Afrikaans may not be the world’s most widely spoken language, but it is a rewarding one. With its relatively easy grammar and pronunciation, you’ll quickly be able to express yourself in conversation. And if you’re planning to travel to South Africa or have an interest in its history, understanding Afrikaans will give you extra insight into the culture.
Just over 7 million people speak Afrikaans as their first language. Most of these live in South Africa and Namibia, but it’s also spoken in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and many other places around the world (including, curiously, a small community in Patagonia, Argentina).
So if you’re wondering how to learn Afrikaans, keep reading: we’ve rounded up the best language courses and apps for you.
Most people already know a few words in common European and Asian languages, from bonjour in French to sushi in Japanese.
You might be surprised to find out, however, that you also know a couple of Afrikaans words. There’s aardvark, which translates to “earth pig,” and meerkat, which means “lake cat.”
And then there is apartheid, meaning “apartness.”
It’s impossible to discuss Afrikaans without touching on colonialism, the slave trade, and apartheid. A daughter language of Dutch, it was born out of the European Scramble for Africa. It’s also influenced by Portuguese, German, and French; the indigenous Khoisan and Bantu languages; and the Asian languages spoken by slaves in Africa.
Historically looked down on as “kitchen Dutch,” it was only in 1925 that Afrikaans was legally considered as valid as Dutch and English. This meant that teachers could finally use it in mainstream schools – although Muslim schools had already been using it instead of Malay for over a century.
Just decades later, in 1974, South Africans of color would find themselves forced to speak Afrikaans instead of their native language. This continued throughout apartheid, resulting in protests, police violence, and deaths.
Today, Afrikaans remains possibly the most controversial of South Africa’s 11 official languages. Many activists of color support the use of English in academia, even though only 40% of those who speak Afrikaans at home are white.
Yet while it may be controversial, Afrikaans is a vibrant language. According to the 2011 census, it is South Africa’s third most spoken-at-home language. It’s also spoken in several other African countries. Politicians use it, as do artists and comedians. Films, books, and songs are all written and produced in it.
For millions of people around the world, Afrikaans represents their identity, history, and culture.
We’ve got some good news for you: Afrikaans is a relatively easy language. If you already speak Dutch, German, or English, many words and phrases will seem familiar.
Since Afrikaans is spelled phonetically, you won’t need to add pronunciation notes to all your flashcards. You will benefit from drilling “r” and “g” pronunciation, however, along with diphthongs. You can get started with that here.
Ignore the myth that there are no irregular verbs in Afrikaans: even “wees,” or “to be,” is irregular. However, since only a few verbs break the rules, you’ll be able to learn them quickly.
Making it even easier, the verbs don’t decline, i.e. they don’t change depending on the speaker (“I am/you are/it is…”). And while Afrikaans has gendered pronouns, there is no grammatical gender. Like in English, you can say “she sits,” but the chair she sits on will be neither male nor female.
The best way to learn Afrikaans will depend on your goals, personality, and how much spare time you have. Is your aim to travel in South Africa or make friends there? You’ll probably want to focus on speaking and listening. Alternatively, if you want to read the news in Afrikaans or talk to online friends, prioritize reading and writing.
How much spare time do you have? If possible, practice daily. A little every day is better than three hours once a week, especially if you’re aiming for spoken fluency.
It’s important to use the tools that best suit you. Someone else’s favorite app may bore you, while popular South African TV shows might fail to make you laugh. Find things that you like, such as music and films, so that you stay motivated.
That being said, you’ll probably want some balance in your Afrikaans studies. Drill vocabulary with flashcards, keep a diary to improve your fluency and practice your listening frequently – especially if you can’t spend a lot of time with native speakers.
Read aloud to focus on your pronunciation. Experiment with different language-learning resources until you find the ones that work for you (and remember that these might change as your level of Afrikaans improves).
And most importantly of all, stay positive. Keep track of your progress and don’t let a bad day affect your self-confidence.
Although Afrikaans courses and books are harder to come by, there are more language-learning resources than you might expect.
Afrikaans.us is a great starting point. Once you get over the dated appearance, you’ll find that it’s full of well-organized and easy-to-understand material for both beginner and intermediate-level learners, as well as instructions on how to organize your studies. It was created by Dr. Jacques de Plessis at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the website’s pedagogical foundations are evident.
Freemium course AfrikaansPod101 has a strong focus on listening (you can read more about our thoughts on it here) as well as flashcards and other tools. Combining it with Afrikaans.us would give you a good balance of vocabulary, grammar, and listening practice.
We’re also a fan of Easy Afrikaans. It’s slightly less comprehensive than Afrikaans.us but is easy to dip in and out of if you have a specific query. Meanwhile, 17 Minute Languages also has an Afrikaans course, but we found it was plagued with mistranslations.
You might also see adverts for paid Afrikaans courses with Cudoo, which has three beginner-level modules and one course for business Afrikaans. We tested their Albanian course and found the quality to be very low, and would expect their Afrikaans courses to be similarly disappointing. So, take that as a word of warning to avoid this one.
Subscription-based Transparent Language is focused on memorising word lists, but doesn’t teach basic sentences and quickly feels repetitive (you can read more about this here). Instead, for drilling vocabulary, we recommend the free-to-use iLanguages.org.
You won’t find Afrikaans on Duolingo, unfortunately. However, there are other options.
