Charlize Theron and Afrikaans

Charlize Theron is probably the most famous Hollywood actress to come out of South Africa.  But has anyone else ever wondered why she doesn’t have a South African accent? I looked into it and found this interview with her online.

Check out her interesting explanation of why she has an American accent when she speaks English:

AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Charlize, have you had to do a lot of work to lose your South African accent? I’m from Pretoria… and uh…


AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: Lekker, lekker, baie lekker…

Praat jy nog ‘n bietjie Afrikaans?


Oh you’re English South African, I don’t like you!

AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: I only speak Afrikaans when I don’t want my kids to know what I’m talking about.

Exactly, exactly.

AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: Do you slip back into Afrikaans with your mother?

When I go there, I speak a lot; I speak Afrikaans every single day because my mom lives two minutes away from me. I just feel weird speaking English to her, like I’m playing a character or something. But I definitely do when I go back, Yeah, I come back to Los Angeles an people are like ‘Oh, you were just in South Africa’. Definitely. Yes, I get a little bit of that South African thing going (does awful Afrikaans accent) . But you wouldn’t understand that, broer because you speak English South African.

FRANCINE STOCK: Was that something that just happened or was it for career reasons?

The irony is, South Africans will know this, certain parts of the country are predominantly Afrikaans or predominantly English. I grew up in a predominantly Afrikaans environment where nobody spoke English. So you would have English as a second language at school but if you had Spanish, you don’t go home; you don’t practice it, you’re not talking to people. So my English was actually incredibly poor and so in a way I almost learnt English like an American. I spoke very much like a South African and yeah, I couldn’t do both, I admire people who can go back, I mean also I was much younger too, I think if I was older I probably would’ve hung onto one versus the other. I didn’t really have a voice, as in English South African, it was bizarre, and I didn’t feel like I was losing one for the other because I always just spoke Afrikaans. So English was really a second language for me and I learnt it with an American accent, and then people got really upset, ‘You’re not a South African anymore’.

Did you notice the part when Charlize said “you’re English South African, I don’t like you?”  She was joking, of course, but she was referring to the distinction between the two main white ethnic groups in South Africa: English South Africans and Afrikaners.

English South Africans (or Anglo-Africans) are white people of British descent who live in Sub-Saharan Africa (mostly South Africa) and speak English as their native language.

The term “Afrikaners,” however, refers to all white Afrikaans-speaking people. Many of them are descendants of the Dutch settlers who have been in South Africa since the middle of the 17th century (including the Boers).  However, there are also many South Africans whose families immigrated from all over the world (Italy, Ireland, Portugal) who consider themselves Afrikaner because Afrikaans is their native language. Confusing, eh?

Afrikaans is merely one of the eleven official languages of the country. However, it’s still the majority language of several regions of South Africa, and, according to the 2001 census, the “primary language of the coloured and white communities.”  By the way, “coloured” is one of the four official racial groups recognized in South Africa (along with white, black, and Indian/Asian).

And even in Joburg, you do see signage in Afrikaans and hear it spoken on the radio.

No idea what this means.

I still don’t get the linguistic politics in South Africa, so I’ll probably be writing about Afrikaans again when I have more to say.  Until then, I guess I should memorize these handy phrases:

Praat jy Engels?  (Do you speak English?)

My Afrikaans is sleg. (My Afrikaans is bad)

Suid-Afrika is ‘n wonderlike land.  (South Africa is a wonderful country)


  • Just a quick reference to the cartoon photo in your piece about Charlize Theron and losing her Saffa accent, I don’t know if you know, but the pic translates into ‘slippery floor when wet’. Sorry if you know this already.

  • afrikaans is proud
    our history is proud
    so for an afrikaaner to not love it, is realy bad
    love your history
    the fackt that she lifs is bc of the voortrekkers
    shell be dead if they didnt fight for our freedom
    just be awnest*

    • Too bad the Afrikaners didn’t accept their coloured brothers and were so eager to oppress them. Are you really surprised that Afrikaners are very cautious when it come to ethnic pride?

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