My child is failing Afrikaans

My English/Xhosa/Zulu child is failing Afrikaans. What can I do to help?

Written by Adrian Marnewick

My own Afrikaans is pretty ‘sleg’. I’m pulling my hair out, trying to help my child with a language I don’t understand.

Yip, I hear you.

My last blog post focused on strategies we used to help my 14 year old son improve his school report dramatically within the space of just 12 weeks. I received a lot of great feedback from parents across South Africa with specific questions. One of those is how a non-Afrikaans speaking parent can help their non-Afrikaans speaking child pass Afrikaans as a subject.

Biltong Cake


I can’t write about Afrikaans without featuring this fabulous meat cake.

You speak English, isiXhosa or isiZulu at home, but the education department says that your child has to pass an additional language at school in order to pass his or her grade. For many parents Afrikaans is the only choice offered at your child’s school as a First Additional Language (referred to in our time as a “second language”).

Your daughter comes home in tears because she did not understand the instructions that were in Afrikaans on the Afrikaans test and therefore she didn’t understand what she was supposed to do. And the teacher wasn’t allowed to help her, which sounds unfair. You phone the school to complain, only to be told that the education department stipulates that test instructions need to be given in the language that is being tested.

Your son is frustrated one afternoon after his Afrikaans writing exam because the teacher wouldn’t let him use his dictionary. Again, you inquire with the school, only to be told that learners aren’t allowed to use dictionaries in exam situations.

Learners are supposed to have a big enough Afrikaans vocabulary to be able to write coherent sentences for their grade level. Additionally, many parents struggle to speak or understand Afrikaans, which in turn leads them to feel hopeless.

The good news is that with a bit of effort, you CAN help your child improve their Afrikaans mark within the space of a few short months.

Please understand that this post isn’t about having a go at Afrikaans. I love the Afrikaans language and culture. Disclaimer: my wife is Afrikaans. But the reality is that any First Additional Language can be a source of frustration for many parents and learners.

The ideas shown below can be applied to any First Additional Language that your child might be struggling with, including English, isiXhosa and isiZulu.

So how can I help my child?

We’ve put together a “getting started” guide of 3 fairly easy-to-implement strategies to help your child through their Afrikaans exams. Just relax, take it slowly, don’t be negative about your child’s First Additional Language (because this will rub off on your child), and follow these steps …

1. Start with the INSTRUCTION words!

The biggest problem with any First Additional Language exam paper, is that even if your child studied well for it, he or she might not understand the instructions in the paper and therefore won’t know how to answer the questions. The best way to help with this is to make your child study these instruction words beforehand, so that they are sure of what is being asked of them.

Teachers generally don’t trick learners with instructions; they are simply following the guidelines set for them in the CAPS document (which is freely available on the Department of Education’s website). This means that you can also access these instruction words and teach it to your child.

But if you don’t feel like trawling through CAPS documents, then just look at your child’s Afrikaans past papers and sign up to WorksheetCloud for loads of Afrikaans revision exams and worksheets.

Here are some examples of instruction words your child must know:

  • Verduidelik (Explain)
  • Kies die korrekte antwoord (Choose the correct answer)
  • Antwoord in ‘n volsin (Answer using a full sentence)
  • Antwoord met een woord (Answer using one word)
  • Waar of vals (True or false)
  • Gee ‘n rede vir jou antwoord (Give a reason for your answer)

2. Use an official dictionary.

A reliable and current bilingual dictionary is a wise investment. Your child will get much use out of a good bilingual dictionary. Although dictionaries are generally not permitted in exam situations, they can be used when doing writing or any other exercise in class or when preparing for tasks (like oral presentations) at home.

I have an admission to make (and I hope my wife isn’t reading this). I’m all for efficient (my wife might say “lazy”) working, which means I teach my son about efficient ways to get things done. The quickest way to translate words at home? Google. It’s fabulous! But only allow your child to Google translate words if they demonstrate they have sufficient paper-dictionary skills. No point in using Google for everything, when you don’t know how to use a physical dictionary.

