How to Say ‘Hello or Hi in Zulu, Sotho, Venda and Other South African Languages

Apart from Bolivia which has 37 official languages, India with 18, and Zimbabwe with 16, South Africa has the most number of recognized official languages in the world at 11. This is a testament to the rich cultural history and ethnic diversity of the country. Beyond the many South African languages, the country is also a marriage of different races; whites, blacks, Indians, and browns, which is why the legendary Archbishop Desmond Tutu coined the term Rainbow Nation to describe the country at the end of apartheid.

Because of the country’s cultural diversity, things as easy as exchanging compliments and pleasantries may be a little complicated since even though most people speak the English language, there are still many that do not understand. Depending on what province you are in, there are different ways that you can say “Hello” or “Hi” in Zulu, Sotho, Venda, or one of the other languages of South Africa.

Exchanging Pleasantries in Various South African Languages

Although the English Language is central in South Africa, understanding how to exchange pleasantries in all the other official South African languages is also important as each language in the country has a unique way of saying simple things such as “Hello”, “Hi”, and a few other greetings.

The languages in South Africa apart from English which have less than 5 million speakers in 2011 are IsiZulu, Afrikaans, IsiXhosa, isiNdebele, Sesotho, Sesotho sa Leboa (Sepedi), Setswana, siSwati. Tshivenda, and Xitsonga. Here are the ways of exchanging pleasantries in the different languages:

1. Afrikaans

Afrikaans names
image source

Of the Low Franconian subfamily, Africakaans has 6.9 million first-language speakers, accounting for 13.5% of South Africans. It also has 10.3 million people who consider it as a second language to make up its 17.2 million speakers in the country. The language is a West Germanic language that evolved from the Dutch vernacular of settlers in South Africa and it is popular in the Northern Cape, followed by the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and then Free State and Gauteng respectively.

With much fewer speakers in other parts of the world such as Namibia, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Botswana, here is how to exchange pleasantries in Afrikaans:

  • Hello: Haai, Hallo
  • How are you?: Hoe gaan dit met jou/u?
  • I’m fine, thanks: Goed, dankie
  • Nice to meet you: Aangename kennis
  • Thank you: Baie dankie
  • You’re welcome: Jy’s welkom
  • Yes:Ja
  • No: Nee
  • Goodbye: Totsiens / Mooi loop (go well)

2. isiNdebele

South African Languages
isiNdebele (Image Source)

Also referred to as Northern Ndebele, Ndebele, isiNdebele, Zimbabwean Ndebele, or North Ndebele, this is yet another of the popular South African languages, although it is more popular in Zimbabwe. This Nguni language has over 2.5 million native and non-native speakers making it the smallest language in the country based on the number of speakers. Of these, 1.1 million are first language users while 1.4 million are second language users.

It is mostly spoken in Mpumalanga where over 10% of the people speak this language. Here is how to exchange pleasantries in isiNdebele:

  • Hello: Lotjhani / Salibonani
  • How are you: Unjani (when you are talking to a single individual) / Linjani (when referring to many people or more than an individual)
  • I’m fine: Ngikhona / Sikhona
  • Nice to meet you: Kuhle ukukubona
  • Thank you: Ngiyabonga
  • You’re welcome: Kulungile
  • Yes: Iye
  • No: Awa
  • Goodbye: Khamba kuhle (go well – to person leaving) / Sala kuhle (stay well – to person staying)

3. isiXhosa

The Xhosa language is the second most popular language in South Africa with more than 8.2 million to 11 million speakers in the country, making it the most spoken in the country, only after Zulu. It is considered to be one of the most complicated languages as it is characterized by clicking sounds.

