When asked why he was learning Afrikaans, Nelson Mandela as once quoted as saying “If you speak to a man in a language he understands it goes to his head. If you speak to him in his language it goes to his heart.” While most countries over the world generally have one or two official languages, South Africa currently boasts 11 as part of its multi-cultural heritage. According to official census data collected in 2011, Zulu is the most widely-spoken language in South Africa with 11.6 million speakers followed by Xhosa with 8.15 million speakers.
The reason to recognize that many official languages was a concerted effort to advance and elevate previously-suppressed indigenous tongues. Today, the majority of South Africans are able to speak more than one language, English and Afrikaans included, and will often employ more than one of them while having a simple conversation. Learning additional languages are known to make you smarter, to the extent that it is reflected in your IQ test results. There are, of course, many more personally-enriching benefits to learning an African language as well.
You will meet new, interesting people
One of the most profound benefits of learning an African language is the new people you will be able to converse with. People are a lot more open when someone speaks to them in their native tongue. If you are learning within a group setting you immediately have new friends to share the language with. Even greeting stranger on the street in their own language will bring unsurpassed joy to all involved and will contribute greatly to bridging the cultural differences within the country. Can you imagine anything more delightful than being able to converse with your waiter at your favorite restaurant in their own language or share your favorite holiday memories with your colleagues in their home language as opposed to your own?
Employers will be very impressed
The South African consumer market is brilliantly diverse, necessitating employers to hire a diverse workforce. In a country that is said to have some of the best customer service in the world, nothing impresses the locals more than being attended to in their own language. From an employer’s perspective, multilingual people are seen as an asset to a company as they are able to communicate and interact with multiple communities. Your ability to speak an African language indicates that you are driven to learn new skills, that you are passionate about your country and unbiased with regards to the cultural differences found within the country. If given the opportunity, most employers will hire staff that can communicate in more than one language.
After you have mastered one it’s easy to learn another
When you start learning an African language you will find yourself equipped with the acquisition techniques needed for you to learn numerous additional languages. You may start out with the native language of the area you reside in (Zulu in KZN, Xhosa in the Eastern Cape etc) and then move on to another that interests you. In only a couple of years, you may find yourself being almost fluent in many of the official languages in South Africa.
The positive cognitive effects of learning African languages together with the way in which it will bridge cultural differences is more than enough reason to enrol in a course as soon as you finish reading this. South Africa is a glorious country filled with beautiful, colorful people just waiting to share their countless interesting stories with you in their native tongues.
— Written by Jane Sandwood, Contributor at Mondly