Guide to speaking English like a local in Cape Town

Cape Town is a great place to learn English. As well as learning all the universal words and phrases of the English language, you’ll also notice that the locals of Cape Town have developed their own unique slang and you’ll come across unusual words and phrases borrowed from Afrikaans, Zulu, Greek, Portuguese, Flemish, Dutch and other languages. To help familiarize you with the local lingo, here are a few of the most common words and phrases, how to pronounce them and what they mean.

Ag

(pronounced ah-ch)
This is an expression of irritation or resignation. For example, you might hear phrases such as “Ag no man!”

Aitsa

(pronounced eye-tsa!)
This is a colloquial word expressing enthusiasm, surprise or praise of something and the equivalent to saying “Wow!” or “Nice!” For example, “Aitsa! Look at you this evening!”

Aweh

(pronounced ah-weh)
This is a way to greet someone casually. The equivalent of “Heeeey” or ‘What’s up”. For example, “Aweh, how are you?”

Babbelas

(pronounced bah-bah-luss)
This word comes from the Zulu word i-babalazi, which means hangover. Given the number of craft beer bars in Cape Town, you might find yourself saying on numerous occasions, “I have an awful babbelas today!”

Befok

(pronounced buh-fawk)
Depending on the context of the sentence, this can either mean that something is really cool or amazing or it can mean that someone or something is crazy. You might say, “The festival this weekend is going to be befok!” or “Did you see how fast that bus was going? The driver is befok!”

Bra

(pronounced brah)
This is an affectionate term for all the “bros” or “dudes” in your life and comes from the Afrikaans word broer that means brother.

Duidelik

(pronounced day-duh-lik)
This is another positive slang word for something that’s really great, awesome or hip. You might say, “Your new haircut is duidelik!”

Eish

(pronounced ace-sh)
This is another word for “uff” or “ay” to show disappointment or frustration about something. For example, “Eish, the power in our apartment went out.”

Gees

(pronounced gh-he’s)
This word actually comes from the Afrikaans word for “spirit” but, today, it’s more commonly used when talking about the good vibes of a place or event, “I love this bar. It has gees!”

Howzit

This is the customary way of greeting people in informal situations and the local equivalent of, “Hey, how’s it going?” The Capetonians are a happy bunch and always say it with a smile.

Is it?

You’ll probably hear the locals use this a lot in conversation. It doesn’t make a lot of sense as it’s used to acknowledge a statement rather than ask a question. The closest equivalent in English would be the word “really”. For example, if someone said to you, “This guy just stopped me on the street and asked for my number,” you might respond with, “Is it?”

Ja

(pronounced yaah)
You’ve probably already worked this one out but it’s Afrikaans for “yes” and is used a lot.

Jol

(pronounced jaw-l)
This word when used as a noun means a great party or nightclub. It can also be used to refer to the act of cheating, for example, “My boyfriend was jolling with another girl.”

Just Now

You’ll hear the laid back locals throwing around the term “just now” a lot. Don’t be fooled. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll do something “just now”. It could be now or it could mean a little later. The longer you spend in South Africa, the more it’ll make sense to you.

Kak

(pronounced kuh-k)
This Afrikaans word for “crap” or “useless” has been adopted into the local English language in Cape Town. It can also be used as a superlative in the positive, for example, “That girl is kak hot!”

Lekker

(pronounced luck-ker)
This is a very common word in the local language and is a very positive general term to describe all things cool, great, fantastic and delicious.

Mooi

(pronounced muh-oi)
Not to be mistaken with the Spanish word muy (meaning “very”), this is used as an adjective to describe something or someone that is beautiful.

Nee

(pronounced nee-ah)
This is the Afrikaans word for “no”. The more emphasis you give the word, the better.

Robots

(pronounced row-bots)
As strange as it may sound, this is the South African slang word for traffic lights. Now every time you pass a set of traffic lights, you’re going to look at them in a different light.

Shisa Nyama

(pronounced she’s-san-yah-mah)
This mouthful of a term literally means to burn (shisa) meat (nyama) and refers to the popular Cape Town custom of barbequing meat (more fondly known as a braai). It can also refer to a place or restaurant where they barbecue meat. For example, “We had a lekker shisa nyama on Saturday!”

Sho’t left

The expression sho’t left is useful when riding the public transport in Cape Town. Passengers use it to indicate to the driver that they want to get off close by or just around the corner.

Takkies

(pronounced tack-kees)
This is slang for sneakers or running shoes.

Voetsek

(pronounced foot-sek)
When you want to rudely tell someone where to go, then this is the way to do it. It’s the Afrikaans equivalent of “get lost.”

Heard any other useful local slang in Cape Town? Educate our readers in the comments section below.

Sophie Lloyd

Sophie Lloyd

I’m a British freelance writer and personal shopper currently living in Buenos Aires out of a love of Malbec and the Latino lifestyle. I enjoy travel and all things related to design.

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