Also another Nguni language, Xhosa is most spoken majorly in the Eastern Cape where 78% of the population speaks the language. It is also well-spoken in the Western Cape where more than 24% of the population speaks the language. Here is how to exchange pleasantries in isiXhosa:

  • Hello!: Molo (When talking to an individual) / Molweni (when referring to many people or more than an individual)
  • How are you?: Unjani? (When talking to an individual) / Kunjani? (when referring to many people or more than an individual)
  • I’m fine: Ndiphilile
  • Nice to meet you: Ndiyavuya ukukwazi
  • Thank you: Ndiyabulela
  • You’re welcome: Wamkelekile
  • Yes: Ewe
  • No: Hayi
  • Goodbye: Hamba kakuhle (go well to one person); Sala kakuhle (stay well to one person); Hambani kakuhle (go well to one than one person); Salani kakuhle (stay well to more than one person)

4. isiZulu

isiZulu or the Zulu language is one of the most popular languages in the whole of Africa, and it is the biggest language in South Africa. It boasts of more than 12 million native speakers and 16 million speakers who have it as a second language. This is a Bantu language that is related to other languages, including isiXhoas and isiNdebele. The Zulu language which has an ethnic group that is also referred to as Zulu is in the Nguni subfamily.

Apart from South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini are other places where the language is well-spoken. It has more than 11.6 million speakers who consider it a first language, making for 22.7% of the country’s population, while a greater 15.7 million speakers speak it as a second language. This means that the total number of speakers of the Zuu language in South Africa are over 27.3 million.

Zulu is the major language of KwaZulu-Natal where more than 68.2% of the speakers live and then Gauteng which is home to more than 20.6% of the speakers. There are also speakers of this language in the west borders of KwasZuky-Natal to the northwest; Mpumalanga. The province is home to over 8.3% speakers of the language, while Free State also has some speakers.

  • Hello! Sawubona! (to one) / Sanibona! (to many)
  • How are you?  Unjani?
  • I’m fine, thanks: Ngikhona, ngiyabonga.
  • Nice to meet you: Ngiyajabula ukukwazi!
  • Thank you: Ngiyabonga
  • You’re welcome: Kulungile
  • Yes: Yebo
  • No: Cha
  • Goodbye: Sala kahle (to one person staying); Salani kahle (to more than one person staying); Hamba kahle (to one person leaving); Hambani kahle (more than one person leaving)

5. Sesotho

South African Languages
Sesotho (Image Source)

Yet another Bantu language, Sesotho is the language of the Setho-Tswana group. Yet another language in the Sotho-Tswana sub-family, Sesotho is the first language of more than 3.7 million South Africans, making for more than 7.6% of the country’s total population. This language joins Sesotho sa Leboa and Setswana to form the three Sotho languages.

There are also close to 8 million speakers who have it as their second language in the country. Sesotho is a language that is very popular in the Free State where over 64% of the populace speak it. Gauteng is another place where speakers of this language are found, making up for 11.6% of the province.

  • Hello: Dumela
  • How are you: O tsogile jang? Le kae? (to one) / Le tsogile jang? (to many)
  • I’m fine, thanks – Ke tsogile sentle Re teng
  • Nice to meet you: Ke itumelela go goitsi
  • Thank you: Ke a leboga
  • You’re welcome – O amogelesegile
  • Yes Ee
  • No – Nyaa
  • Goodbye: Tsamaya sentle (go well – said when leaving); Sala sentle (stay well – said when staying); Go siame (see you); Ke tla go bona (see you); Ke tla go bôna kamoso (see you tomorrow); Ke tla go bôna kgantele (see you later)

6. Sesotho sa Leboa (Sepedi)

South African Languages
Pedi People (Image Source)

Sesotho sa Leboa is a language that is also found in the Sotho-wana subfamily and it is also referred to as Sepedi. This Northern Sotho language boasts more than 4.6 million native speakers and 9.1 million non-native speakers which makes it one of the most spoken languages in the country. Sepedi makes up 9.1% percent of native speakers in South Africa.

Initially referred to as Sesotho sa Leboa, the language became known as Sepei in 1996. Nonetheless, many speakers still see Sepedi as the name of the dialect while the name of the language is Sesotho sa Leboa. The third most spoken language only after isiZulu and isiXhosa in South Africa, it also has speakers in places like Gauteng which is home to 27.8% of the speakers, and then Mpumalanga which has 8.1% of the speakers.

  • Hello – Dumela (to one) / Dumelang (to many)
  • How are you – O kae? (to one) / Le Kae? (to many)
  • I’m fine – Ke gona
  • Thank you – Ke a leboga
  • Yes – Ee
  • No – Aowa
  • Welcome: Re a go amogela (sg) / Re a le aomgela (pl)
  • Pleased to meet you: Ke thabela go go bona

7. Setswana

Tswana people
Tswana People (Image Source)

Also referred to as Tswana, this is yet another Bantu Language that is reported to be spoken by as many as 8.2 million people. The language falls in the Sotho-Tswana subfamily. It is very popular in Botswana and South Africa, as well as Zimbabwe, although in much fewer numbers.