Google translate from English to Afrikaans

Google Translate South Africa Pro tip: If you click on the speaker icon, Google will read the word or phrase for you to hear the pronunciation.

If your child is struggling with Afrikaans, improving their reading skills might also be helpful.

3. And use a “homemade” dictionary!

Want to get your child to learn and remember words? Make them write it down.

A handy tip is to buy your child an A5-size notebook in which they can write any new Afrikaans words they learn throughout the year, along with the English translation.

Quoting actual advice I received from a teacher: “The kids who do this in my class almost always do better than those who don’t.” Here is the beginning of my son’s homemade dictionary …

What comes next?

I’d like to point out that following the 3 strategies above is an excellent start to helping your child pass their First Additional Language. They are simple enough to implement this week (start today!).

In upcoming blog posts, we’ll delve deeper into additional strategies and methods that any ordinary parent can implement. In the mean time, you should consider signing up to WorksheetCloud to access practice exams and worksheets in Afrikaans and other subjects. Stay tuned.

I’m very interested to hear how you help your child with their First Additional Language. Post your comments, suggestions and questions below. I personally read and answer every comment.

The Author - Adrian Marnewick

Adrian is the Product Director and Co-founder of Learning Lab Apps, the company that develops WorksheetCloud. He is an activist for technology in education, but also a firm believer in the effectiveness of good, old fashioned, hands-on teaching.

WorksheetCloud is the most exciting way to study for exams and tests!

You might also be interested in:


  1. Haley

    I am so grateful for the honest and open posts you share. It is good to know that as parents who have to juggle so much, receiving tips helps to restore balance and sanity in my home.

    • Adrian Marnewick

      Thanks so much Haley! Glad that our posts are inspiring you with balance and sanity. Here’s to an excellent report for your children in term 3! 🙂

      • Conny

        Wow, Thank you so much. This is one of the best advices as we always strangle when coming to Afrikaans. We really appreciate your effort in helping us to better our kids education progress.

        • Ross Frank

          Hi Conny, thanks for your comment!

          I’m really happy to hear that you found our blog helpful! Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world!

          Please also let us know if there are any other blog topics you would like us to cover in the future or if you have any questions regarding our content.

          Ross 🙂

      • Mangaka

        Thanks a lot for these useful tips. I am going to implement them with my two boys.

        • Kyle Roets

          Thanks so much for your awesome comment Mangaka!

          I’m really happy to hear that you found our article helpful!

          Please be sure to let us know if there are ever any other blog topics or videos you would like us to cover in future.

          Kyle 😁

      • Abby

        Hi there do you have Grade 1 and 2 tips for teaching afrikaans – Grade 1 is 6/7 Year olds

        • Kyle Roets

          Thanks so much for your comment Abby! 😁

          For children (specifically 6/7 year olds) the best thing to do is to keep it simple.

          Reading books, singing, playing word games, and simply talking to toddlers in Afrikaans builds their vocabulary and teaches listening skills.

          The one thing I’ve learned about children is that they are very receptive and pick up on language fairly quickly through repetition.

          I hope this helps? Please do not hesitate to let us know if there is ever anything that you would like for us to cover in our blog articles.

  2. Belina

    Thanks for joining worksheet cloud.This helps me and my son to study every day as i don’t know how to help him with his studies.I’m taking other people advice and comments from this block to help him.First term he failed and second term he passed with under 60%.I hope he will improve her marks by practising this work everyday
    Thank you

    • Adrian Marnewick

      Glad to have you on board Belina! And really happy to hear your son’s results improved so fantastically during the second term. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  3. Caryn Leroy

