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Guide to Namlish

Guide to Namlish

English is the official language in Namibia.  These are some of the nuances that we have noticed:

Common sayings/phrases


It’s too hot. She is too fat. Too and very are interchangeable
How is the condition on your side? How are you doing?
I’m coming now. Said as one is leaving the room, meaning I’m coming right back.
Can I go with it? / Can you borrow me… Can I borrow it?
Help me dollar. Can you help me your stapler? “Help me” is the polite way of asking for something.
Just there—that side. (point in general direction and snap fingers) The traditional way of giving directions. Very vague.
Official document Meaning it has an official stamp on it somewhere.
Colleagues used to refer to peers, friends, coworkers, relatives
Let’s go. Come on, it’s time to go, follow me (usually given without any explanation.)
We are suffering. Overused way of saying there is some sort of problem.
There is no oxygen. The air is stuffy/smelly or a room is too crowded or the windows are closed.
Our first born/last born The oldest/youngest sibling/offspring
He is not serious.  He’s joking/screwing around/insane/making noise/not studying
That small boy Refers to any of the numerous undersized little boys running around causing trouble.
He is having many books. Namlish speakers don’t know it’s grammatically incorrect to say this.
Yes. Namlish speakers often say “yes” when greeting. Eg-“How are you?” “Yes.” Or sometimes they will just start with yes: “Yes Miss” when greeting me.
Hello. But then they will say “Hello” when you call them. “Mr. Nuuyoma!” “Hello!”
Mr. Principal is calling you It means he wants you to come to where he is. Drop whatever you’re doing, and you don’t know if it’s important or not. Very annoying.
The time is going. We are running out of time/you’re wasting time/it’s getting late
It is time.  We’re finished / class is over.
I just came to visit you. I want something, but I’m not going to tell you what it is until I waste at least a half hour of your time.
His teeth are not arranged. He needs braces (but they don’t have those here).
Eye problem  has glasses
Squeeze nicely Even although there’s five of you in the back seat of this small car, you cannot sit on top of each other but you must sit beside each other or I might get in trouble with the police.
Fall pregnant to get pregnant accidentally
Toilet The bathroom. Namlish speakers don’t use the word bathroom.


Cuca shop small shop selling beer and other things like cookies, candles, sweets
Bakkie pick-up truck
Combi large van type thing capable of holding a driver and 12 passengers plus babies
Tar/Tyre road paved road
Cokey pens markers
Typek white out
Duster chalk board eraser
Rubber pencil eraser
Cello cellophane tape (“scotch tape”)
Elastic rubber band
Dustbin trash can
Rubbish trash
Stiffy 3 ½ floppy disk
Robot traffic light
Diary year planner/daily calendar
Ministry the government
Ministers high-up government people
Trousers pants
Pants underwear
Cattle post a place way out in the middle of nowhere where rich men keep their cattle.  Usually there is a small hut where the boys who are watching the cattle stay.
House The homestead compound is called a “house”.  All the huts are considered rooms in the “house.”
Biltong beef jerky
School-specific vocab:


learner a student in grades k-12
Student college or university student
H.O.D. head of department
Store storeroom
Set/ To set an exam. You make up (or copy) the questions. Teachers do this.
Write/ To write an exam You write the answers. Learners do this.
Sit/ sit for an exam learners sit for an exam, meaning that they write the exam, meaning that they answer the questions.
Exam big end-of-year or end-of-term test that determines their entire grade
Test any little test given during the term
Paper question paper = the exam/test itself. For their exams, they often have paper 1, paper 2 etc.
Mark to mark means to grade papers
Grade what year you are in school eg- grade 11 (not 11th grade—that almost always confuses Namlish speakers)
Symbol a letter grade, like A, B, C, (A* is what we call an A+)
CASS marks continuous assessment marks = any marks given during the term on classwork or homework.
HIGCSE Higher International General Certificate of Secondary Education
IGCSE International General Certificate of Secondary Education
Syllabus curriculum content; the stuff they’re required to learn that year in that subject
Scheme of work what we call a syllabus. A detailed overview of what you will teach that year.
Lesson plan your daily lesson plan that must be signed by the HOD.
Tuckshop a little shop on the school premises where they sell pens, stamps, sweets, etc.
Book  kind of ambiguous, can mean text book or exercise book or story book.
Text book the book that they are not supposed to write in, eg their English book or history book
Exercise book a notebook full of paper where they are supposed to write their assignments.
Memo / Memorandum answer key to a test or exam (not a correspondence) 


What’s in a Name?

bullet Surname/GivenName/Nickname: They all have an official given name and surname, plus a few middle names, and infinite nicknames.  They like giving names to each other and so one is always adding on to their list of names.  They also will name themselves after someone, such as a famous rapper.  After teaching Things Fall Apart, several learners were given new nicknames based on the characters in the book.
bullet Order of names: They will often write the surname first, although they don’t separate by commas.  They also sometimes write the given name first, therefore, you end up confused about which name is which.
bullet Double names: Sometimes people have the same name for both their given name and surname.  For example, we had learners named “Samuel Samuel” and “Wilbard Wilbard”.
bullet Women who go by both their married and maiden name: This is very confusing.  When women get married, they don’t drop their married name (although they may officially change it) they just start going by both names and often forget which one is currently their official name.


bullet Drum=magazine(Drum) or Drama
bullet Angry/Hungry/ugly
bullet Bit/beat  “Okonkwo bit his wives heavily when they forgot to cook him lunch.”
bullet Pressure/pleasure  
bullet Soap/soup
bullet Hear/understand. “Did you hear me?” asked if someone thinks I understand what they are saying in oshiwambo. Yes, of course I heard them, but did I understand them? Nope.
bullet Lots of confusion between United States of America, North America, South America, Central America (it’s all the same to them: America.)


bullet When two people ride in a taxi they must each pay N$5. This is said by “five, five” –not ten.
bullet Most meetings, speeches, and letters are begun by saying, “So, I don’t have much to say, only that…” or “I don’t really have anything to say but…”

  Plural/Singular Problems

bullet Hairs. She is having black hairs or She is having long hairs.
bullet Cattles. He is rich in cattles.
bullet Money will take the pronoun “them” instead of “it”
bullet Musics.

  Common Greetings:

bullet How is the morning/day/afternoon/evening. Regardless of actual time of day.
bullet Hello mommy.
bullet How is it?
bullet Yes.

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