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The Benefits of Learning a Local Language

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

What are the benefits of learning a local language?

Our world has been described as a global village, and language is the key to successful navigation of a strange new town.

Expatriates hop from country to country, students seize opportunities to study in new lands, embassy staff face new foreign deployments and tourists search for new experiences. Learning a new language may appear to be daunting, there are huge benefits to the process.

Here are six benefits to learning a local language

  1. Languages break down barriers.

  2. Languages assist in developing cultural understanding.

  3. Local language gives you a professional advantage.

  4. Language skills enhance personal growth.

  5. Language opens the doors to hidden opportunities.

  6. Understanding a local language can keep you safe.

If you are planning to travel move to South Africa, you can expect for your ears to be surrounded with an array of new linguistic sounds.

Learning South African Languages

South Africa is a country that holds vast landscapes of immense natural beauty. It encompasses an area of 1.2-million square kilometers and is home to people with many different cultures and languages. South Africa had 11 official languages, with South African Sign Language recently added as

South African flag colours

number 12. These languages are Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Twana, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans, English and SASL (South African Sign Language). This shows a nation willing to embrace its diversity with equity, including its differently abled citizens. Language is important to South Africans!

A land with rich resources, South Africa is a popular destination for international businesses looking for economic investments, and expatriates looking for professional opportunities. One aspect that can greatly help with the experience of life in South Africa, is to learn a local language.

Who can benefit from learning a local language?

If you are planning a move to South Africa, then is important to accept that you are moving to a multicultural society. Learning a regional language will fast-track your integration into this colourful and welcoming country.

Learning a local language is especially beneficial to expatriates who need to function in the South African business world. Expats who often to hit the ground running, while integrating into local teams. Becoming a manager of staff is even a greater challenge. Some basic knowledge of local language and culture will help create respect and trust in the ''strange new guy''.

Embassy staff can also benefit by understanding conversations around them and will find that local language is a vital tool the generates cultural rapport.

South Africa’s biodiverse natural world and its complex social issues also attract foreign students who are hosted in South African universities. A student empowered with some local language skills will find participation in student life easier and will have the edge when navigating through the country.

But what about our locals? Many South Africans speak only their mother tongue and have not embraced another local language spoken in the area in which they live. Learning local languages makes communication easier and encourages cultural understanding and harmony. Embracing linguistic diversity can positively affect the lives of both newcomers and citizens alike.

Now let’s look at these benefits in more detail.

1. Learning a Language Helps to Break Barriers

If you can speak another person’s language, you have in your hand the key to breaking down the barriers of miscommunication and misunderstanding between you. You can build meaningful ties and learn to experience the world through the eyes of another. Learning a local South African language such as Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, or Afrikaans makes it easy to establish rapport with residents, colleagues, and clients. Making an effort to learn these languages shows that you respect the culture of the people you live alongside. In turn this will nurture a mutual respect and trust toward you.

2. Learning a Language Develops Cultural Understanding

Language is entwined with culture, so by learning a language, you automatically gain insight and understanding into the culture of those who speak the language. Understanding the spoken language gives you awareness of the history, traditions, customs, and values of the people of the country. This empowers you to navigate social situations with confidence and respect. This cultural understanding presents you with opportunities to experience the country’s heritage at a deeper level which can lead to stronger professional ties.

3. Learning a Language Gives You a Professional Advantage

Being proficient in a local language can offer many professional advantages for anyone working in South Africa. Firstly, the ability to communicate competently with colleagues and co-workers enhances collaboration, teamwork, and productivity. Secondly, speaking a local language helps you to navigate through bureaucratic practices, negotiations, and market dynamics with greater skill. Local language knowledge allows you to interpret nuances and unravel hidden discussions that sometimes take place in meetings and hallways. An added benefit is that multilingual professionals are highly sought after by employers as they can alleviate the inefficiency caused by miscommunication.

They say you are never too old to learn. Developing a vocabulary in a local language helps you to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. It expands your worldview by introducing you to new ideas and perspectives, as well as developing your intellectual abilities. All these aspects make you a more adaptable person and help you to develop true friendships and a sense of belonging in a culture that is not your own.

4. Learning a Language Helps with Personal Growth

Learning a local language helps you to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. It

expands your worldview by introducing you to new ideas and perspectives, as well as

developing your intellectual abilities. Yes, learning a new language contributes to brain development!

All these aspects make you a more adaptable person and help you to develop true friendships and a sense of belonging in a culture that is not

your own.

5. Learning a Language Help You to Find Hidden Opportunities

South Africa is a diverse country with many different industries and business sectors that are situated in areas where different languages are spoken. In Cape Town the predominant languages are English, Xhosa and Afrikaans, whereas Zulu and English are mostly spoken in Durban. Johannesburg and Pretoria are in the economic hub of South Africa and are a melting pot of all the South African languages. By understanding and speaking the languages in your area, you can access local networks and find opportunities that are hidden from those with a language barrier between themselves and these prospects.

5. Learning a Language Can Help You Stay Safe

No matter how wonderful any country appears on the surface, there is always a darker side which you need to be aware of. Learning a local language can help you to navigate potentially dangerous situations. In South Africa, an important aspect of keeping safe involves crime. If you can communicate in a local language, you can understand your surroundings better, and be able to interpret warning signs and follow safety instructions. In this way, you can gather important information and get help if you need it. Speaking a local language can help you blend in and become less of a target for crime. It fosters a sense of trust and respect that allows for better cooperation and a safer environment for foreigners and locals alike.

What is the best way to learn a local language?

There are many ways to learn a local language. You can do some of this on your own, but the best way is with the guidance of a skilled tutor or facilitator. Language lessons can take place one-on-one at home or online with a tutor. Alternatively, companies and organizations will often hire the services of a trained facilitator who can teach groups. Group sessions work well for teams in corporates and embassies.

Tips to start you on the language learning journey:

  • Find help, finding a language tutor is only a click away.

  • Learn the vocabulary of everyday words and phrases such as basic greetings. Vocabulary can be captured in a notebook or flashcards.

  • Practice the language by speaking to native speakers as much as possible. This may seem awkward at first, but these people will be helpful in correcting your pronunciation and increasing your vocabulary.

  • Watch movies in the language you are learning. Keep the subtitle button on so that you can follow in your own language.

  • Set a goal of learning a few new words or phrases every day.

  • Most of all, try to have fun! Native speakers love it when a person tries to speak in their local lingo. These interactions can be great learning experiences.

Conclusion: Local is Lekker

In South Africa we say ‘’local is lekker’’, it means that local things are pleasing or good. Learning one of the local languages of South Africa is an investment in the time that you spend in this country. It opens doors for you into a deeper understanding of the country and the ability to make deeper friendships with local people. It gives you a professional edge and allows you to read the environment around you so that you can navigate it safely. It broadens your perception of others and helps you to appreciate this beautiful and diverse country. Whether you are South African born or a foreigner, learning one another’s languages helps with personal growth and interpersonal harmony in a country whose rich cultural diversity makes it so unique.


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