Leer | Learn

How I learned Afrikaans

I have decided to write this in English and I have already added some short comments about Afrikaans resources, so this is just a quick summary of my experience and thoughts. I am not trying to copy all the great advice that the language learning community online, just sharing some ideas I use.

Afrikaans books

A collection of the best books for learning Afrikaans

When I started learning in 1998 internet shopping was very new and the range of materials was quite limited. Linguaphone was the high end of language self-study and so was really quite expensive. (I did finally get a copy on Ebay at a good price.) The few cassettes I could buy were just key phrases spoken in stilted Afrikaans which to be fair were quite funny – my favourite was a rather austere and sombre voice slowly intoning “Meneer” at the start of many sentences.

I go through peaks and troughs in learning when I plateau for a while and try to get motivated again. It’s only comparatively recently that good new and accessible technology has become available so for many years it was just books, a few cassettes and talking to strangers. These day sites like italiki.comTeach Yourself Afrikaans which is a good book and I learned the basics and more really quickly. I think that Complete Afrikaans by Linda McDermott is the best book currently available.

Without any audio I had to rely on the pronunciation guide which was not always straightforward without a sound file; for example, o/oo is pronounced “like oo in loot but followed by a rapidly spoken w with lips pouted”. Later editions came with accompanying CDs and the grammar explanations were expanded to give more detail.

There is now plenty of good advice for learning languages available so I am not going to focus on that. The usual advice is to practise regularly, make mistakes, don’t wait until you are fluent etc. I think Benny Lewis’s advice that mistakes are the only way to learn a language is really useful. You can read the other polyglots’ websites and actual language courses’ websites for their advice. If you are really motivated, this advice on how to learn any language in record time is pretty good.

My tips for learning Afrikaans
Here are some of the things that helped me to learn Afrikaans. Just remember that Afrikaans can create strong and negative reactions. A lot of people’s perceptions are not favourable even among South Africans. For me, Afrikaans is about communication and the chance to learn a new language and a different way to express myself and think. I stand against those taking ideological viewpoints.

  1. Get a good teach yourself Afrikaans book
    I prefer learning from books rather than from websites and over the years I have bought quite a few, but I do think that Lydia McDermott’s Complete Afrikaans in the Teach Yourself series is currently the best. Of course, once you’ve bought it you need to use it but you can teach yourself a lot of Afrikaans. Learning Afrikaans is doable, so you should not be deterred. There are also quite a few dictionary apps you can install.

  2. Take lessons on italki.com
    I recently bought some lessons on italki.com because it is a lot easier to buy one-hour lessons for about $10 (it is priced in dollars) than to find classes or even speakers outside South Africa. There are some great tutors online and you can take formal structured lessons or informal conversation lessons. It’s the best resource available especially if you´re learning overseas.

    While it would be great if Duolingo released an Afrikaans course, I think we all know that is not going go happen. The other big language learning platforms like Babbel, Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur etc are not n the market either for an Afrikaans course, so the Dutch courses are a good proxy.

  3. Use Afrikaans every day
    I read the Afrikaans Wikipedia every day and switch between the different language versions. There are some good newspapers, especially Republikein in Namibia which is not behind a paywall. I have installed a number of apps such as NetNuus, Maroela Media and Die Son so I can receive pop-up notifications throughout the day and read a little bit.

    I email and use WhatsApp with my South African friends in Afrikaans even though they are mostly English South Africans. I appreciate their willingness to write in Afrikaans. There probably are also Afrikaans groups on Telegram as well, but I have not looked.

    I have also created and translated some short articles on the Afrikaans Wikipedia on a range of subjects that just interest me which are not necessarily related to or relevant to Afrikaans or South Africa or Africa. Knowledge in any language is still knowledge and I think it’s important that smaller Wikipedias (in terms of number of articles published) carry a good range of articles from across the world; just because it is a “small” language doesn’t mean the Wikipedia should focus only on topics immediately relevant to it.

  4. Practise Afrikaans conversations with yourself
    Running conversations in your head is a really useful way to work out what you are trying to say and to think in the language so that when you do need to speak it you are confident about what you want to say. It can really sap your confidence if you trip up as soon as you try to speak a few words and Afrikaans speakers will usually switch quite willingly to English which won’t help you learn. All you can do is stick at it.
  5. Write and learn Afrikaans with a pen and paper
    I used to write out the exercises from Helena van Schalkwyk’s Teach Yourself Afrikaans and mark them, and make word lists which I would actually then learn. I would also translate Afrikaans Wikipedia and news articles and then learn the new vocabulary.
  6. Dutch is a useful reference for Afrikaans
    I signed up for Dutch evening classes when I started learning Afrikaans. It left me with a bit of Dutch-sounding accent, but it helped me a lot and referring to Dutch can be really useful for vocabulary and grammar if you are unsure. Afrikaans certainly made the Dutch Duolingo course quite straightforward. In particular, watching DVDs with Dutch subtitles has helped me learn a lot of new words. As to whether Standard Dutch or Flemish is easier for Afrikaans learners I don’t have an opinion.
  7. South African English is a good reference point for your accent
    I am slightly going out on a limb on this point, but South African English is a good reference for your accent if you have no other reference. By this I mean, you hear far more South Africans speaking English in the media and life outside South Africa than you hear Afrikaans speakers. You can sometimes tell whether a South African speaking is an Afrikaans or English first language speaker, but the differences are too slight for a leaner to need to consider. You will pick up how words spoken in both languages are pronounced and where the stress falls. Don’t aspire to perfect accuracy. It doesn’t matter if your accent is not authentic.

    Sure it’s not perfect comparison, but as with the Dutch accent it is very useful, but language is about communication. The more you speak a language with native speakers the more accent will shift towards resembling theirs.

  8. You can use English sometimes
    English and South African English have had a big influence on Standard Afrikaans and every day Afrikaans. There are a lot of words you will recognise which either come as loanwords from English or words which share the same West Germanic origin.

    While you don’t want to rely on English all the time, people will understand you. It’s better to make some mistakes than to struggle and become disillusioned.

    Personally, I prefer to use the proper Afrikaans word rather than the English loanword or colloquialisms, but I know this can sound like very formal book Afrikaans rather than everyday spoken Afrikaans. It is good to at least know both words and then decide which to use.

    This list of South African slang words contains some good words.

3 thoughts on “Leer | Learn

  1. Petra

    Hi Alexander

    Thanks for this overview of Afrikaans material. I am currently studying the language on my own but I am desperately looking for good textbooks that will take me further than an A1 level.

    The Linguaphone course is indeed said to be good, but it is out of stock everywhere. Could you tell me where you found the pdf’s? I would love to work with that course!

    I am also taking italki classes and loving it!
    Baie dankie!

  2. Petra

    Hi Alexander

    Thanks for this list of material for studying Afrikaans! I am studying the language as well and recently started to talk to an italki teacher. Big fan!

    However I can’t find any material to go beyond A1. Linguaphone is indeed very good.
    Could you let me know where you have found the pdf’s? I would love to study with them.

    Thanks so much!

  3. Petra

    Hi Alexander

    Thanks for this list of material for studying Afrikaans! I am studying the language as well and recently started to talk to an italki teacher. Big fan!

    However I can’t find any material to go beyond A1. Linguaphone is indeed very good.
    Could you let me know where you have found the pdf’s? I would love to study with them.

    Thanks so much!

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