Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Kinyarwanda (the local language)

I devoted a few hours largely unsuccessfully to learning some words in the local language, iKinyaRwanda.  (I don't claim that language acquisition is a particular strength of mine.)

1.  There are two words you should absolutely know:  (i) "muraho" which means hello/how are you?  and (ii) "murokoze", which means thank you.

2.  If you say "muraho", they may respond with either "bv-itay" or "amirkiru" -- both of which mean essentially "how's it going?"  The response is "ni meze" -- all's ok.  If you can do this and know how to say thank you, the people will think you;re great.

3.  There are some pronounciation differences, such as between "Kigali" and "Chigali" to refer to the capital city. 

4.  A website called SpeakRwanda has an online course you can pay to download to learn various phrases.  Note that the teacher uses some pronounciations ala "Chigali" rather than "Kigali."  They also sell a phrase book, which is the best one I found.  Profits go back into their work in Rwanda.

5.  I also purchased a book, Ikinyarwanda - The Language of Rwanda: Language guide for Travelers (2009).  This is helpful and provide a quick guide to sentence, grammar and usuage, but not
 so much in a way that gives you operational guidance in choosing how to combine phonemes.  A street vendor in Kigali tried to sell me a cross-dictionary betwen English and Kinyarwanda; I did not look at it to see if it were any good, but presumable such a book should exist in Rwanda, given that much of the instruction now is in English.

6.  People are extradinary happy with you knowing 10 phrases.  It is a gesture by you to dignify the local culture and language.   The words for 1, 2, and 3 are:  rimwe; kabire; gatatu.  I mention elsewhere that kids ask for empty plastic bottles with caps to be given to them by saying "agachupah". 

7.  If you are doing voluntary work for an extended period, then for sure make the effort to learn more than less, so purchase in particular the speakrwanda series.

8.  If you learned French in high school, I would brush up on my french.  Find a conversational French course that has two CDs of phrasing.  You can also try the old, free US State Department language instruction materials available at  No doubt if you spent 3 or 4 years studying French this would be a helpful means of dipping back into the French language.  Only one menu was I offered used exclusively French language. 

9.  Even at fancy restuarants and hotels, I found English misspellings, which I decided I should point out to the proprietor because it undermines the credibility of the purveyor.  For example, there was an error referring to "tea leave" instead of "tea leaf" (recognizing that the plural of 'leaf'' is 'leaves').  It is not a big deal of course, but if the point is to position the restaurant at a certain elite level then such misuses or typos are not acceptable.   When pointing our such mistakes, I did it privately and with my apology for butting in.  The reaction, however, was uniformly receptive.

10.  You can find an old US State Department language-instruction guide on Kirundi, a close cousin of Kinyarwanda but which is focused on how language is spoken in Burundi, which is immediately to the south of Rwanda.  A free audi course that is "old" but available through the state department site is available for swahili,  While there are many Swahili words used throughout africa, the dating of this particular free course and its limited direct utility make me suggest that you don't try to "triangulate" the Kinyarwanda language via old Swahili but to start with SpeakRwanda series.
     -- if anyone is aware of other 100 percent language instruction resources for iKinyaRwanda language, let me know and I'll update this post.

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