Venda, Wolof, Xhosa, Yorùbá, Zulu

Phrases in other languages


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These 17 South African English phrases will give you some local slang you Afrikaans; Zulu (This is the most-spoken language in South Africa.) In addition to learning South African English, try learning more about Zulu or Xhosa or the Sotho shame” for pretty much any situation, such as giving thanks, shouting praise.

Lekker bru! South African slang and words you need to know in South African languages.

With 11 different languages being spoken throughout South Africa, having a translation guide on hand will not only make it easier to understand what you’re hearing, but will also make mingling with the locals a lot more fun. Here are a few useful South African slang words and phrases to help you during your travels.

43 South African Slang Expressions You Need to Know

Ag man! 

[Ach-man]

This is the Afrikaans equivalent to “Oh man!” and is often used at the beginning of a sentence to express pity, resignation or irritation.

Example: “Ag, man!” / “Ag, no man!” / “Ag, shame man!”

Aikona – not on your life

[eye-koh-na] or [hi-koh-na]

A Zulu term used to express shock or disbelief when talking to friends or family.

Example: “Aikona, why did she do that?!” / “Haikona, when?! How?!”

Babbelas – hangover

[bub-ba-las]

This word is derived from the Zulu ‘ibhabhalazi’ and is used to describe a really bad hangover.

Example: “Eish, babbelas my bru!”

Biltong – seasoned strips of dried meat

Similar to beef jerky (but much tastier!), this is the spicy, cured snack eaten at rugby matches. It is usually made from beef, game and even ostrich.

Bobotie – a spicy mince dish

[buh-boor-tee]

This delicious dish originated in Malay cooking and is made with spicy minced meat, baked in the oven with an egg custard topping. It is usually served with yellow rice and raisins.

Bliksem – to hit

This is a derogative term meaning to hit or punch someone.

Example: “I’ll bliksem you!”

Bitter koud — very cold

An Afrikaans phrase meaning ‘bitter cold’, often used to describe the cold weather during winter.

Example: “Oh, my gosh! It’s bitter koud outside!”

Boet – brother

This term is usually used in reference to a male friend or companion.

Example: “Hey my boet, see you at the game tonight!”

Boerewors — spicy South African sausage

[boor-uh-vors]

Meaning ‘farmer’s sausage’, this term describes a savory sausage that was developed by the Afrikaners approximately 200 years ago. Boerewors is usually ‘braaied’ and eaten on a hot dog roll with tomato sauce and mustard. Make sure you roll the ‘r’ when pronouncing this word.

Bra / Bru – friend

This term is commonly used to call a friend, pal or buddy.

Braai – a barbecue

[brr-rye]

Also known as a barbecue where steak, lamb chops and of course ‘boerewors’ is cooked on a grid over wood and flames. Add some salads, rolls and ‘melktert’ for dessert and you are set for a traditional South African braai.

Bunny Chow

This is a traditional South African Indian dish and usually consists of curry served in a hollowed-out half-loaf of unsliced white bread. It’s best when the bread is soft and fresh and the curry is extra spicy.

Chow – to eat / food

Often used when talking about food, this term can be used as a verb, meaning to eat, or when talking about the food itself.

Example: “Let’s chow my bru!” / “This chow is spicy!”

Chommie / China / Cuz – friend

See Bra / Bru

Domkop – idiot

[dom-kop]

Similar to the German “dummkopf” or Dutch “domkop”, this term literally translates to “dumb head” and is a derogatory term used to describe someone who you think is stupid.

Example: “Ag! You domkop! You broke my cell phone!”

Droewors – dried sausage

[droo-ah-vors]

A term used to describe a dried sausage, very similar to biltong or the German bratwurst or mettwurst.

Eina! – ouch!

[Ay-na]

Usually expressed when someone experiences a sharp pain of some sort.

Eish! – an exclamation

[Ay-sh] or [ee-sh]

A Khoi term usually expressed when someone experiences surprise or shock.

Fundi – expert or teacher

[foon-di]

A term derived from the Nguni tribe, used to describe someone who is an expert at something.

Example: “He’s a fundi at that!”

Gatvol – fed up / had enough

[ghut-foll]

Meaning ‘filled to the brim’ and is used to describe someone who is very angry or tired of the same thing happening over and over again.

Example: “I’m gatvol with that nonsense.” / “I’m gatvol that they keep losing all the time.”

Gogga – bug

[ch-o-cha]

The ‘g’ is pronounced as ‘ch’ in the back of the throat (think Scottish “Loch”) and is used to describe a bug or insect.


Hayibo! – wow!

[Hai-bo]

Derived from the Zulu word meaning “definitely not!” This word is usually expressed on its own, at the start or end of a sentence when something seems unbelievable.

Example: “Hayibo! Ha! Ha! I can’t believe that!”

Hoezit /Howzit – How is it going? How are you?

A common greeting which is often used instead of “hello” and “how are you?” It combines the two phrases into a simple, “Howzit”, thereby saving time.