    The strategies that have helped my boys in learning a second language are:
    1) My grade 6 son makes cue cards (approx. 10cmx4cm)- Afrikaans word on one side and the English on the reverse side.
    Writing the cue cards helps him remember better, and then he can flip through the cards both ways to see what he remembers, and what he doesn’t.
    2) My grade 2 son and I play games with the vocabulary- so we have made vocabulary learning very game orientated.
    Initially, he earned a token or plastic coin for every word he got right (“What is a vis?” Etc. We then exchanged the tokens for a monetary value, as he doesn’t get pocket money. This “invested” him in the game but anything your child values can be used as an exchange.
    Then we upped the stakes by him earning a token for every correct answer and losing a token for an incorrect answer to make it a bit more challenging.
    Then we moved to receiving a token for every verbal correct answer and another token if he could spell the word.
    We keep it fun and light-hearted. We don’t do it every day to keep it from being a chore. He LOVES to earn a bit of money and I am happy to reward his efforts in this way.
    I’ve made more of an effort with my Grade 2 child from an earlier age, as I’ve realized how much more they’re being expected to know- and hopefully this game will give him a great foundation later on.
    An important thing to note for parents, though- is that it’s important to reward the child with the agreed token exchange immediately or promptly. Children are so in the moment, that if a parent keeps forgetting to hold up their end of the ‘bargain’, so to speak, the child will lose enthusiasm. But to receive a reward or the relative acknowledgement at the time keeps the child’s interest (in my personal experience!) So I have a bag of coins ready to exchange at the end of the session.

    • Dereck

      Hi Caryn, thank you for your detailed post. I’m a grandparent, with a 14 year old grandson, a 4 year old grandson and a 18 month old granddaughter.

      I will certainly be utilising the advise from Adrian Marnewick’s blog post as well as your ideas to help my grandchildren with their language skills.

      As an ex High School Physical Science teacher I learnt the vital importance of comprehension. I found that the learners often knew the ‘science’ but could not comprehend the question.

      Improved language skills also help to build confidence.

    • Adrian Marnewick

      These are some great ideas Caryn! I’d love to write a future blog post around rewarding children during exam revision. WorksheetCloud rewards your child by allowing them to earn coins for answering questions. You hit the nail on the head – the reward should be instant otherwise a child will lose enthusiasm. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  4. Rose

    Thank you so much for this post, it was just in time as this morning I wrote a note to the teacher requesting how I could help my son in Afrikaans as in the exams he didn’t understand what was requested of him. Your tips and advice were spot on and I can see how they will help us in the third term!

    • Adrian Marnewick

      Thanks Rose! I’m sure your child’s teacher will be able to make some additional recommendations. Feel free to share those here once you’ve spoken to the teacher.

  5. ruby naidoo

    this is great stuff I am going to try this method

  6. Bella

    Make them read one page loudly every night so that they can hear the language as well. Afterwards they must be able to explain what they have read as they have to learn with understanding and getting used to the language.

    • Adrian Marnewick

      Thanks for your comment Bella! An excellent idea – reading aloud will help getting your child’s ear tuned into the language. I do this with my son, where he reads aloud one page at a time, then underlines the words he does not understand to add to his homemade dictionary.

      • Sindiswa Cindy

        Thanks so much for the helping us I appreciate it thank you very much

        • Ross Frank

          HI Sindiswa! Thanks for your comment on our blog!

          No problem at all, I’m really happy to hear that you found our blog useful and hope that it will help your child ace their Language tests!

          Please let us know if there are any other blog topics you would like for us to cover in the future or if you have any questions regarding our content.

          Ross 🙂

          • Nombulelo Cele

            Wow!!!!!!!! This is awesome. More info please.

          • Kyle Roets

            Hi Nombulelo, thanks for your comment! I’m glad that you found our article helpful!

            Is there something specifically you would like more information on? If you can let me know, I will be more than happy to help you further.

            Please also let us know if there are any other blog topics or useful surveys you would like us to cover in the future or if you have any questions regarding our content.

            Kyle 🙂

  7. Michelle

    The dictionary idea is fabulous.
    Get an A5 book that has the a, b, c on the page tabs. Write the English – Afrikaans words and then repeat with the Afrikaans – English words, now they have written it down twice and it will be much easier to find again when looking for the words again.

    • Adrian Marnewick

      That’s a really good idea Michelle! It will make searching for words much easier. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  8. Dineo

    Wow guys thanks alot for your tips I will use them with my boys.

    • Adrian Marnewick

      Thanks Dineo! I hope you find the advice useful. 🙂

  9. Tina

    Thank you very much for the advice this is exactly what i have been looking for all these years. Adrian you just nailed it and i will definitely apply this immediately to my sons to help with Afrikaans skills.

