Which foreign languages can my child learn at school in SA?


Does your child dream of working for the UN? Or for CNN as a foreign correspondent? If they are considering a career in international politics, journalism or business, speaking a foreign language will give them valuable insights into other parts of the world. It will also set them apart from other candidates vying for the same jobs, and open opportunities for scholarships, bursaries and student exchanges at international schools and universities.

They won't even have to leave the country: right here in South Africa there are great jobs for translators, interpreters, tour guides, communication specialists and even IT specialists who can speak a foreign language. 

Read more: Five ways to get ahead in the youth job market 

Which foreign languages can they choose from?

All Grade 10-12 students at government schools have to take two official South African languages as part of their seven subject choices. If two tongues aren't quite enough for your young linguists, they can also choose a Second Additional Language. This can be another official South African language, or one of these 16 non-official (or foreign) languages:

  • Arabic
  • French
  • German
  • Gujarati
  • Hebrew
  • Hindi
  • Italian
  • Latin
  • Mandarin
  • Modern Greek
  • Portuguese
  • Serbian (introduced in 2017)
  • Spanish
  • Tamil
  • Telugu (also called Telegu)
  • Urdu
Not all of these languages are offered at every government school: availability depends on whether there's a demand for the language at that school or in that region and whether there are any teachers available. If a school doesn't offer a specific language as a subject, find out if you can get a private teacher.

Read more:
What do extramurals cost in SA? 

Which language should my child choose?

Your child may want to choose a language that's part of your family's cultural heritage or religion. Here are some other considerations:


Arabic is the language of the Qur'an, which makes it essential to learn if you're a student of Islam. It is also one of the official languages of the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU). If your child wants a career in international politics, journalism or translation, Arabic will really set them apart from their colleagues.  


French is a must for anyone planning to go into international politics, especially if they're interested in the African region. It's the national language of 22 African countries and an official language of both the AU and the UN. There are also great opportunities for South Africans to study in France and Canada.


Being fluent in the official language of Europe's leading economy can only be good thing! In fact, German is the most widely spoken native tongue in Europe and is the official language of not just Germany, but also Austria and Switzerland. Germany offers some great study opportunities for South Africans, but speaking German can also get you a job in the service and tourist industries here in South Africa.


Economically, Gujarat is one of India's fastest-growing states. It's a hub for manufacturing, international trade and entrepreneurship. Anyone dreaming of doing business with India – now the fastest growing major economy in the world – may want to consider learning Gujarati.


Alongside Arabic, Hebrew is one of the most important languages to know if you want do do business with or study in the Middle East. It is the language of Israel, a hub for high-tech innovation. It is also a modern version of one of the Bible's languages, and many Bible scholars study Ancient Hebrew.


Hindi is the official language of India, which makes it a smart language to learn if you have business with the world's fastest-growing economy in mind. It's also the language of Bollywood, one of the largest film industries in the world, which may attract students interested in working in international film, television and media.


Words like tempo, crescendo, staccato, soprano and piano are proof that Italian is the language of music! More specifically, it's the language of opera, as the art form was born in Italy and many of the most beloved operas are sung in Italian. If your child is an aspirant opera singer, knowing Italian would give them an excellent boost.

Italy is also an important country in world affairs. It has one of the largest economies in Europe and is part of the G7. See here for study opportunities in Italy.


Latin may not be a "living language" anymore, but that doesn't mean it's dead. It is the language of science, law and theology and is the root of the Romance languages. Students may get a better understanding of the structures of French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish if they go back to these languages' origins.


Mandarin Chinese is the newcomer to the South African school curriculum, and the first Mandarin matric exam will be offered in 2018. Speaking the language can be an enormous career boost: China is a rising political superpower, it's the world's largest economy and is one of South Africa's biggest trade partners. There are also countless study, work and gap-year opportunities for South Africans in China.

Modern Greek

Ancient Greek is a must if you want to delve deeper into philosophy, religion, archaeology or ancient history. South African high schools don't offer Classical Greek, but Modern Greek will offer some insight into that ancient language and culture. It will also open doors for studying and travelling in Greece and its beautiful islands.


Portuguese is one of the official languages of the AU. It is also the official language of two our close neighbours, Mozambique and Angola, as well as our BRICS partner Brazil. Students of international politics with an interest in Africa or Latin America would do well to choose Portuguese! See here for study opportunities in Brazil.


If your child is planning any kind of travel or business in Latin America, Spanish is absolutely essential. It's an official UN language and the second-most widely spoken mother tongue in the world (after Mandarin). And students of world literature and magical realism may not be able to resist the temptation of reading the works of Nobel Prize winning authors such as Gabriel García Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa and poet Pablo Neruda in the original Spanish.

See here for scholarship opportunities in Chile and Mexico.


As one of the oldest living languages in the world, Tamil dates back to about 500BC. Today it's an official language in Sri Lanka, Singapore and the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Tamil is also the language of one of India's largest film industries, Kollywood. In fact, India's first film studio was built in Tamil Nadu in 1916! Today, an estimated 250,000 South Africans are of Tamil descent.

Telugu or Telegu is the official language in three Indian states, and it's the third-largest language in India. In South Africa, the Telugu community is small but active, with cultural organisations hosting regular events to promote their heritage. 


Urdu is the official language in Pakistan and six Indian states. It is widely understood in many other parts of South Asia and the Middle East, so aspirant journalists or researchers with an interest in these regions will do themselves a great favour by learning Urdu. What's more, it uses the same alphabet as Arabic, which means you can more easily learn both languages.

Read more: Grade 9's: Don't leave subject choice decisions to the last minute 

Are your kids studying any foreign languages? Do you think it's a valuable skill? Send us your comment to

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