Study Abroad Student Handbook
South Africa South Africa
Center for Global Education

Why Learn a Language?

Commonly regarded by anthropologists and historians as the birthplace of mankind, Africa is a land of ancient beauty and intense contradictions. Its cultures have remained distinct despite the smoothing effects of time and as a result, Africa has become one of the most diverse and culturally rich continents on earth. Nowhere is this diversity more exemplified than by its broad linguistic tradition, which spans over 2500 languages in only 55 countries. Although having to chose from so many languages may seem daunting, choosing one to learn from an area that interests you can be extremely rewarding. It can allow you to delve more deeply into the people and culture with whom and in which you will be studying.

Following the end of apartheid in South Africa, and in an effort to embrace all of its native cultures, the new constitution officially recognized the presence of 11 languages in the country. Nine of these eleven (Afrikaans and English are excluded) are Bantu languages, a major subgroup of the Niger-Congo family of languages spoken throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa. There are currently over 200 million speakers of Bantu languages in Central, Eastern and Southern Africa with four major subgroups of this family - Nguni, Sotho, Tsonga-Shangaan, and Venda - having representation in South Africa.

Because Bantu languages are such a major subgroup of African languages, your interest in learning one could open up opportunities for a broader application. If you enjoy anthropology, the knowledge of an African language gains you invaluable access to that culture - its history, oral tradition, music and art - which you could not otherwise have. You could also work as a translator for the United Nations, in a security capacity for the United States government, or for a book publishing company looking to branch out in Africa. Furthermore, because the Bantu language group is such a widely spoken family of languages, knowing one language will enable you to expand your travels and study outside the borders of South Africa. You may even change your major!

Read on – Why Study Abroad and find answers how study abroad can affect your personal growth and career path.

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