5 Phrases You Need To Know When Talking to a South African

Contrary to popular belief, South African isn’t a language. There are actually eleven official languages spoken in South Africa. Despite Dutch and English being the first official languages of the country, Dutch was replaced with Afrikaans back in 1961. Most South Africans are at least bilingual, and fewer than two per cent speak a language other than one of the official eleven. The current official languages are Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. When talking to a South African friend or relative you may hear a few words or phrases pop up from time to time. We’ve put together a list of the top 5 words and phrases you need to know on your next low cost call to South Africa.

    1. Just sommer
      This phrase is one which you will hear during just about any anecdote or conversation with a South African friend or relative. Just sommer is a particularly special phrase in South Africa, even if it pretty much just means “just because”. It’s almost guaranteed to bring a smile to your friend’s face if they ask you why you did something.“Why did the chicken cross the road? Just sommer.”

  1. Just now
    Have you ever noticed that when someone says that they’ll call in 2 minutes they actually mean 10? In South Africa we get around this by simply not giving an amount of time. Any unknown amount of time in South Africa is simply “just now”“Hey Mom, I’m in the car. I’ll be over just now.”
  2. Howzit
    If you’ve ever greeted an American by saying “Hey you alright?” you’re aware of the awkward response you’ll get, wondering why you asked. Don’t be caught out when a South African asks you howzit, it’s a rhetorical greeting much like “what’s up?” or “you alright?”
  3. Shame
    In the UK everything is sick, wicked, ace or sweet. In South Africa everything is shame. It’s a cute puppy? “Ag, shame!” “My sister broke her leg yesterday” “Ag, shame…” “Check out my new car” “Shame!”Almost every social situation can be answered with this endearing term in South Africa. When it doubt, “Ag, shame.” (For the record ‘ag’ is pronounced ‘ach’)
  4. Lekker
    Looking to express your satisfaction with a particularly tasty piece of droerwors? “That was a lekker droerwors!” Looking to explain just how cheap you can call South Africa? “I found this lekker company, Cherry Call!”

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