If you are interested in learning English in South Africa, we have put together a country summary of what you can expect when you study at an English language school:


While you study at an English school in South Africa, you will notice many distinct cultures and traditions prevalent throughout the country. Much of the cultural traditions survive in the rural areas, while urban areas have more of a western-like culture. One of the common threads throughout the country is the warm, friendly, and upbeat people that welcome you as you take a local English course in South Africa.

To breakdown the diversity into groups, South Africa is primarily made up of 79% black Africans, 9.6% whites, 8.9% colored, and 2.5% Indian/Asian. The African majority includes different ethnic groups including Zulu (21%), Xhosa (17%), Sotho (15%), Tswana, Venda, Ndebele, Swasi, Pedi, Bapedi, and many others. The foreign population is much smaller and is primarily Chinese, Pakistani, and Taiwanese immigrants. Many of these individuals continue to practice their traditions from their home countries and continue to add to the rich culture that makes South Africa unique.

Much of the population is young with the average age around 24. Additionally, 61% of the population lives in urban area. The people in South Africa largely practice Christianity, primarily Protestant. While South Africa has no official state religion, there are 4,000 congregations of African Independent churches.

Over the years, this country has struggled with its diversity and is currently trying to bridge the gaps between races in the post-apartheid South Africa. Prior to 1991, the apartheid was a system of laws that enforced legal racial segregation throughout the country. Now, this system has been abolished and the country is striving for equality among all individuals.


With such diversity, there are 11 official languages and a number of tribal languages spoken throughout the nation. English is the most commonly spoken language for business, government, and media but ranks as the 6th most commonly spoken language in all of South Africa. South African English has been influenced by the local languages where words derived from Afrikaans, isiZulu, Nama, etc. have been adapted into English.

The most commonly spoken language is IsiZulu which is spoken by almost 24% of the population. Other commonly spoken languages include IsiXhosa at 17.6% of the population, followed by Afrikaans at 13.3%, Sepedi at 9.4%, English at 8.2% and Setswana also at 8.2%.

While the English speaking population comprises of only 8.2% of the population, the 2001 census estimates that 45% of the population has a speaking knowledge of English. English is well-known throughout the country due to its long history of being an official language since the arrival of the British and Dutch. In fact, English is a required language in all schools and, in many cases, the main language of instruction. Much of the English speaking population is concentrated in KwaZulu-Natal, Guateng, and the Western Cape. As you learn English in South Africa, you will find that the exposure will improve your fluency since you will use your new language on a day-to-day basis.

The Landscape

Capital City

Cape Town – legislative capital
Pretoria – administrative capital
Bloemfontein – judicial capital


In South Africa, the climate is considered to be subtropical with a wide range of temperatures depending on where you are located throughout the country. If you are at an English school in South Africa during the winter months, primarily between June through September, you can expect cold temperature which can drop below freezing. Winter months tend to be a better time to visit the country if you are looking to pursue outdoors and hiking. Because there is less vegetation, animals tend to go to various rivers and lakes to make animal watching easier. If you plan to take an English course in South Africa during the summer months, be prepared to be a part of the peak season for tourism. Summer tends to be busy for no other reason than schools are generally out on vacation, usually around December and January. If you are worried about rain, the rainy season tends to be more common in the summer months, however on the Western Cape there is more rain during the winter months.


Located on the southernmost tip of Africa, South Africa has a long coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. The coastline hides the interior plateaus that are boarded by hills and coastal plains. The terrain is mostly varied with forest, grasslands, savanna, and desert within the country. There are 9 provinces that the country is divided into. Gauteng is the smallest providence and is highly urbanized. The Northern Cape is the largest providence that takes up almost a third of the country.

Things to do

You should also take the time to get outside of the classroom and learn English in South Africa itself. This country is rich and diverse with something to do for every visitor. You can go on a safari, wine tasting, surfing, diving, kayaking, hiking, shopping, etc. South Africa hosts the longest, largest, tallest, and fastest zipline in the world called the Zip 2000 at Sun City. There are numerous trails that you can hike, including the most famous, the Otter Trail which takes 4 days to complete as you walk through the rugged and rocky shoreline, waterfalls, caves, and splendid views. Attend a game of soccer, cricket, or rugby; perhaps go see the 2010 FIFA World Cup stadium. You might even get to see a Great White Shark or a whale depending on the season. Enjoy the beaches, go scuba diving, or visit one of the many festivals scattered throughout the country.

Financial considerations




Tipping is expected in South Africa if service is not included in the bill. It is customary to offer 10-15% in restaurants and about 10% to taxi drivers.

