Overcoming Setswana Language Translation Challenges: A Guide for Professionals

tswana language translator

Translation is not merely a linguistic task; it is about delivering the same original message in a way that is culturally sensitive to resonate with the expectations of your target readers. Professional translators should have in-depth knowledge of all the linguistic and cultural nuances of both the source and target languages to tailor translated content that caters to your business needs. Thus, if you are planning to expand your business to overseas markets, do not miss out on the importance of investing in quality translation services to connect with your target audiences successfully and win their loyalty and trust. 

In countries like South Africa, where more than 35 languages are being spoken among its population, translation services are of the utmost importance to ensure flawless communication between people speaking different languages. One of the most significant languages in South Africa is Setswana or Tswana. According to the University of Wisconsin, it is one of the official languages of Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe and is spoken as a first language by over 5 million people and more than 8 million people as a second language in the three countries.  

Being one of the most widely spoken languages in South Africa, it is necessary to hire Tswana language translators when breaking into South African markets with a large number of Setswana speakers. This will ensure you a smooth business expansion and help you communicate effectively with your target audiences. However, Tswana language translation comes with a lot of obstacles that only skilled and experienced Tswana language translators are aware of. In this blog series, we will navigate some of the common challenges faced in Setswana Translation and explain the solutions besides highlighting the significance of Tswana translation for bridging the language gaps. Now, we will start with the challenges and provide some guidance on how to navigate them successfully. Let’s jump right into it!

Discovering Setswana: An In-depth Journey into One of Africa’s Most Beautiful Languages

Setswana, also known as Tswana, is a Bantu language that belongs to the Sotho-Tswana branch of Zone S (S.30). Setswana has been impacted by many other indigenous African languages such as the Northern and Southern Sotho languages, as well as the Kgalagadi and Lozi languages. It is one of the official languages of Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe and the lingua franca of Botswana and some parts of South Africa. In South Africa, most Setswana speakers can be found in three major provinces: Gauteng, Northern Cape, and North West. 

The History of Setswana

Originally, the Tswana people came from central and Eastern Africa and then migrated to Southern Africa in the 1300s seeking more fertile lands for agriculture. Most of them were traders and farmers. 

The language was first discovered by the German traveler, Hinrich Lichtenstein. He mistakenly thought that the language was a dialect of Xhosa and its old name was “Beetjuana”. In 1826, the British missionary Robert Moffat was able to publish Bechuana’s spelling book. He also wrote a Bechuana Catechism and a complete translation of the Bible.


Setswana has several dialects that belong to different regions such as Sehurutshe, Tlahaping, Rolong, Kwena, Kgatla, and Ngwatu (Ngwato).

The Setswana Culture

The culture of Setswana has been affected by the cultures of other languages such as Afrikaans, English, and Sepedi. The Batswana people are rich in their cultural heritage. They are known for using local Mopani wood for carving figurines of humans, animals, household bowls and utilities. Women are mainly interested in basket weaving.

As for religion, the Batswana people accepted Christianity in the 19th century and some other traditional beliefs. 

The most famous concept of the Batswana people is “Letsema”, which means doing voluntary work to help other people with agricultural work. This indicates their respectable and noble manners, making it necessary to translate to Setswana to let the whole world know about this beautiful and valuable culture. 

Navigating Setswana Language Translation Challenges

When it comes to Setswana translation, there are unique challenges that arise in the translation process. The following are some of the major obstacles:

Complex Linguistic Structures

Setswana is a complex language with a rich linguistic structure that includes a variety of prefixes, suffixes, and tonal variations. Its parts of speech such as adverbs consist of multiple words. So, the main problem lies in its part of speech tagging which requires a complete understanding of the language to select the appropriate words. These complexities can pose challenges for translators, especially those who are not native speakers or familiar with the intricacies of the language. Translators who are native speakers of Setswana can understand the grammatical rules and nuances of the language and deliver accurate and meaningful translations.

Cultural Specificity

Translating Setswana also requires a deep understanding of the cultural context in which the language is used. Setswana is deeply rooted in Botswana’s history, traditions, and social norms. Translators must be aware of the cultural references and idiomatic expressions that are unique to Setswana, as literal translations may not capture the intended meaning. It is essential to consider the cultural nuances and adapt the translation accordingly to ensure effective communication.

Lack of Available Resources

Setswana is considered a low-resourced language compared to widely spoken languages like English or Spanish. Hence, finding accurate and reliable Setswana dictionaries, glossaries, and translation tools can be challenging. There is an urgent need to develop accurate Tswana translation online tools that provide translators with precise information about the different meanings of words and their neighbours. For now, it is important for translators to rely on reputable sources to ensure the accuracy of their translations.

Low Standardization

In some regions, Setswana is only used as an oral language with multiple dialects and variations. For instance, in Botswana, Setswana is mainly used for oral communication, while English is dedicated to writing. This lack of standardization can pose a challenge for translators, as there may be differences in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Translators must be aware of these regional variations and adapt their translations accordingly to ensure they are relevant and understandable to the target audience.

Expert Strategies for Overcoming Setswana Translation Challenges 

The following are super useful tips to deal with the obstacles faced during translating to or from Tswana:

  • Hiring a Trustworthy Translation Agency: Make sure to partner with a professional language service provider that employs native speakers and language experts. Their expertise can help ensure accurate translations and provide valuable insights into the cultural context.
  • Understanding the Cultural Context: Before proceeding with the translation process, study the context in which the language is used to know the requirements of your target audiences, taking into account all the cultural nuances. Provide your professional translators with all the information you have collected to help them tailor your content according to the cultural norms of your target customers.
  • Using Reputable Resources: Although there is a need for more trusted Setswana resources online, there are a few reliable resources. Ask your translators to pick the most reputable resources that provide accurate information about the language to avoid any kind of misunderstanding or cultural inappropriateness in your translations. 

Crux of the Matter

Setswana is a unique and complex language that is spoken by millions of people in Botswana and other southern African countries and shares many characteristics with other African languages. When it comes to Setswana translation, there can often be challenges that Tswana language translators encounter. Yet, by equipping professionals with the necessary knowledge and tools to overcome Setswana language translation obstacles, you can improve the accuracy and effectiveness of your translations. 

If you are looking for skilled and in-country Tswana language translators, look no further than Afrolingo! At Afrolingo, we hire professional translators who are native speakers of Setswana with strong knowledge of the intricacies of the language to deliver translations that are error-free and culturally sensitive.

Contact us today!