Dictionary | Credit: Usisipho

Swedish: Similarities to Afrikaans (and Dutch)

Learning a new language can be challenging, and Swedish is no exception. But if you speak a Germanic language, your studies may just be a little easier!

The Germanic languages is a group including English, Dutch, German, and Afrikaans, among others. You might have noticed that English and Swedish share some similarities, the same holds true for other Germanic languages compared to Swedish. But wait…

What is Afrikaans?

If you aren’t South African, you might be wondering what Afrikaans is. In short, it is one of South Africa’s 11 official languages, is also widely spoken in Namibia, and it originates from Dutch. Because of this it is quite similar to Dutch, and somewhat similar to Swedish due to the Germanic origins. But South Africa has a lot of linguistic diversity, so Afrikaans has also been influenced by other languages such as Malay, the Khoisan languages, the Bantu languages, and Portuguese.

Before I moved to Sweden, I wondered how much Afrikaans would help with learning Swedish. I learnt Afrikaans as a third language, so I’m not very eloquent when speaking it, but I can understand enough to read a newspaper or understand conversation.

Similarities between Swedish, Afrikaans and Dutch

Many people learning / teaching themselves Swedish (Jag lär mig svenska, anyone?) use Duolingo to some degree. This is great for my first example because for some reason, Duolingo thinks one of the first words you should learn is skölpadda (tortoise/turtle). If you’re an English speaker, you’re unlikely to be able to guess what this word means. But if you speak Afrikaans, it’ll probably remind you of skilpad (or schildpad if you speak Dutch). The literal translation to English means something like ‘shield toad’.

So where else does this sort of relationship come up? Here are a few words that are similar in Swedish/Afrikaans, but quite different in English:

betala vs betaal (to pay)

dela vs deel (to share)

teckna vs teken (to draw/sign)

skriv vs skryf (to write)

resa vs reis (travel)

Sometimes it’s less obvious, but you can figure out some words with a bit of effort. For example, the infamously difficult to pronounce Swedish word sjukhus. Again, English doesn’t really help at first glance. But the Dutch word ziekenhuis may help you figure out that it means hospital. It won’t really help with the pronunciation though. There are many more, but I’ll end off with the word undervisa (to teach), which may remind you of onderwyser (a teacher).


It’s cool seeing similarities between languages, and it often makes life a little easier! But it comes with its own challenges – I sometimes catch myself using an Afrikaans word instead of a Swedish one!

Have you found anything similarities with other languages while learning Swedish? Let me know, it’d be interesting to hear! You can reach me via email at usisipho.studyinsweden [at] gmail.com.


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