General Expenses: As of 2011

Loaf of bread€ 0.89
Eggs (12)€ 1.73
Sugar 1Kg€ 0.80
Coffee€ 3.87
Water (.33 liter bottle)€ 0.61
Water (1.5 liter bottle)€ 1.44
Fresh milk (1 gallon)€ 1.03
Bottle of Wine€ 4.55
Laundry Detergent (1Kilo)€ 3.31
Bus Fare€ 1.09
Taxi one way (within 5k of city center)€ 5.31
Main course dessert and drink€ 3.95-12.63
Fast food€ 3.90
Beer€ 1.77-2.00
Soft drink€ 0.75
Gym membership one month€ 37.55
Cinema ticket€ 3.95

Getting around


Once you arrive in the country, you may have to do some research on the best way to travel depending on the distance. Going city to city may be more convenient if you travel by plane instead of by rail or bus as the long distance can easily mean multiple days in transit. The majority of roads are in good condition and you can easily get place-to-place by renting a car, however be sure to check the safety of your vehicle depending on the town you will be traveling to. There is also a network of buses that you can use, however be prepared for delays and unorganized routes. The other option is riding your bicycle, however even though is some areas there are designated bike lanes you may have to dodge traffic.

If you plan to travel by rail or bus, be sure that you leave all your expensive items at home since security can be an issue. If you will be staying inside the city, you may be able to walk depending on the distance of your English school in South Africa to your residence – however you will want to consider some of the must-do activities and whether you can secure transportation.


While many visitors go to South Africa without problems, there is criminal activity throughout the country that can be violent. The US State Department states that there have been a number of “violent crimes such as armed robbery, carjacking, mugging, ‘smash-and-grab’ attacks on vehicles, etc.”

Be sure to leave your jewelry and valuables at home. You will want to carry as little money on you as possible and be cautious of your surroundings.

National Holidays

  • March 21st – Human Rights Day – This day commemorates the idea that all South Africans are ensured of their human rights and that abuses will never happen again. On this day in 1960, police killed 69 people at Sharpeville who were protesting against the pass laws. Four days later, laws were passed that restricted black political groups from holding power.
  • April 27th – Freedom Day – This day marked two important victories for South Africans. In 1994, this day marked the first democratic elections in South Africa regardless of race. On this same day in 1997, the new constitution took effect.
  • May 1st – Worker’s Day – This day celebrates the efforts of workers and trade unions to enforce fair employment standards and the resistance to Apartheid.
  • June 16th – Youth Day – Youth Day marks the anniversary when in 1976 students in Soweto rioted against the mandate that all black schools would hold instruction in the language Afrikaans as well as in English. At the time, the objection raised was the requirement that blacks had to learn in Afrikaans, viewed at the time as the language of the oppressor. The riots against a separate educational system for blacks resulted in the deaths of 566 people, mostly black, protesting against the Apartheid.
  • August 9th – National Women’s Day – In 1956, 20,000 women protested against a law requiring black women to carry passes to show that they had authorization to enter a white-only zone. Today, this day marks the contribution of women in South African society and the advances in women’s rights
  • September 24th – Heritage Day – This day celebrates the cultural heritage and diversity among all the people in the country.
  • December 16th – Day of Reconciliation (also known as the Day of the Vow) – This national holiday began in 1994 when the apartheid ended in order to establish national unity and reconciliation.
  • December 27th – Day of Goodwill – On Boxing Day, South Africans give back by helping those who are less fortunate.


There are about four international airports in South Africa if you plan on flying. The largest of these airports is Johannesburg International Airport followed by Cape Town International Airport, Durban International Airport and Mpumalanga Kruger International Airport. These airports host more than 50 airline carriers bringing about 33 million passengers a year, including South African Airways which is the national airline. There are also buses that transport passengers into South Africa crossing country lines from local cities and towns.


South Africa requires a visa in order to enter the country; however there is a list of country exemptions should you have a national passport and will be entering South Africa for less than 30 or 90 days. If your country does not appear on this list, you will may need to apply for a visitor visas if you are intending to take an English course in South Africa. This visa will give you a permit up to 3 month to learn English in South Africa. According to the Department of Home Affairs, “As each application is treated as an individual case and you should make inquiries with your nearest South African mission or consulate abroad or any office of the Department of Home Affairs to see whether or not you are required to apply for a visa.” While you can have a third party apply for the visa on your behalf, the visa process will require you to present the following:

Start your adventure by finding ESL Programs in South Africa!

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