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

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 you need to know

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.

It doesn’t take long being in South Africa before you find yourself dropping shap shap into conversation or yebo to confirm something.Click To Tweet

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.

common south african slang and phrases

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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.

slang in south africa

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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.

official south african languages

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.

most common phrases in south africa

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.

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.Click To Tweet
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%

common phrases in official languages of south africa

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.

south african languages zulu

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.

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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 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 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 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.
#southafrica #mzansi

Founder of How Dare She, Jessica is on a mission to visit every country in the world, and bring you along with through photos, video and stories. 6 continents and 104 countries in. She has a BA in journalism and Master's in innovation and change, but her real skill is plugging in a USB in 2 or less tries (most of the time). She believes daring isn't about being fearless, but choosing to opt in, in spite of fear. She dares to see, taste, experience and meet the world as she goes.

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