The Language of Botswana
Learn to Speak Setswana

© Buy cell phone airtime in even the remotest parts of Botswana
What is the Botswana language? While English is the official language and Setswana the national language, there are over 20 other languages spoken in Botswana, which are mostly used by the non-Setswana-speaking groups. Sekalanga, spoken by the Bakalanga, is the most commonly used of these languages.Almost 90 percent of citizens speak Setswana as their mother tongue and, although English is spoken throughout the urban areas and within all tourist facilities, you may have to try a little harder to be understood in the rural areas. Below are some words and phrases to help.

Pula - Its Raining Money

The word 'pula', which appears on the national coat of arms, is a significant one for the people of Botswana, as it embraces many meanings. In its literal sense it means 'let there be rain' - in a country that is mostly semi-arid, rainfall is precious and appreciated as a blessed event.

Hence 'pula' is also the name given to the local currency, with one Pula consisting of 100 thebe. Pula is also the country's motto and rallying cry (in this context it means 'shield'), and is shouted out by crowds at football matches whenever the national team, 'The Zebras', scores a goal.

Those attending traditional village gatherings (kgotla) or political rallies may respond with cries of 'pula' as a way of enthusiastically supporting the speaker.

Street Art: Hand-painted signage abounds everywhere

Phrases You Might Like to Learn

  • Help! - Nthusa!
  • How are you? - O tsogile jang, Le kae or Wareng? (informal)
  • I am fine - Ke tsogile sentle or Ke teng (informal)
  • No - Nnyaa
  • When greeting a group of people - Dumêlang
  • When greeting a man/woman - Dumêla rra/mma
  • Yes - Ee
  • Everything is fine / no problems - Go siame
  • I am lost - Ke la tlhegile
  • I come from South Africa - Ke tswa kwa Afrika Borwa
  • Please - Tsweetswee
  • Today - Gompieno
  • Tomorrow - Kamoso
  • What is the price? - K bokae?
  • What is your name? - Leina la gago ke mang?
  • Where do you come from? - O tswa kae?
  • Yesterday - Maabane
  • Can you show me the quickest way out of Maun? -- Ntshopotse tsela e bofefo ya go tswa mo Maun?
  • Cheers - Pula or Sharpu (slang)
  • Do we eat so much at every camp? - A re a kgora janna nako tshotlhe mo campend?
  • Goodbye/go well (to person leaving) - Tsamaya sentle
  • Goodbye/stay well (if you are leaving) - Sala sentle
  • Is Air Botswana always half a day late? - A sefofane sa Botswana senna sele kwa mouago metsotso e kannang thatsaro mo letsatsing?
  • Thank you - Ke itumetse or Kea leboga
  • Why is there a hyena in my tent? - Ke eng phiri e le mo tante yame?
Everyone has one! The ubiquitous mobile phone

By Ian Michler

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