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Getting Used to South African Slang

by Sarah Fisher
AIFS Abroad student in Stellenbosch, South Africa

I’ve been in South Africa for just over a month now and I’m starting to feel like I finally have a grasp for some of their lingo and mannerisms. When you choose to study abroad in a country where English is not the first language of most people, you expect to have some language barriers. South Africa is a little bit different in that aspect. South Africa actually has 11 official languages, but most people you come into contact with in Stellenbosch speak English. This is where things get tricky, because you never expect to run into language barriers within your own language.

Here is some common South African slang I’ve encountered while studying abroad in Stellenbosch:

1. Stellies

We’ll start with something simple. Stellenbosch, the city itself, or the people who inhabit it can be referred to as “Stellies.”

2. Robots

You can also be in a situation where a word or phrase is not necessarily slang, but rather a general difference in language. Traffic lights are referred to as robots. Not as exciting as it sounds, but useful to know when suddenly you’re hearing a lot more about robots than you’re used to.

3. Howzit?

While you will still be greeted by a “hello, how are you?” every now and again you will hear a “howzit,” which means essentially the same thing. but it’s a lot shorter and significantly more fun to say.

4. Keen

If you’re wanting to sound really authentic you can try your hand with the word “keen.” It means the same exact thing as it does in the States, but it’s used twenty times as much in South Africa. For example, “We’re headed to lunch at de Warenmarkt, you keen?” “Keen.” It’s almost the American equivalent of saying “I’m down.”

5. Jol

When it comes to night life you’re going to want to get familiar with the word “jol.” Jol is the equivalent of party. For example, you might overhear someone talking about how great a jol they had last night on a Saturday morning.

6. Now

Here’s the trickiest part of all. “Now.” There are three versions of “now,” and I highly recommend trying to learn them properly because if you say you want something “now” you’re not going to get it that instant as the American version of now suggests. There’s “now,” “just now,” and “now now.”

  • The now is eventually, in a minute maybe. For example, when students are raising their hands for questions or comments throughout lecture, the professor might say “I’ll come to you now,” meaning I’ll get there, let me talk for a minute more.
  • Just now is later. It’s a bit sooner than now alone, but still in a few minutes, or even a few hours depending on the context. “I’ll take a look at your email and get back to you just now” “When are we going? “Eh, just now”
  • Now now is the closest equivalent to the American now. It means shortly, but by no means does it mean right this instant. It means as soon as I can. “Are we going now now?”

7. Lekker

The best South African slang term of all is “lekker.” It can be used for absolutely anything and everything. It means great, awesome, delicious, fun, exciting. “Oh my gosh that cake was lekker” “How was the beach today?” “Ah, so lekker.” “We sat outside and had a nice cup of coffee, it was quite lekker.” Use it, love it!

This post was contributed by Sarah Fisher, who is spending her study abroad experience with AIFS in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Getting Used to South African Slang | AIFS Study Abroad
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