Bridging Gaps: South African Languages on Google Translate

Bridging Gaps: South African Languages on Google Translate

Since its launch in 2006, Google Translate has been serving as a bridge for communication for various languages all over the world. It is the accessible, fast, and free translation service that people resort to, especially when visiting a new country or when they need urgent translations. 

Google Translate started by supporting the major global languages such as English, French, and Spanish. Later on, the app was developed to add more languages including those that do not receive enough attention from the current technology. Today, Google Translate supports around 133 global languages, breaking down language barriers and boosting global communication.

In South Africa, using Google Translate can be a valuable asset to connect effectively with its multicultural and multiethnic population. The country has 11 official languages recognized in its constitution besides 34 indigenous African languages. According to Google Translate’s recent update, the app now supports 6 official South African languages which are Afrikaans, Sesotho, IsiXhosa, Isizulu, Sepedi, and Xitsonga. This means that you can translate from or to any of these six languages to overcome any language hurdles. 

In this blog post, we will explore the 6 official South African languages added to Google Translate, highlighting the significance of translating South African languages as well as the importance of preserving and promoting linguistic diversity. Let’s dive deeper!

Navigating the Significance of Translating South African Languages

The new South African constitution has ensured the country’s commitment to embracing linguistic diversity. It has given each individual the right to use any of the official languages in their communication with the government and public sectors. This has boosted the importance of translating the South African languages to connect successfully with its population. The following are some of the key benefits of translating South African languages:

Enabling Business Expansion

Translating the South African languages is vital for businesses striving to connect with the South African population. By translating their business information, marketing materials, and product descriptions into the languages of their target South African markets, businesses can ensure a smooth expansion and establish a solid presence in their target regions.

Preserving the Cultural and Linguistic Heritage

The more a language is written and translated, the more attention it will acquire, ensuring that its linguistic and cultural heritage will be accessible to future generations. Thus, by translating the South African languages, we preserve their cultural and linguistic heritage and allow South African individuals to express themselves authentically. 

Facilitating Access to Information and Development Resources

Translating the indigenous South African languages will enable the South African population to access international learning and development materials. This will give them equal opportunities and boost their sense of inclusivity and belonging.

A Closer Look at The South African Languages Added by Google Translate

Google Translate is an outstanding translation app that supports different languages to break down language barriers and enhance global communication. In its latest update, the app added new South African languages, emphasizing the need to embrace such beautiful and culturally rich languages.

The following are the South African languages included in the app:


Afrikaans has been added to the app since 2018. It is a West Germanic language with over 8.4 million people worldwide speaking it as a first language. It is widespread in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

Afrikaans came from the 17th century Dutch and was considered a variation of the Dutch language until it has become independently a separate language that combines characteristics from both the European and indigenous African cultures and languages. This means that Afrikaans translations generated by machine translation tools should be edited by a human Afrikaans translator to ensure that any culturally related items are properly translated. 


Sesotho, also known as Southern Sotho or Sotho, is a Bantu language that emerged in the Bantu-Nguni era. It was first spoken by the Basotho in Lesotho. Sesotho is one of South Africa’s 11 official languages with more than five million people in Lesotho, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zambia speaking it as a first language.


Xhosa or Isixhosa is the second most widely spoken language in South Africa with about 10.11 million speakers. The word “Xhosa” is derived from the Khoisan language and means “angry men”. Most of its population can be found in the Eastern Cape where the language is taught in schools. There is also a significant number of Xhosa speakers in Cape Town, the Western Cape, and Gauteng.


It is the most spoken language in South Africa with over 15.13 million people. The language belongs to the Nguni group of Bantu languages. Apart from that it is spoken by a quarter of the South African population, the language can be understood by more than 50% of the total South African population which indicates its popularity and importance. 

Zulu speakers are centred in KwaZulu-Natal, the coastal South African province. You can also find Zulu speakers in Gauteng and Mpumalanga.


The Sepedi language, also referred to as Northern Sotho or “Sesotho sa Laboa”, holds official status in South Africa with over 4.2 million speakers. It belongs to the Niger-Congo language family, closely related to Setswana and Sesotho. Sepedi is classified as a Bantu language and ranks as the fifth most spoken language in South Africa. Sepedi is broadly spoken in Gauteng, Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga areas. Also, many Sepedi speakers can be found in Botswana.


Tsonga is a Bantu language and spoken by approximately 1,646,000 people in the Limpopo Province. It has been standardized for both academic and home use. It holds official language status in South Africa and is recognized as “Shangani” in the Constitution of Zimbabwe. The Xitsonga language has a rich history, studied in detail by Swiss missionary Henri-Alexandre Junod, who concluded that it began developing in Mozambique even before the 1400s.

The Fusion of the Power of Google Translate with Human Touch

Google Translate’s inclusion of South African languages is a step towards promoting linguistic diversity and facilitating communication across language barriers. However, remember that machine translation tools including Google Translate still have their drawbacks. Machine translations still cannot identify idioms, metaphors, colloquialisms, and other cultural references. 

That is why human expertise in translation is still irreplaceable. We can leverage both worlds by generating translations from Google Translate and hiring a human translator to post-edit them and ensure that all the cultural aspects are addressed properly.

The Final Words

By incorporating South African languages, Google Translate contributes to enhancing linguistic diversity and easing communication across language boundaries. Although its precision may fluctuate, Google Translate remains a valuable resource for users seeking a broad comprehension of translations.

Afrolingo prides itself on providing a wide array of language solutions for all the official South African languages. Our hired translators are in-country native speakers who can handle all the linguistic and cultural nuances of the language to guarantee that delivered translations are appropriate for target audiences. With Afrolingo, you can smoothly tap into new South African markets. Request a quote today!