    • Adrian Marnewick

      Thanks Tina! I hope this helps and would love to hear from you in the future to see if it had an impact on your sons.

  10. Dora

    Evening after reading through this I just want to know how are you help your grade 11child who failed 3subjects whereas two of the subjects those ones is that you cannot fail eg Afrikaans home language History and maths literature and the gross total is so low please help I’m register

    • Kayleen Olivier

      Hi Dora

      Thanks for your message.

      It can be so difficult to watch your child struggle when you know their potential. Looking for ways to assist your child means that you are already headed in the right direction. Keep up the good work!

      As a good place to start, we would suggest setting up a meeting with your child’s various subject teachers. You can then have an honest discussion about the areas your child is struggling in most, and their teachers can provide some insight into the areas that need more attention (it could be as simple as they are not studying the content effectively, or perhaps they need some assistance bridging gaps in their understanding of the content). The teachers can then offer some ideas and tips on what your learner can do at home to improve their understanding and study skills, or they can advise if perhaps extra lessons are needed.

      Another option, would be to take a look at how your child studies. Perhaps their study routine could be improved, so that they get the most out of studying and actually understand the work they have covered. Here are a few great articles that could offer some starting points:

      I hope this helps. Please let us know if you need more information, or if you have any other questions, we’ll be happy to assist.

      Kayleen 🙂

    • Anna

      I found this very interesting.. Being Afrikaans-speaking in a plattelandse dorpie all the Kids had a huge problem with learning English.. (Pity we did not have all your tips!)

      So we started a competition.. Every weekday the kids of the neighborhood had to bring an English word, which they thought their friends would not know, to share. It was fun!

      Everybody wrote down all the words and on Friday we went through the lot, testing their knowledge..

      This really helped to improve their English.
      From a grandma, who did this many years ago…

      • Ross Frank

        Hi Priscilla! Thanks for your comment! We’re so glad you found our blog useful! That is a really cool idea to help kids learn English, thanks for the tip! Please let us know if there are any other blog topics you would like for us to cover in the future or if you have any questions regarding our content.

        Ross ?

  11. Madelein Erasmus

    Hi. I am an Afrikaans First Additional language teacher and I can see how the Tswana learners struggle to understand. I read your post and the 3 strategies is amazing but I will not recommend Google translate. They translate it badly and I immediately knew when a learner uses Google translate because it doesn’t make sense. Let them rather look up the words in a proper dictionary. The personal dictionary is excellent. I suggest that my learners get a book and write words down that they don’t understand. When I marked Paper 3 Creative Writing I can immediately see whom of them used their vocabulary books throughout the year. I also suggest that they read more Afrikaans books, starting with something simple. I have some Disney books in my Grd 11 class that they can read when they are done with their classwork. Also helps to listen to good Afrikaans songs

    • Kashiefah Chetty

      The kids at my learning centre use Google translate for their assignments. If you paste in one sentence and then click on translate (one sentence at a time) it actually translates into perfect afrikaans. Google translate messes up the translation when the kids are pasting entire paragraphs of English sentences in and then clicking on translate.

      Then just to double check we translate the same afrikaans sentence back into English (by clicking on the two arrows) to ensure the English message is retained correctly.

      After that I proof read just to make sure the sentence structure is correct

  12. Megan

    Baie handige hulp middels in hierdie artikel. Not too shabby, hey!?
    I would like to add a suggestion with the 2nd language problem:
    As social media, internet, TV and games are all English based, kids are not exposed to the “foreign” language often enough. When my now 14 year old started school, we make a rule: Tuesdays and Thursdays are Afrikaans days. We only communicate in that language – that way, he feels more comfortable pronouncing the words correctly. He has won many academic awards for Afrikaans throughout the year. It really works! Try it!

    • Ross Frank

      Hi Megan! Thank you so much for your great suggestion! Please let us know if there are any other blog topics you would like for us to cover in the future or if you have any questions regarding our content.

