Available on the Mahikeng and Potchefstroom Campuses


Setswana is an indigenous African language belonging to the Sesotho language group of the Sintu language family. It is also the language spoken by the Batswana people. This is a group of tribes of Sintu origin that makes up a significant part of the population of the country of Botswana. Setswana is one of South Africa’s 11 official languages, and is also spoken in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. It is therefore designated by ACALAN as a cross-border language, and as a scarce skill by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). Setswana speakers are the fifth largest language group in South Africa, and are found mainly in North West. The language is spoken by more than four million people, which constitute about 8% of the South African population.

The first major work on Setswana was produced by the British missionary Robert Moffat, who had lived among the Batlhaping and published the Bechuana Spelling Book, a Bechuana Catechism, as well as a number of Bible books. Setswana has been a subject of study and writing since the 18th century, and it is the first South African African language into which Bible texts and works of Shakespeare have been translated.

Why study Setswana?

  • Language is one of the elements that helps to create a sense of strong cultural identity and a sense of belonging to a society.
  • African languages are important because social, political and economic development on the continent depend on the proper and systematic use of the various indigenous languages.
  • Analytical and writing skills that are part of the Setswana curriculum are instrumental in students achieving success in many other university courses.
  • Multilingualism enhances interpersonal contact and understanding and therefore opens doors.
  • Linguistic knowledge of Setswana is to a large extent applicable to its sister languages, Sesotho and Sepedi, but also to the Nguni group of languages, and therefore to the vast majority of African languages in South Africa.
  • Skills acquired in linguistic and literary studies enhance scholarly interaction and achievement.
  • The study of Setswana enriches your academic record and curriculum vitae and therefore expands employment opportunities.

Course information

Studies in Setswana expose first-, second- and third-language speakers to both the literary works and grammatical aspects of this African language. Our academic undergraduate course runs from the first-year up to the third-year level, enabling admission to honours-degree, master’s-degree and doctoral studies (given that minimum requirements are met). The undergraduate programmes for the two groups of speakers (native and non-native) differ with respect to the literary works, grammar and communicative skills that are taught. Majoring in Setswana is the gateway to a multitude of career opportunities such as journalism, teaching, publishing, translation, interpreting, terminology development, language policy development and language management.

It is the dominant language in North West, and here at the NWU we pride ourselves on teaching Setswana as a first language through the medium of Setswana (Setswana-ka-Setswana).

Setswana for first-language users

Studying Setswana enables students to thoroughly approach linguistic and literary topics from a scientific and scholarly perspective. The history of literature is explored, while literary theories are applied for purposes of finding new and relevant interpretations of poems, novels and plays. Teaching Setswana to first-language speakers focuses on:

  • Orature and cultural semiotic study
  • Phonology and phonetics (scientific study of speech representation and speech sounds)
  • Morphology (scientific study of word formation)
  • Semantics (scientific study of meaning)
  • Syntax (scientific study of sentence structure)

Setswana provides an excellent foundation for the comparative study and learning of other similar African Sintu languages (isiZulu, isiXhosa, Xitsonga, Swahili, Shona, Lozi).

Setswana for second- and third-language users

Setswana for second- and third-language speakers is accessible to non-speakers of the language and entails:

  • The grammar of Setswana is introduced from a basic grammatical description of the language, and pre-graduate study concludes with a well-balanced linguistic knowledge of the linguistic disciplines of phonetics and phonology, morphology, syntax and basic semantics. The theory and examples are applied on a third-language level.
  • Language acquisition is promoted through the practice of listening, reading, writing and speaking skills.
  • The study of traditional and modern Setswana literature introduces candidates to the rich literary treasures of Setswana poetry, prose and drama. This is instrumental in acquainting them with the Setswana culture.

 “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart” – Nelson Mandela.

Possible career opportunities

  • Academia & research (usually within the environment)
  • Freelance writing
  • Translation & interpreting work
  • Journalism
  • Communications sector - radio broadcasting & television industry
  • Public relations
  • Copy-writing, editing & proofreading
  • Publishing
  • Lexicography
  • Terminology development
  • Radio drama performer
  • Content management
  • Language practitioner work (government & private sector)
  • Administrative work
  • Language technology (when combined with language technology degree)
  • Useful in addition to careers in law, library and social sciences

Interesting links