Wed. Nov 20th, 2019

Ranked: New data reveals the most popular South African languages

South African languagesNow we’re talking… We’ve got a complete breakdown of 14 South African languages, and how popular they are across the country.

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On Tuesday, StatsSA released their General Household Survey for 2019. The information-packed document has put a few government officials to work, summarising the behaviours and characteristics of our people based on housing demographics. The boffins behind the data have also ranked the main South African languages by popularity.

Speaking our language?

Of course, with this being a household-based survey, the factors they’ve looked at feature both home and public usage of our main dialects. Including sign language, a total of 14 South African languages have been surveyed, which reveal our most-spoken and least-used tongues:

South African
% of people who
speak it at home
% of people who
speak it in public
Afrikans 12.2% 9.7%
English 8.1% 16.6%
isiNdebele 1.6% 1.3%
isiXhosa 14.8% 12.8%
isiZulu 25.3% 25.1%
Khoi / San 0.1% 0.1%
Sepedi 10.1% 9.7%
Sesotho 7.9% 7.8%
Setswana 9.1% 9.4%
Sign Language Less than 0.1% Less than 0.1%
SiSwati 2.8% 2.6%
Tshivenda 2.5% 2.2%
XiTsonga 3.6% 2.4%
Other 1.9% 0.5%

Most popular South African languages

Zulu remains the most popular language in Mzansi, in both a public and domestic context. Interestingly enough, English isn’t even in the top five most popular languages spoken at home, yet it is the second-most spoken language in a public setting.

Xhosa is the second-most used language in a private environment, but only the third-most popular elsewhere. Afrikaans is next behind Xhosa in both respects. Sadly, the language used by the Khoi San people – including all its variations – is used by just 0.1% of the population. Efforts remain in place to preserve this tongue, however.

South African languages by race

StatsSA were also able to compile their data on our languages into race and ethnicity groups. Here’s what we learned:


  • About 1% of black South Africans speak Afrikaans either at home or in public.
  • 61% of the white population speak Afrikaans as their first language, but just 37% use it in a public setting.
  • 77% of coloured South Africans list Afrikaans as their first language.


  • Between 92 – 95% of the Indian community use English as their main language at home.
  • Around 1.6% of black citizens use English as their first language.
  • In white households, English is only the first language in 37% of that particular demographic.


  • Spoken by just 0.1% of the white population, either at home or in public.
  • Second-most popular language of black South Africans, polling 15 – 18% of people who class it as their “first language”.
  • Just 0.4% of Indian South Africans use Xhosa, at work or elsewhere.


  • This is the most popular language in SA, with 30 – 32% of black citizens using it holistically.
  • Only 0.5% of white citizens use this language.
  • More than 25% of the population classes isiZulu as a first language.

Other popular South African languages

  • One in eight black South Africans lists Sepedi as the language they use both at home and in public.
  • Just under 10% of all South Africans class Sesotho as their first language.
  • Despite one in nine South Africans speaking Setswana, less than 1% of white, coloured or Indian citizens use the language.

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