Book Review: Teach Yourself Afrikaans

Teach Yourself Afrikaans:  Complete Course For Beginners, by Helena Van Schalkwyk

As someone who has read several books in this series [1], the general pattern of this work was certainly familiar to me.  If you have read any of these books before you have some idea of how they are going to go.  There is a thematic discussion and plenty of conversations that seek to implicitly provide vocabulary through conversation that can be assumed to be at least a close facsimile of the conversations about various themes and subjects that one is likely to have.  By and large this offers the reader the chance to become familiar with a language, in this case a somewhat obscure language that has little in the way of formal courses at least outside of South Africa and which can be judged as a somewhat close cousin to English in terms of its simplified grammatical structure as well as its vocabulary and its tendency to grab words from other languages with a particular ease.  In looking at this book I must say that I was not familiar with Afrikaans before but could see its closeness to both English and the Dutch that I am familiar with but also recognize its distinctness thanks to its change over time from its roots within the Dutch of the 17th century.

This particular book is about 200 to 250 pages or so, and it is divided into twenty chapters.  The book begins with an introduction and a pronunciation key that allows the reader to make sense of the uncanny valley aspect of Afrikaans when compared to English in terms of its accent.  After that there are chapters that are thematically based and that show a consistent approach of small word lists embedded within a larger group of questions as well as transcripts of conversations.  So, for example, we get a discussion of life “in the office” (1), then an introduction (2) and a discussion of the size of one’s family (3) and how one gets to such and such a place (4).  After that there is a look at careers (5), traveling by train (6), staying at a hotel (7), and pondering questions of what time it is (8) and where someone lives (9).  There are chapters on food and shopping (10), pay (11), going to the city (12), going out in the evening (13), the post office (14), and looking for work (15).  There are sections on driving a car (16), health (17), the outdoors (18), agriculture, mining, and industry (19), as well as culture (20), ending with a key to the various chapter exercises, a reasonable-sized dictionary, and an index to grammar.

Obviously, a book like this would be most of use to someone who expects to travel to South Africa and who wishes to speak to the Afrikaaners in their native language.  I have to admit that this is something I would like to be able to do if possible although it has not been the case yet.  One can get a sense at least sometimes of a culture from its language, and the Afrikaans language shows an even more extreme version of the simplification of grammar that English has relative to the cases that can be found in Dutch and other Germanic languages.  The lack of formal case structure creates a more rigid word order dependence but indicates the need for more simplicity in terms of speaking verbs so that they may be understood by a frontier population where all of verb forms are the same for the tense.  There is no distinction between first, second, and third person verbs, or plural or singular forms, within the same tense, and that makes at least one of the trickier aspects of language far easier to grasp in this intriguing tongue.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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