Example: “Howzit my bru!”

Is it? – Is that so?

[iz-zit]

A basic conversational word that can be inserted at various points in any conversation, meaning “oh, wow!” or “Is that so?” It can also be used when you don’t really feel like talking and don’t want to be rude but want to seem as if you’re listening.

Example: “Last week we went on a game drive! Sho my bru! We saw loads of antelope!” “Is it, hey!”

Ja, Nee – Yes, No

Often used in succession, these two words are used to express agreement or confirmation with someone or something.

Example: “Ja, Nee, I’m fine thanks.”

Jislaaik – an expression of surprise

[yis-liike]

This is usually said when trying to express surprise or wonder.

Example: “Jislaaik, you gave me a fright!”

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Jol – party / to have fun

[jo-rl]

Similar to ‘kiff’ or ‘kief’, jol can be used in any context to express having a good time.

Example: “I’m going to a jol tonight!” / “I’m having a jol!” / “It was such a jol!”

Kiff / Kief – cool

[kif]/[k-eef]

Derived from the Arabic kayf, meaning enjoyment or well-being, kiff or kief is most often used to convey similar feelings of nice, cool, great.

Example: “This chow is kiff my bru!”

Laaitie – a young male

[light-e]

This term is used to describe a male in his teens or early twenties.

Laduma! – he scores!

[laa-doo-maa]

This term is usually screamed out when a soccer team scores a goal. Extend any of the syllables for full effect.

Example: “Laaaaaaduuuuumaaaa!”

Lekker – great / tasty

[lack-err]

An Afrikaans word that has multiple meanings and which can be used in various contexts to describe many things from people to food to inanimate objects. It is used to convey the meaning of great, delicious, nice or fun. Make sure to roll the ‘r’ when pronouncing the word.

Example: “That new movie is lekker!” / “That bunny chow was lekker!” / “I’m lekker, bru!”

Melktert – milk tart

One of South Africa’s most popular desserts consisting of a sweet pastry crust and a creamy milk filling, topped with cinnamon powder. Absolutely delicious!

Related: Find out about all of the resources you’ll want to know about to fund your next trip here and here.

Now Now – immediately / soon

A confusing phrase for non-locals meaning sometime soon – sooner than just now but quicker than right now.

Example: “We’re going to the beach now now!” (But first we have to pack our swimming gear, stop at gas station and maybe get some snacks…).

Oke / Ou – guy

[oak] / [oh]

South Africa’s most common word for a man or guy and is similar in meaning to ‘china’, ‘bru’ or ‘boet’.

Oom – older man of authority / Uncle

[oo-um]

Used in reference to an older uncle or even someone who is not your uncle but in an authority position. Usually expressed with respect.

Padkos – food for the journey

[putt-koss]

Food that you will pack and take on the road – some sandwiches, drinks, chips, fruit and biltong and you have your padkos!

Sarmie – sandwich

[saam-ie]

A slang word for sandwich.

Shongololo – millipede

[sh-ong-o-loh-loh]

A term used to describe a large brown millipede. It is derived from the isiZulu word ‘ukushonga’, meaning to roll up.

Shebeen – an unlicensed bar

[sha-been]

These are unlicensed bars usually found in low-income suburbs located outside of the major towns and cities, more commonly known as ‘the townships’.

Skebenga / Skelm – a crook / gangster

[skuh-beng-guh]

A Zulu word for gangster.

Slap chips – French fries

[slup-chips]

An Afrikaans word meaning limp and describing soft, fat French fries. These are usually mixed with tomato sauce and vinegar.

Ubuntu – compassion, kindness, humanity

[oo-boon-too]

An ancient African word used to describe common philosophical feeling of humanity and family, meaning “I am because we are”.

Voetsek! – Go away!

[foot-sak]

Usually said with an angry tone when telling someone to go away or get lost. You don’t want to be saying this to a local or worse, if a local says this to you – you’ve really angered them!

Yebo – yes

[yeh-boh]

Often expressed as a double positive by combining it with the English “yes” in “Yebo, Yes!” or as an extremely expressive “Yeeebo!” This Zulu word is used regularly in South Africa to show agreement or approval with something or someone.

Have you traveled to South Africa? What were your impressions? We’d love to know if there’s any important information you recommend adding to this list. Email us at [email protected] for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

About Shalinee Naidoo

Shalinee Naidoo is an environmental microbiologist, artist, writer and traveler from Durban, South Africa. She currently holds a Master of Science in Environmental Microbiology but has chosen a life on the road – teaching English and Science to young students whilst documenting her traveling escapades on her blog: Life, Love & Travel.

View all posts by Shalinee Naidoo

thank you in south african language

WATCH THE VIDEO ON THEME: Learn Top 50 IsiXhosa Phrases and Words

It would behoove you to brush up on a few useful South African Zulu If you're traveling to East Africa, familiarize yourself with Swahili, a language Other basic Zulu words are: “Yes” (“Yebo”), “No” (Cha”), and “Thank you”.

thank you in south african language
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