On learning the Afrikaans language

On the lighter side …

If you want people of a nation to take you serious, you need to learn their vocabulary and their humour. To joke in another language can be an exhausting feat, because humour is mindset.

Upon coming to SA I had to learn that the way we use language in Germany can be totally offensive to an Afrikaaner! Basically every 3rd word can be misunderstood as a swear word. You even have to say “lightning”(Blitz) in a hushed voice.

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South Africans are really big on braai (barbeque)

A Brit on the other hand can’t even say “Good morning” without cursing 3 times (just switch on Gordon Ramsay, whom I adore for his hands on approach and you know what I mean.

This is what makes it easy for beginners to know are you talking to an Afrikaaner or Englishman.

For being accepted in a nation, you need to show your effort to get to eye-hight with those you address. Upon my very first visit at my fiancée’s parents I was told: “From now on you are not a German, you need to speak Afrikaans.”  Shows you the high value people place on their language.

When you do the intercultural marriage thing, be aware – you by default marry a whole country with it’s own history, likes, dislikes, moral values, demands and opportunities. It’s never just about the two of you (unless you escape to a remote island in the pacific, but i bet even there your diverse cultural habits are going to catch up with you)

The importance of communicating in Afrikaans was highlighted at every meeting, although I thought it was pretty cool that I communicated fluently in English with everyone – seeing that English is the third foreign language I learned.

In East Germany it was mandatory we all learned to speak and write Russian, which I enjoyed a lot because it is a very meaningful, poetic language. I decided that Spanish would be helpful when traveling the world, and I love the Latin American dances and cheerfulness. English – you can not do without. I also took Latin at school simply because most medical and scientific vocabulary is based on Latin and I want to be able to go and impress people with clever quotes.

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Upon my very first visit at my fiancée’s parents I was told: “From now on you are not a German, you need to speak Afrikaans.” Shows you the high value people place on their language.

I learned the Hebrew Alefbet and the basic Jewish prayers and also dabbled a bit in Madarin, which opened up a whole new world again.

So learning Afrikaans was not difficult at all. What was challenging though, were the comments of my husband’s friends when they ask him: “Praat sy al Afrikaans”as if I couldn’t hear them (let’s you feel like a Ukranian mail order bride, not being taken real serious there). When I, much to the ladies shock, reply with a flood of fluent Afrikaans (they really think it’s such an intricate language no foreigner could possibly master it?) I am so tempted to add: Ja, and she also gives paw, does shake, fetch and roll over … 🙂

Naturally I made a lot of funny mistakes in the beginning, causing people to laugh (which is a good thing, I still toy around with vocabulary which I know is used different just to get a smile).

You can never just literally translate from one language into the other. Although ?South African Afrikaans and English people are both white, they agree on almost nothing. It took me a while to figure out that there are fundamental differences between the two – like why do Afrikaaners think you go to hell when you use the word “bloody” but then they say “dis bloedig warm vandag” (bloody hot today) and its fine? One always needs to know who one’s dealing with … if there is one down-side to South Africa that I could pin-point (another being the necessity for me to put “self-defense-course on my 2013 bucket list) it’s the fact that everyone seems so easily offended!

In Germany we do not use the f-word. Other harsh and unfriendly words especially in a seually humiliating context are used only by the low-lives and your common person on the street wouldn’t talk like that. If we are upset, we might call something a name that literally means the soiled straw of a chicken coop. And nobody will be offended when you call a spade a spade. One quickly learns that in English it is not acceptable to use the language of your action heroes in every day life – it is not appropriate. Afrikaans – there are a few words that translate really harmless but woe to you if you use them. In the end I was confused to even point out that there is lightning in a thunderstorm, because both thunder and lightning are regarded as swear words.

Afrikaans is the youngest language on earth and it is, actually, not a real language but rather a simplified mix of basic Dutch, Malay, native African  and Portuguese words and “dutchified” French vocabulary. Take away grammar like tenses and inclination, add a lot of different meanings to the same word and voila, you are the proud speaker of an easy to learn language. Which was exactly the purpose of Afrikaans, to find a common language for a broad spectrum of immigrants from all over the world other than the British Empire.

Language creates togetherness, and so if you want to win an Afrikaaner’s heart, do it by cooking boerekos (local food) and speak Afrikaans.

On this year’s Bucket List is learning to speak Venda.

I can’t believe I have been living in South Africa for over 8 years now and I have no idea how to communicate properly with the African population. On my visit to Kenya I was able to get the hang of Kisuahili, as it contains so much “European” references.

Different to Kisuahili, I simply didn’t get the idea of the South African black languages by just listening to them. I can sing the South African anthem though.

On various conferences here in South Africa Zulu worship songs were sung. I really enjoyed it a lot, African music has a way to touch one’s soul. And after a while, a little Zulu dictionary started forming in my head: if that means this, than this means that. Alas, Zulu is not spoken here in my province. Venda seems so much more indistinguishable and it looks like you can only speak it while shouting.

I am currently looking for someone who could teach me the basics.

Here are some Afrikaans funnies. Please do not take it serious I am just having fun.

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4 thoughts on “On learning the Afrikaans language”

  1. This made me chuckle because I can totally relate….especially to the part where people refer to you like you are not there and to the fact that English and Afrikaans people agree on almost nothing. Very amusing post. Kudos to you for learning so many languages.

    1. Thanks a lot! I have yet to tackle African language. I can stumble my way across Kenya and Tanzania with Swahili, at least in its very basic form. I find Zulu the most comprehensible of South African languages, whereas Xhosa seems for me so foreign I can’t wrap my tongue around it. I was ministering in Nigeria with a band called Vinesong and picked up a bit of Uruba here and there. Languages are fun when you lvoe people. But the problem with Afrikaans is that there seems to exist a secret initiation school for their girls where they are told that brains are nothing and make up and fashion everything and they come back from it speaking with a high pitched little girl voice for the rest of their lives, valuing needlework higher than science. Just kidding am I, but I have yet to find a kindred spirit among my peers here 🙂

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