Molo! Sawubona! Ndaa! Hallo! In South Africa, you have 11 official languages and an array of dialects to choose from to say “hello” (no, a lion’s roar does not count as one of them). From English to indigenous tribal languages, South Africa is a prime spot not only to study a new language in a classroom setting, but also to put your skills to practice in real life interactions. Not to mention, there are mountains to hike, waves to surf, nature in its purest form to explore (safaris!), traditional dishes to taste, and vibrant cities to discover in your free time. With its culture, history, and adventure, South Africa provides a perfect backdrop for language study abroad.
South Africa has diversity that spans the geographical spectrum. From the ocean to grasslands, wherever you decide to pursue language programs in South Africa will determine the prominent languages heard
Cape Town is a large coastal city that offers a wonder of sights, cuisines, people, and history. Take a hike up Table Mountain, feast on local Cape Malay dishes, and head to Long Street to shop amongst the crowds. Throughout the city, remnants of apartheid have been preserved, but to get a more in-depth historical encounter, peruse through the District Six Museum and the infamous Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. With its location in the Western Cape, Afrikaans and English are both the common languages of study in Cape Town.
Port Elizabeth is known as the “Friendly City,” so if this is your first time abroad, this community will make sure you have a good experience. Head to the beaches after language courses for some surf and sand or take a long weekend excursion through the much-traveled Garden Route for lush green hiking and ecotourism. As part of the Eastern Cape Province, Xhosa, the second most common language in South Africa, is widely spoken in Port Elizabeth
If you’ve ever sung the intro of The Circle of Life at the top of your lungs (correct or not) you were singing in Zulu. Zulu, the most common language spoken in South Africa, is heavily spoken in the KwaZulu-Natal region. Here, you’ll meet a population of people with profound cultural pride. When you aren’t experiencing Zulu traditions throughout local villages, encounter South Africa’s famous Big Five on safari or take a boat out into the ocean to catch the migrating whales.
Language Programs in South Africa
Since the majority of South African languages are Bantu languages spoken mainly within the country, English is heavily used for business and government and is a second language for many. English language programs in South Africa are abundant, and since most South Africans speak more than one language, you’ll be able to get some help improving your clicking techniques along the way if you choose to learn one of the other local languages.
Language courses in South Africa are most commonly offered at language schools. Plenty of local and international language schools offer English language programs in big cities, like Cape Town, due to their popularity amongst international visitors. Language schools in South Africa are typically immersed in city centers and local neighborhoods, so class time won’t only be spent studying books. Weekly cultural, social, and historical excursions are often arranged through and an integral part of language programs in South Africa, usually with focus on cuisine, media, cultural expression, business, science, and the arts. Your classmates will come from all over the world, each with a different focus for their language studies in South Africa, from business needs to educational learning.
Universities offer additional options for language courses in South Africa, providing the added bonus of a campus experience. Language learners can study general English, enroll in an intensive language program, or choose from many different electives taught in English. When you’re not in class, university life, which is full of sports, clubs, and social activities, will be at your fingertips. And of course, there will always be a pick-up football (soccer) or rugby game somewhere around campus that you can join.
With local languages and dialects spoken all around South Africa, language exchanges are a fun way to engage with locals while giving a new language a try. Check out opportunities for group or private language lessons in South africa in Afrikaans or one of the nine Bantu languages, such as Venda or Sotho, or simply create language exchange coffee dates and dinner parties with new local friends.
If language isn’t your only interest, try a packaged language program in South Africa, which generally offer language courses alongside internships, volunteer placements, or adventure travel activities.
Costs & Affordability
While you can definitely find less expensive countries in Africa to learn a new language in, South Africa is still a very affordable destination. The price tag seems minimal when it is scaled against the plethora of experiences offered. Expect most things to cost around half the price of what it would be in your home country, even at some of the most high-end local spots. What will cost more are global name brand items, like Levi and Apple. If you stick to local products, brands, restaurants, and services, you’ll find you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a language program in South Africa.
A big plus of language study in South Africa is the reduced fees you will be paying to cover things like tuition, course materials, housing, meals, and excursions. Additionally, some language programs in South Africa cover transportation to and from the airport and offer in-country support and other supplemental programming. It’s important to inquire where your money is going before choosing a language program in South Africa.
You will typically pay your own airfare and, of course, will need your own spending money. But don’t let a lack of savings deter you from getting out there! There are many ways to get help covering the costs of language courses in South Africa, from crowd-funding sites like FundMyTravel to grants and scholarships.
Accommodation & Visas
One of the best parts about studying language abroad is the chance to get in touch with daily life and society. Language programs in South Africa, whether in big cities and in small towns, offer a range of lifestyles to choose from.
You’ll likely have the option of staying at a student residence or in a homestay with a local family. Living in a student residence offers the benefit of connecting with other international students and always having someone to both study and check out the town with. Bedrooms are usually private, with shared kitchens, bathrooms, and common spaces. A homestay comes with the benefit of true cultural immersion; you’ll have personal insight into the daily lifestyle of a family, share home-cooked meals, and be taken to some of the best local spots. Host families usually speak English, but there will be more opportunities to practice and learn the local dialects as well.
Once accepted into a language program in South Africa, you’ll need to apply for a study visa. This can be a lengthy process, so start well in advance. You can find out more about visa requirements by contacting a South African Embassy in your home country.
Benefits & Challenges
The diversity of South Africa’s languages across the regions means that each language has an effect on the other. Even if you study English in South Africa, words and phrases from Afrikaans, Zulu, and other African languages will pop up in the speech. This can be confusing at times, but will also make it easier to converse with community members who speak a different language than you.
The reverberating effects of apartheid could be a lot to take in for first time travelers, especially those who have never experienced a society with a high level of inequality. Politics and social structures can be frustrating and confusing. The beauty of the South African people is their love for life and joy for the day, no matter their circumstance; living in South Africa will be a learning experience in itself.
Attending a language program in South Africa will also enable you to check a lot of things off your bucket list! Shark diving, bungee jumping, seeing a lion roar...you name it and South Africa’s got it. And if you don’t get these types of experiences alongside your language courses in South Africa, you won’t have to go far to find some out-of-classroom adventures.
Language programs in South Africa will provide you with the unique opportunity to fine-tune your language skills while living in amid a perfect blend of society and nature. You will be amazed by the heartbeat of life and thrills at your doorstep in South Africa. Challenge yourself to learn a new language in South Africa, and enjoy every moment!