Doing Business in South Africa

The Rainbow Nation of South Africa is a diverse melting pot of cultures and languages, and it takes an expert approach and loads of localized content to approach this market segment. And that’s exactly where business translation for South Africa comes in.

Home to some 59 million inhabitants, South Africa represents one of the fastest-growing markets in Sub-Sharan Africa and offers massive growth opportunities for businesses that want to expand to the global market.

But it’s essential to keep in mind that South Africa uses a very unique version of the English dialect, which means everything from your brand messaging to your customer reviews needs to be localized if you’re set on penetrating the SA market. Although South Africa has 11official languages, the primary business language is English, and even though South Africans will understand any dialect of English, sometimes only their own will do. Here’s what you need to know about doing business in South Africa!

Understanding South African English

South African English (SAE) dates back to the arrival of the British Settlers at the Cape of Good Hope in 1795. The English language took root in the early 19th century as a Southern African language because of the British settlements established in 1820 in the Eastern Cape. The subsequent diamond rush further promoted the use of the English language. Today, South African English can be best described as a complex linguistic and cultural mix. SAE is non-rhotic, so it’s pronounced in syllable-final position.

South African English is an idiomatic version of the English language, and it has a range of fascinating expressions and an interesting vocabulary. Here’s what’s important to keep in mind:

Grammatical differences

There aren’t a lot of noteworthy differences between American or British English and the version spoken in South Africa, but some differences are important to keep in mind. SAE uses the British version of English, so they use -ise instead of -ize suffices when they turn words into verbs.

Lexical differences

British English shaped South African English. Which is why they use many UK terms too. In South Africa, it’s not gas; it’s petrol. And it’s the car’s bonnet, not the hood. But in some instances, SAE leans towards American English. For example, they call it pants, not trousers. And please don’t refer to lorry when you really mean truck. Because it’s not the same thing in South Africa.

Then there’s also the fascinating arena which is South African colloquialism. The bush is South Africa’s wilderness, and a braai? Well, a braai is the favorite pastime of most South Africans, and it’s similar to an American barbeque. If you’re marketing to South African consumers, these colloquialisms can help ensure that your messaging is reliable and culturally relevant!

Localizing for a South African Audience

If you’re keen on tapping into the South African market, here are the main elements to keep in mind:

Use Local Language Service Providers

South Africa is nothing like the US or Europe, and that’s exactly why you need a language service provider that has in-country experience. You’ll also benefit from the local native linguistics that’s part of the translation company’s teas, ensuring that your translations always match the local culture.

Product Customization

One of the most essential factors to keep in mind when it comes to the South African market is that you’ll need to customize your offerings to suit the traditions and cultures of the people. Investigating their purchasing style and preferences is therefore paramount to any business translation process.


It’s always best to enter a new market, like South Africa, with small steps. You must initially focus on smaller regions to target. Start by translating your website and materials into one official language at a time. During this phase, you’ll be able to gauge the market reaction towards your brand. Take Toshiba as an example. The company entered the South African market twenty years ago, and initially, it only translated its products into three languages. Today, the offerings are available in 24 different languages!

The Need for Localizing for South Africa

It’s true that South Africans understand just about any English dialect. But it is always important to localize your offerings when engaging with this unique market. South African English differs quite from American English. And this is why your marketing efforts can easily be received in a negative light if you don’t tailor it to the local dialect.

The whole idea of ​​localization and business translation is to modify the content. After this step, it feels organic to the target audience. Like it was created based on their cultural references. It also shows your brand’s willingness to adapt to new markets and flexibility to meet needs. Localization, therefore, removes the barriers that language can sometimes bring into play. It also ensures that South Africans will receive your message as “lekker,” which means it’s great!

Wrapping Up

Do you plan on doing business in South Africa? Then it’s essential to use business translation services to localize content. This includes the likes of your website, service and user materials, product reviews, videos, and marketing materials to ensure the success of your global expansion plan.

With so many linguistic features unique to South African English, you need a language services provider that has expert knowledge on the SA market, and that’s exactly where Day Translations comes in. Our business interpreting professionals have in-depth knowledge of the South African market. We understand the requirements for ensuring the success of your translation project. Get in touch with us right now to explore our full suite of language services that’ll help you transcend the dialect barrier!

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