      Ross 🙂

  13. elrika

    I read this specific blog with interest. May I please share my few cents worth. Here I think specifically English mother-tongue speakers are challenged: in this multi-cultural society you need to make a special extra effort to encourage the next generation to be multi-language speakers. I find that with most other local language speakers, Afrikaans mother-tongue speakers included, all are able to at least communicate in a passable form of English, thus making them all, to a degree, multi-language speakers. Tenses etc might be a drama, but they can at least communicate to a degree. With English mother-tongue speakers, the tendency is to remain a single language speaker. How to break this barrier? Well, to my shame, I sometimes agree that whoever gets to choose the subject material for Afrikaans specifically, chooses the most boring work available on the planet. I tackle it the same way I learned German when I went overseas. I had just a matric level of academic German, with no chance to speak it in the Free State. When I got to Germany, I simply listened radio ALL THE TIME. This, incidentally, is also what Charlize Theron seems to have done by means of TV. I am convinced to this day that first, the sounds of the new language becomes familiar, and then, one day, you begin to find yourself understanding surprising parts and snippets. And from there, you just expand your vocabulary all the time. So, get your kids to listen to interesting Afrikaans stories on the radio or on whatsapp groups, or buy it and download it. Nowadays the assortment of what’s available is tremendous. Ghost stories are favourites in this house of ours. My boys simply will not tolerate “boring”. If necessary, read aloud to them. Afrikaans have wonderful ghost story books. Meet your child on the level of their interest, and find material in this language that will match it. A firm favourite is also radio dramas, and they are available nowadays! My boys sat and listened through 80 episodes of Wolwedans in die Skemer, just to find out who the axe murderer is. My thrill was to see them become intrigued, interested, and eventually spell-bound. The vocabulary will expand as a natural result. Keep it fun. Play clay while listening. Colour. Paint. Do crafts.

    • Kyle Roets

      Hi Elrika, thank you so much for your message! The points you mention here are really helpful!

      It is exciting to hear how you have used listening skills and a variety of material in your second language to not only improve your own skills (speaking German) but that of your children as well.

      If it’s okay with you, I am going to save your response and ask our content team if they can use the strategies you mention here in a future article or blog post. It’s really very exciting to read your success story! Thanks for sharing it with us.

      Please let us know if there are also any other blog topics or useful surveys you would like us to cover in the future or if you have any questions regarding our content.

      Kyle 🙂

  14. fikile

    Thank you so much for all the suggestions. My G7 son is struggling with Afrikaans. I was thinking of appointing the private tutor, but after these excellent suggestions and comments , I changed my mind. We will practice them. Thanks a lot.

    • Kyle Roets

      Hi Fikile, thanks so much for your comment! I’m really glad to hear that you found our article helpful!

      I hope that your son will grow in his understanding of Afrikaans and that he will be able to ace his upcoming tests and exams.

      Please let us know if there are any other blog topics or useful surveys you would like us to cover in the future or if you have any questions regarding our content.

      Kyle 🙂

  15. Tracy Pienaar

    Thank your for your tips of teaching Afrikaans. As a remedial teacher who teaches a lot of Afrikaans to learners who find learning challenging I enjoyed reading about your tips. find it really beneficial for the child to create their own picture dictionary of nouns. They take a topic like a picnic and then draw the picture and add labels. These labels then are placed on a wall in the home so that they create a word wall which they then add to. It is important that they add verbs and adjectives to their wall as they need those words when doing creative writing. The other thing is that the learners need to understand that they do not have to understand every word in a sentence in order to be able to translate it. When translating into English so that you can understand a passage don’t give up if you only can translate a few words in the sentence.

    • Kyle Roets

      Hi Tracey, thank you so much for your message! The points you mention here are really helpful!

      As a remedial teacher, your experience is very valuable. If it’s okay with you, I am going to save your response and ask our content team if they can use the strategies you mention here in a future article or blog post. It’s really very exciting to read your tips and tricks! Thanks for sharing it with us.

      Please let us know if there are any other blog topics or useful surveys you would like us to cover in the future or if you have any questions regarding our content.

      Kyle 🙂


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