In South Africa, the language is very popular in North West where there are 63.4% of the speakers and also in Northern Cape where 33.1% speak the language. There is also some part of the speakers of this language in Gauteng which has over 9% speakers and the Free States which has 5.2% of the speakers.

The language is also referred to as Sechuana or Chuana. Needless to say, a significant majority of the speakers of this language in South Africa are blacks who make 98.3% while 1% are colored and then the rest are either Asians or white.

  • Hello: Dumela
  • How are you: O tsogile jang? Le kae? (to one) / Le tsogile jang? (to many)
  • I am fine, thank you: Ke tsogile sentle / Re teng
  • Yes: Ee
  • No: Nyaa
  • Pleased to meet you: Ke itumelela go goitsi
  • Thank you: Ke a leboga
  • You are welcome: O amogelesegile

8. siSwati

siSwati is a language in the Nguni sub-family. The Bantu language has many speakers mainly from Eswatini, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe as well as South Africa where it is among the smallest languages in the country. The official languages in Eswatini and South Africa, it has 2.5% of South Africans speaking it as their 1st language. More so, 1.3 million of its 3.7 million speakers have it as their first language while 2.4 million have it as a second language.

siSwati is a major language in Mpumalanga where it is spoken by over 27.7 percent of the population. The province is where you find 85.3% of the speakers of the language while Gauteng is where over 10.5% of the speakers live while the remaining speakers of the language are found in different parts of the country’s northern areas.

  • Hello: Sawubona
  • How are you: Unjani?
  • I’m fine: Ngikhona
  • Thank you: Ngiyabonga
  • Yes: Yebo
  • No: Cha
  • You are welcome: Wemukelekile (singular) / Nemukelekile (plural)
  • Pleased to meet you: Ngiyajabula kukwati

9. Tshivenda

South African Languages
Venda Ladies (Image Source)

Also known as Venda or Chivenda, this language stands alone from all others in South Africa. Tshivenda is a language from the Sotho-Makua-Venda sub-family. Apart from being an official language in the country, it is also another official language in Zimbabwe. The two countries are the only places where the Venda language is found in South Africa.

It is one of the smallest languages in the country with only 2.4% of South Africa’s native speakers. 1.2 million of the country’s population speak it as their first language while 1.7 million are second-language speakers. In total, there are 2.9 million speakers of this language in South Africa.

Limpopo is the main province where you find the speakers of this language, where over 16% of the province is said to speak it. It is the second smallest language in South Africa only after isiNdebele. Here are ways to exchange pleasantries in Tshivenda:

  • Hello – Ndaa/Aa
  • How are you – Vho vuwa hani?
  • I’m fine, thanks – Ne ndo takala vhukuma.
  • Thank you – Ndi a livhuwa
  • You’re welcome: Ndo livhuwa / Ro livhuwa / Ndo livhuwa nga maanda
  • Pleased to meet you: Ndo takala ro divhana

10. Xitsonga   

South African Languages
Tsonga women (Image Source)

Also referred to as Tsonga, this is yet another very popular tribe in the Southern part of Africa. The Bantu Language is spoken in many countries, including Eswatini, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. In South Africa, the language is very popular in Eastern Cape, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga.

This language, which as claimed had its origin even before the 1400s in Mozambique, is an official language in both South Africa and Zimbabwe. Over 4.5% of South Africans speak it as their first language, accounting for 2.3 million, while 3.4 million have it as a second language. That said, it is one of the smallest languages in South Africa, going by its number of native and non-native speakers. Here are ways to exchange pleasantries in Xitsonga:

  • Hello – Avuxeni
  • How are you – Ku njhani?
  • I’m fine – Ndzi kona
  • Thank youNdzi khense ngopfu
  • You are welcome: Hami amukela (for one person) or Ndzaku amukela (for more than an individual)
  • Pleased to meet you: Ni tsakele ku ku tiva (singular) or Ni tsakele ku mi tiva (plural)


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