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The Importance Of Language When Immigrating

Updated on April 11, 2016

Location of Zimbabwe (orange) and South Africa (green) shown on Map of Southern Africa


What It’s Like To Live In South Africa As A Born Zimbabwean:

Many people in the world have often found themselves living in a ‘foreign’ country, i.e. a country they were not born in or formed a bond to. As one of them I can relate. Although my home country is only a border-line away, it is astoundingly different to my residential country. One crucial aspect in that being language difficulties. Here is my experience with learning and mastering a new language

Background And New Learning Curve

Language truly is the most difficult obstacle to overcome in a new country, especially if the primary language spoken is not your first language. Indeed language is something that may separate even citizens from the same country; this is one common problem in South Africa. As a country with 11 national languages, most times this means that a simple provincial line can stop people communicating effortlessly. I am fortunate as English, my birth tongue is spoken by a high percentage group of South African citizens. However, the other 10 languages were the main problem. I fortunately found a way to alleviate it, even slightly. I have been living in South Africa since age 9. This was an age at which I was still capable of learning a new language with better ease compared to my family. In South Africa, Afrikaans is a compulsory second language taught in schools from grades 3 to 12. Seeing how widely Afrikaans was spoken; I decided to take it seriously, and make a concentrated effort to learn this new language. With this inner motivation it became much easier to achieve that goal and by grade 9 I had learned it well enough to hold a very basic conversation. By the point of graduation of grade 12 I had mastered the language to have quite detailed conversations and able to understand more specific phrases and imageries. This was extremely useful as I had been working as a receptionist for the town’s local non-profit organization for 3 years. By the 3rd quarter into my first year I discovered just how widely Afrikaans was spoken. I had been under the illusion that English was the main language in South Africa; however, I soon found out that it was actually Afrikaans. To this day I have dealt with countless people who do not speak English even as a second language. This is especially true in the case of the many African dialects; many people have little or no grasp of English. More often than not, they have a semi-fluent grasp of Afrikaans. If I had not learnt the language, I would have had many unhappy people that I could genuinely not communicate with in order to help, and would constantly have to go in search of a colleague in order for them to translate or assist the client themselves. I thanked my lucky stars each time this happened as it saved both the client and I awkward waits and general confusion.

Apathetic Views Encountered Along The Way

Growing up however I noticed a disturbing trend in school that bothered me. I have encountered many non- South African born children throughout my years. Some of them had been living in South Africa since a younger age than me or no more than 3 years after the age I had begun residing. The trend I noticed is that the majority of these children, practically 85%, simply flat out refuse to put any effort into learning Afrikaans, no matter how long they have been residing in South Africa. Their attitude can be described as haughty, suck-up or just plain hard headed and stubborn as a mule. I have seen scores of language teachers practically plead with these students to simply try. These students however remain set in their resolve and give lame, actually pathetic answers when being asked as to why homework or assignments were not completed and their poor results on tests and exams. The most common I have heard is “I’m not South African I’m from (insert birth country), I don’t understand Afrikaans, it’s too hard”, etc., etc. etc. The worst was I had overheard conversations of these students and their parents about this and their parents whole-heartedly accepted; in fact, even encouraged, their apathy. I felt pity for the teachers who had to deal with this. However, I also felt pity for these students when they were to leave school and begin the search for jobs, with or without further studying. They simply did not know or realise the fact that trying to find any job located anywhere in South Africa with only speaking English and not being bilingual is, simply put, almost an impossibility. I knew this because I had seen my mother; father and brother experience this same problem when job-hunting. Also from my experience from having part-time work as a receptionist during school holidays I could see for myself how critically essential it was to be bilingual in dealing with people in any work setting with ease.

Takeaway Point

In conclusion, this is the reason why I applaud foreign citizens actively trying to learn any local language in their residential country, as I have. It is far from easy yet the benefits greatly out-way the effort put in. It makes adjusting to the new country and people much easier and, as I have found, far less stressful.


The National Flag of South Africa in all 11 national dialects:

Afrikaans: Vlag van Suid-Afrika
English: Flag of South Africa
Sesotho sa Leboa: Folaga ya Afrika Borwa
SiSwati: Umjeka we-INingizimu Afrika
Sesotho: Folaga ye Afrika Borwa
Setswana: Folaga la Aferika Borwa
Xitsonga: Mujeko ya Afrika-Dzonga
Tshivenda: Folaga la Afurika Tshipembe
IsiXhosa: iFulegi laseMzantsi Afrika
IsiZulu: iFulegi laseNingizimu Afrika


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