So far during my time in South Africa I’ve gotten by just fine speaking only English. I know basic greetings and how-are-yous in Sotho and Zulu, but so many languages are spoken in my community that English is often used as a common tongue, plus its a big part of the South African school system.
Whether I always understand that English is another story. Not only do accents often get in the way of me understanding others and them understanding me, the lingo we use (prime example: me using the word lingo) impede communication as well. Most of the time I’m able to understand what someone means when they say something, but it certainly separates the fresh foreigners from the locals.
Here is a small sample of some of the English slang and vocabulary I’ve picked up in Soweto. Enjoy!
“How’s it?” – This is the typical South African greeting. If you ask “How’s it going?” people get thrown off.
“Is it?” – I have heard this used meaning anything from “really?” to “OK” or “yeah” in the American vernacular. This can be particularly puzzling to an American, like when you tell someone that another person is on their way and they answer “Is it?”. Also confusing when you tell someone your name and this is how they respond.
“Other Side” – If its not where you are, its likely on the other side. Sometimes this means another room, sometimes it means another building. Just try to follow where they point.
“Hectic” – If anything is at all busy, it is hectic.
“Robot” – Traffic light.
“Now Now” – Every joke that can be made about African time has already been made. But if you say now, you really just mean sometime that day. If you mean right now, you say “now now”.