Zulu Language Course

Eden Language Academy offers Zulu language courses on both basic and intermediate levels.

The Zulu Language

Zulu (isiZulu in Zulu) is the language of the Zulu people of whom the vast majority (over 95%) live in South Africa. Zulu is the most widely spoken home language with about 10 million speakers (24% of the population) and is understood by over 50% of the population. It became one of South Africa’s eleven official languages in 1994.

According to Ethnologue it is the second most widely spoken Bantu language after Shona. The Bantu languages constitute a traditional sub-branch of the Niger-Congo languages. There are about 250 Bantu languages by the criterion of mutual intelligibility though the distinction between language and dialect is often unclear, and Ethnologue counts 535 languages. Bantu languages are spoken largely east and south of present-day Cameroon;  i.e. in the regions commonly known as Central Africa, Southeast Africa, and Southern Africa.

Like many other Bantu languages, it is written using the Latin alphabet. Zulu migrant populations have taken it to adjacent regions, especially to Zimbabwe, where Zulu is called (Northern) Ndebele. Xhosa, the predominant language in the Eastern Cape, is 80% mutually intelligible with Zulu. The Zulu, like Xhosa and other Nguni people, have lived in South Africa for a long time.  The Zulu language possesses several click sounds typical of Southern African languages.  These click sounds are not found in the rest of Africa.  The Nguni people have lived together with other Southern tribes like the San and Khoi.

Zulu, like most indigenous Southern African languages, was not a written language until contact with missionaries from Europe, who documented the language using the Latin script.  The first grammar book of the Zulu language was published in Norway in 1850 by the Norwegian missionary Hans Schreuder.  The first written document in Zulu was a Bible translation that appeared in 1883. John Dube (1871–1946), a Zulu from Natal, created the Ohlange Institute, the first native educational institution in South Africa.  He was also the author of Insila kaShaka, the first novel written in Zulu (1930).

Another pioneering Zulu writer was Reginald Dhlomo, author of several historical novels of the 19th-century leaders of the Zulu nation: U-Dingane (1936), U-Shaka (1937), U-Mpande (1938), U-Cetshwayo (1952) and U-Dinizulu (1968). Other notable contributors to Zulu literature include Benedict Wallet Vilakazi and, more recently, Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali. The written form of Zulu was controlled by the Zulu Language Board of KwaZulu-Natal.  This board has now been disbanded and superseded by the Pan South African Language Board which promotes the use of all eleven official languages of South Africa.

Fanagalo is a pidgin (simplified language) based primarily on Zulu, with English and a small Afrikaans input. It is used as a lingua franca, mainly in the gold, diamond, coal and copper mining industries in South Africa and to a lesser extent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Although it is used as a second language only, the number of speakers was estimated as “several hundred thousand” in 1975. As with India, once the British went, English became the lingua franca enabling different tribes in the same country to communicate with each other, and Fanagalo use declined.

Fanagalo is the only Zulu-based pidgin language, and is a rare example of a pidgin based on an indigenous language rather than on the language of a colonising or trading power. The variety in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) is known as Chilapalapa and is influenced by Shona, while the variety in Zambia (Northern Rhodesia), called Cikabanga (pronounced, and sometimes spelt, Chikabanga), is influenced by Bemba. 

The name “Fanagalo” comes from strung-together Nguni forms fana-ga-lo meaning “like + of + that” and has the meaning “do it like this”, reflecting its use as a language of instruction. Other spellings of the name are Fanakalo and Fanekolo. It is also known as Isikula, Lololo or Isilololo, Piki or Isipiki, and Silunguboi. Mine Fanagalo in South Africa and Zimbabwe is based mostly on Zulu vocabulary (about 70%), with English (about 25%) and some words from Afrikaans (5%). It does not have the range of Zulu inflections, and it tends to follow English word order.

Basic Zulu Course Outline & Learning Outcomes

Module 1: Pronunciation

  • Sounds, syllables and words
  • Clicks, vowels and double vowels
  • Culture and Ethics:
    • The beauty and musicality of tonal languages

Module 2: Conversation     

  • Greetings and courtesies
  • Types of greetings and cultural norms
  • Culture and Ethics:
    • The importance of greetings
    • Greeting protocol when dealing with younger/older persons
    • Forms of address, family structure, good manners and social norms

Module 3: Word formation

  • The locatives “e-” and “kwa-”
  • Place names and addresses
  • Personal pronouns
  • Culture and Ethics:
    • The origin of place names
    • The importance of clans and clan origin                      

Module 4: Action words

  • Verbs, adverbs and emotions
  • Vocabulary: medical verbs
  • Present tense
  • Infix “ya”
  • The negative
  • Culture and Ethics:
    • Expressing emotion in different cultures

Module 5: Nouns

  • Nouns and their noun classes
  • Singular and plural forms of the noun
  • The 5 senses, words on parts of the body
  • Vocabulary: nouns pertaining to the learner’s working environment
  • Finance vocabulary
  • Articles and literal meanings
  • Culture & Ethics:
    • The history of conflict handling
    • Diplomacy
    • Cultural descriptions of everyday objects

Module 6: Sentences

  • Conjunctions
  • Formative “na”
  • Adjectives
  • Culture and Ethics:
    • Group interaction and socialization
    • Food and eating culture

Module 7: Questions

  • Question words, how to formulate questions
  • Weather related words and sentences
  • Prepositions
  • Culture and Ethics:
    • The origin of an indaba
    • Courtesies relating to discussions and questions

Module 8: Numbers

  • Money
  • Commands and quantities
  • Speaking on the telephone
  • Culture and Ethics:
    • The origin of the lobola and marriage customs

Module 9: Time

  • Days of the week
  • Seasons & months of the year
  • Numbers
  • Colours
  • Culture and Ethics:
    • The influence of Sangomas

Module 10: Final summative oral assessment and review

Language Course Assessments

If you’re interested in obtaining a certificate of competence upon completion of your language course, you will need to do the formative and summative assessments included in our language courses. The pass rate for these assessments is 50%, with the exception of 60% for HPCSA members.

Formative assessments:

The formative assessments do not count towards your grade, they are merely there to help with your learning process and to monitor your progress. The formative assessments can be found at the end of each module in the learner manual.

Formative assessments in practice:


Delegates will do the formative assessments at home after each class. Upon return to the next class, the memo with the answers will be made available for delegates to grade their assessments.

Distance learning:

Delegates will do the formative assessments at their own pace from home. The memos with the answers will be sent to delegates so that they can grade their assessments.

Summative assessments:

The summative assessments count towards your grade and are there to measure your competence. There are two different types of summative assessments: a written and an oral assessment, each counting 50%.

Written summative assessments in practice:

The written summative assessments are done after each module. There are about 8 of them each consisting of 10 questions.


Delegates will do the written summative assessments in class. It is closed book and invigilated by the course facilitator. These assessments are graded by an assessor and moderated both internally and externally.

Distance learning:

Delegates will do the written summative assessments verbally via a video-calling session with a language facilitator. As your course fee only includes 3 contact sessions of 30 minutes each, you will need to do 3 verbal summative assessments at a time. You are however at liberty to decide when you would like to schedule these assessments.

Oral summative assessments in practice:

The oral summative assessment is done right at the end of the course. Delegates are asked to prepare a +- 3-minute-long conversational speech (on their topic of choice) which includes open and closed ended questions for the course facilitator.


Delegates will do the oral summative assessments in private with the course facilitator.

Distance Learning:

Delegates will do the oral summative assessment during a final video-calling session with a language facilitator.