Memrise doesn’t have any official courses, but there is a wide range of community-made ones. Their quality will vary, but they are free. They also offer one significant benefit compared to all the other apps: they were made specifically for Afrikaans. That means you won’t miss out on culturally specific differences in how the language is used.
The paid-for apps Mondly and Learn Afrikaans with Master Ling have official Afrikaans courses. We’re not a huge fan of Mondly, but either of these apps will help you drill vocabulary along with pronunciation.
Clozemaster is a mostly free, retro-esque, gamified way to improve your vocabulary. What we like about it is that you learn the language in context. However, there is limited Afrikaans content. We recommend using it, but bear in mind that you will exhaust it quickly.
Subscription-based uTalk is an affordable way to memorise set phrases, which can be useful ahead of a short trip. We like that they use native speakers for all the phrases, and that you can record yourself speaking Afrikaans and listen back to it.
Ankidroid is highly recommended, once you’re ready to create your own flashcards. It will help you drill new vocabulary intelligently, and you can create your own decks based on what you’re currently studying or the words and phrases that you find challenging.
Tandem, HelloTalk, and Speaky will also help you find a language exchange partner. Not sure which one is best for you? We’ve compared Tandem and HelloTalk and reviewed Speaky to make the decision easier.
It’s hard to find podcasts suitable for beginners, no matter the language, but AfrikaansPod101 (also mentioned under courses) is a good start.
As your Afrikaans improves, you can move onto podcasts that aren’t just designed for language learners. We like AudreyStories, which has a selection of short stories from around the world, along with Audrey’s personal travel experiences and opinions of South Africa.
Even more challenging, but highly rewarding, are Ek hou van travel!, a short-lived podcast about traveling, and the eclectic Van die os op die jas. If you’re interested in business and entrepreneurialism, you might pick up useful vocabulary from Klipkouers Potgooi, while Afrikaans Preke explores religious themes. And music fans should try WAT met Willim Welsyn – but be warned that these can be long.
Struggling to choose between them? Or looking for more ideas? We’ve already written an entire article about podcasts in or about Afrikaans.
Afrikaans textbooks can be difficult to track down. However, if you’re determined to learn from a book instead of an app, both Complete Afrikaans: Beginner to Intermediate by Lydia McDermott and Teach Yourself Afrikaans by Helena van Schalkwyk are popular among Afrikaans learners.
Afrikaans Handbook and Study Guide: An English Student’s Guide to Afrikaans is used in South African schools but hard to find internationally.
If you’re willing to read online, you’ll have more luck with graded readers and children’s fiction. There are several free PDF stories here, courtesy of the South African Department of Basic Education. They’re designed for children, however, and can take a long time to load.
Kindle readers won’t struggle to find bilingual children’s books, although you might have greater variety if you switch from Amazon.com to Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, and so on (there is no specific url for South Africa). Doing this will give you choices such as Sleep Tight, Little Wolf – Lekker slaap, wolfie and Am I small? Is ek klein?
At an intermediate or advanced level? Try reading crime novels by South Africa’s most famous writer, Deon Meyer, or the prize-winning romance and historical novelist Irma Joubert. Detective and romance writer Chanette Paul is another popular option, as is short story writer Nataniël. And Dalene Matthee’s novels, written in the ‘80s, are well-loved modern classics.
Afrikaans with Lindie has only 17 videos, but they are all useful. Our favorites are the cooking and culture ones, since Lindie speaks in Afrikaans but adds English subtitles. Her main channel Lindie Botes also contains videos on general language-learning tips and experiences, while you can download her PDF on the 100 most common Afrikaans words with example sentences for free here.
Looking for something a little more challenging? Perhaps you’re ready to try content that’s not just designed for language learners. Katinka Oosthuizan is a popular vlogger praised for her sense of humor. If her videos aren’t to your liking, try the Vetkoek Paleis comedy series (although it was last updated in 2014, so some elements might seem a little outdated by now.)
The award-winning South African soap opera 7de Laan is also popular among Afrikaans-learners. Not only will it give you the chance to improve your listening skills, but you’ll also get an insight into the South African culture and humour. Launched in April 2000, thousands of episodes have been streamed, and you’ll be able to find the most recent episodes on SABC2’s official YouTube account.
Not into comedy? AKTV’s videos are related to the arts, culture, and society, and range from 2 to 50 minutes long. Afrikaans entertainment channel kykNET (channel 144) is also on YouTube, with short clips from 30 seconds to 10 minutes long.
If the big screen is more your thing, you’ve got plenty to choose from. Roepman is an excellent coming-of-age movie, and the humorous and award-winning Die Windpomp is also worth seeing. Hard-hitting Tess has received positive reviews, while Vaselinetjie and Noem My Skollie will give you an insight into South Africa’s recent history.
Providing you like the songs and are motivated enough to look up the lyrics, music can help you learn new vocabulary and practice your listening. Just make sure that a phrase isn’t poetic license before you use it in conversation!
Start with playlists to find the songs and artists you like. If you have Spotify, try this, this, this, and this one. None of these to your liking? Use the search function to find Afrikaans playlists in your favorite musical genres, from rock to gospel.
Once you start learning Afrikaans, you’ll discover that there are plenty of opportunities to speak and read it. So, what are you waiting for? Start scrolling Afrikaans.us, adding your new vocabulary to Ankidroid, and exploring South African books, movies, and songs. Jy kan dit doen!