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How to speak like a South African

Hello ABA friends!

Have you heard about South Africa? No, not the south of Africa, South Africa, a country located at the very southern tip of the continent. Well, there are about 5 million people there who speak English as a first language, close to 10% of the population. And, of course, many millions more speak English as second language. It can be hard to spot the South African accent, so we’re going to give you some tricks on how to understand the locals and blend right into Cape Town.

So, what are some common South African English expressions?

Let’s start at the beginning: there are eleven official languages in South Africa! We know, it’s really intense. The top three most common languages in terms of how many people speak them are Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans. And the fourth? English. As you might guess, it is heavily influenced by Afrikaans and sprinkled with Bantu language words.

Let’s have a look at some common expressions you’ll hear when you land in Jo’burg:

Lekker/lekka – cool or great.

Example:
I had a lekker day today guys!

I had a lekker day today guys!

Kif – fun/good/cool

Example:
That movie was kif, I want to see it again
That movie was kif, I want to see it again

Babalas – hangover

Example:
I have a babalas today, I think I drank too much beer

I have a babalas today, I think I drank too much beer

Bakkie – a pick up truck or merchandise vehicle

Example:
Grab the bakkie and let’s go pick up the fridge from the neighbours

Grab the bakkie and let’s go pick up the fridge from the neighbours

Boet – brother, friend

Example:

Hey boet! Want to meet later for a coffee?

Hey boet! Want to meet later for a coffee?

Kuk – rubbish/not good at all

Example:
That food was kuk, I don’t think I’ll eat there again

That food was kuk, I don’t think I’ll eat there again

Braai – a barbecue

Example:
Should we have a braai today guys and girls?

Should we have a braai today guys and girls?

Is it? – Used commonly to express surprise or “is that so”?

Example:

-She broke up with me yesterday

-Is it? Sorry man

-She broke up with me yesterday

-Is it? Sorry man

Jol – To have fun or go out for the night

Example:
I feel like going on a jol tonight, are you coming?

I feel like going on a jol tonight, are you coming?

Eish – a colloquial word expressing shame, surprise or disapproval

Example:
Eish, I can’t believe I failed the exam

Eish, I can’t believe I failed the exam

Dop – a drink (alcohol)

Example:
Do you want to have a dop after work?

Do you want to have a dop after work?

How is South African English pronounced or spoken?

There are many different accents in South Africa alone. As English was brought over by the British, it is primary spoken by their descendants as a first language and there are typically many different variants known as “the great trichotomy” by Roger Lass: “cultivated” which is the English that most resembles that spoken in Great Britain, “general” which slants closer to a Dutch accent influenced by the Afrikaaner population, and “African English” which is largely spoken by the African community and has merged with their dialects and expressions.

South African English is non-rhotic, which means that the “r” at the end of words is not pronounced and is open. The vowel “i” as in “sit” is pronounced like the phonetic symbol /ə/, instead of the /ɪ/ sound we hear in British English. So we find “məlk” instead of “mɪlk”, for example.

As you can see, there are minor variations between the accents as opposed to major phonetic differences.

Is South African English hard to get used to?

South Africans are known to speak clearly and pronounce their words well, so you should have absolutely no problem when chatting away to your new friend around the braai.

We will give you one final tip before you go: if you ask a china (friend) to do something, he might reply:

  • I’ll do it just now: this means he’ll do it later, within about three hours, maybe longer.
  • I’ll do it now now: this means it will get done within the next 30 minutes to an hour.
  • I’ll do it right now: this means he’ll do it very soon, in 5 to 10 minutes.

So before you head down to the Cape, want to practice your English a bit, boet?

Yes! Right now

 

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About George

George
George was born and raised near Glasgow, Scotland. He has been teaching English in Spain for the past 4 years, from beginner to business. In his free time he loves travelling with friends and really enjoys watching a good game of football and tennis.

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