Businessmen at the caliber of Elon Musk have learned extra languages due to the amount of world travel they tend to do for their business. Musk is no different, traveling to areas such as Russia and Japan. Plus, he’s lived in the United States of America, Canada, and of course he was born in South Africa. It wasn’t until he was 17 until he moved away from his birth country, so does Elon Musk speak Afrikaans?
No – Elon doesn’t speak Afrikaans. Whilst he was born in South Africa, and while he had to take Afrikaans lessons when he was a child, in fluency, he is monolingual. This may be the most average thing about Musk as approximately 40% of the global population are only fluent in one language, the rest can speak two or more, with 1% of the population able to speak more than 5 or 6.
Musk lived in South Africa until he was an older teenager so you may be surprised that he is only able to speak English and none of the other ten official languages of the country. We’re so used to seeing him excel at things, it’s nice to see him fit in the average category somewhere.
South Africa’s Official Languages
As mentioned above, South Africa has eleven official languages, and they don’t even lead in that category. The list of official languages for the country are: IsiNdebele, Sesotho sa Leboa, Sesotho sa Borwa, SiSwati, Xitsonga, Setswana, Tshivenḓa, IsiXhosa, IsiZulu, Afrikaans, and English.
Pretoria, South Africa, where Musk was born and raised, is the capital city for the country and a lot of English is spoken there (it’s the fourth most spoken language in Pretoria), including in parliament. Like many large cities around the world, the majority of the population is able to speak a native language and English.
Growing Up in South Africa
Elon Musk was born to English-speaking parents, while his father is native to South Africa, his mother is originally from Canada. His mother, Maye, is multi-lingual and is able to speak Afrikaans as she spent most of her young, and adult, life in South Africa before moving back to North America. Since he spoke in English at home, and in many places around the city of Pretoria, and elsewhere, he didn’t feel the need to learn another language.
According to his biography, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, written by Ashlee Vance, he was taught Afrikaans in school, but Musk felt it was a needless language to learn. Only 3% of the global population can speak Afrikaans. Musk always figured he would leave South Africa and head for North America, and whether you’re in Canada or the United States, English is the number one language and he figured that was enough. He retained enough Afrikaans to pass, but then quickly dropped it once he left school.
There are many studies showing a range of how many people are monolingual, or can only speak one language, in the world. Some have the number as low as 25%, though many agree that it is somewhere around 40%.
Several countries around the world have more than one official language, which is why the number of polyglots, or people who speak more than one language, is so high. At the other end of the spectrum you have the United States and Mexico, neither of whom have an official language, though they each have their own popular language.
Compared to the global average, American’s have a higher rate of monolingualism, with 75% of Americans only speaking one language. That language is not necessarily English, as some come to America and retain their mother tongue as the only language they know.
Many Americans, in addition to other prominent English countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, feel there’s no need to learn another language, as most of the various aspects of the business world all speak English.
If you counted computer languages, then Elon wouldn’t be considered monolingual, as he has extensive knowledge in multiple computer languages such as BASIC, Python, and C/C++, among others.
While Musk travels the world for business and pleasure, he hasn’t picked up on any other languages and often has translators with him in case the people he is meeting don’t understand or speak English. Though there have been times when he’s been without a translator and yet still seems to have fun.