The people on the street use language in a variety of creative ways that go way beyond vocabulary and grammar. Language is a tool, and you have to learn how to use it properly outside of an academic setting. A great example of this point is Afrikaans, the language spoken mainly in South Africa and Namibia by about six million people – you can learn Afrikaans and make a fool of yourself on the street!
Afrikaans: Simple and Subtle
Afrikaans is known as a “young Germanic” language, meaning that it’s a lot more simplified than, say, English or its ancestor, Dutch. That means it’s a little easier to learn ... but not much easier to speak! That’s because the native speakers bring a lot of subtlety to their speech.
For example, tone is very important. You can nail the grammar and vocabulary and find people giving you funny looks if you don’t get the throaty, guttural feel of Afrikaans just right. Especially for a man – your normal tone of voice speaking English will sound somewhat feminine and soft when speaking Afrikaans, and people will make a bit of fun of you. This isn’t mean-spirited, it’s just amusing to them. Your best bet is to listen to Afrikaans being spoken by natives and practice the way they form sounds. It’s also very helpful to learn a lot of expletives in Afrikaans! The guttural nature of the language lends itself nicely to cursing, and this will teach you the right tone to go for.
Forget the Lessons
Many of the ‘correct’ or ‘official’ words or phrases you’ll learn will be incorrect. For example, a lot of lessons will teach you to say goeiemôre as a greeting – it literally means “good morning.” However, no one in South Africa actually says this, preferring instead a simple hallo or hi or perhaps a casual môre, which means simply “morning.” This is due to the great influence that English has had on the language – making it more casual.
This continues to the idiom – Afrikaners love to use phrases and sayings in their speech, so learn the local lingo. Otherwise you’ll sound stuffy and bookish, and those mocking smiles will come out again. Be careful of using “translated” English terms instead of native words, too; one good example is the word offisieel, which means “official,” but which no one uses, preferring the native Afrikaans word amptelik. If you use too many of those weird English half-translations you’ll sound funny! However, Afrikaners actually use a lot of English words in their speech as a sort of slang.
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