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


 4 minute read

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 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.

3. And use a “homemade” dictionary!

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

A handy tips 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 …

Afrikaans School Dictionary Words

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.

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About the Author

Adrian is the CEO and co-founder of Learning Lab Apps, the company that has brought WorksheetCloud to thousands of parents and children around South Africa. In his own words: "Yeah, I run this joint ...".


  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! 🙂

  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.

  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

  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 ?


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