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Your mother tongue is the language you learnt from birth, and the one that you and your family speak at home. It can also refer to the language spoken by your ethnic group, even if you’re not fluent. This is the case with many younger people as English increasingly becomes the language of business, education and finance in South Africa and around the globe. Many parents prefer their children to learn in and speak English to give them better opportunities in the future. Younger family members may lose the ability to speak and even understand their mother tongue. The result is that more and more smaller languages  are disappearing around the world – in fact, one language is lost on average every two weeks! When this happens, an entire cultural and intellectual heritage is lost.

That’s why The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared 21 February as its annual International Mother Language Day. UNESCO urges people around the world to celebrate in as many languages as possible as a reminder that language diversity is essential for sustainable development.

To mark the day, we’ve put together a list of language apps that could help you and your family develop a better grasp of your mother tongue:



This free app gives you a selection of nine languages to learn: Zulu, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Setswana, Venda, Swati, Sepedi, Tsonga and Ndebele. The design is simple, user-friendly and quite easy to navigate. The lessons are structured into modules with various sections in each module for you to work through.

Hello South Africa Phrasebook


Learn how to translate basic English phrases into South Africa’s 11 official languages: Afrikaans, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. This app is based on the Hello South Africa Phrasebook – 11 Official Languages. The translations and pronunciation guides are the work of some of SA’s top African languages academics.

Mzanzi Kids

Android / iOS

Children between the ages of 2-6 years will enjoy this app. It was designed to stimulate visual, speech and language literacy skills at an early age by teaching them to understand basic, everyday concepts as well as how to pronounce words and phrases in six different languages: English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu, Sepedi and Setswana. Images and phonetics make it fun and easy for children to learn and appreciate the different languages South Africans use daily. 

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