Travelling to Rwanda Soon? Its Time to Learn Kinyarwanda Basics!
Although I consider my self quite a quick language learner and usually have no problems grabbing some basic words during my travels, Kinyarwanda was harder than Chinese. Being well travelled in Eastern Africa, I can say for my self my Kiswahili vocabulary is very impressive for a traveller, and have expected to easily adopt Kinyarwanda language on the way. Oh, how wrong I was.
Kinyarwanda is one of official languages spoken in Rwanda, along with French and English. Although it originates from Bantu group of languages, same as Kiswahili, it doesn’t sound anything like similar to Swahili.
In Rwanda, really depends which language will come handy for you. Kinyarwanda is spoken by everybody, while English is mainly spoken by younger generations and French is official language. If you are French native speaker or your French is strong, you will feel like a fish in a tank in Rwanda. Some even speak some Swahili!
To be honest, you will not need to master Kinyarwanda, but some basic words will definitely help you to impress locals, specially those ones who cant speak English or French. Some basic travel phrases turned out most useful when I was using moto taxis.
Greetings and Basic Travel Phrases in Kinyarwanda
- Hello, how are you? Muraho, amakuru yawe /yanyu (pl.)
- Good morning! Mwaramutse
- Good evening! Mwiriwe
- Good Afternoon! . Mwiriwe
- What is your name? Witwande?
- I am from United States, UK, Mva muri amerika, bungyereza
- My name is – Nitwa…
- Nice to meet you! – Ndabishimiye kukubona
- Yes – Yego
- No – Oya
- Mototaxi – Moto
- Bus – Bisi
- How much is this? – Aya nangahe?
- 500 francs – Magana atano
- 1000 Francs – Igihumbi
- 2000 Francs – Ibihumbi bibiri (bibiri–colloquial)
- 5000 francs – Ibihumbi bitano
- How much is mototaxi to ? – Nangahe kuri moto kugera….?
- And one phrase which will be very useful, when moto taxi drivers are driving too fast you may find your self screaming from the back seat behind the driver:
- Slowly! – Buhoro buhoro
- Too fast – Ihute cyane
- Please drive slowly. – Gyenda buhoro buhoro
- Please drive carefully. – Itonde (for careful) for any action one is doing
- Dangerous! Mumfashe! Imanuka/ikibazo
In Rwanda moto taxis are more organised and realtively safer in comparison with Tanzania and the rest of East Africa and usually you automatically get a helmet. Some will even refuse you in the event you don’t want to use helmet. In case there is some exception to the rule, insist on helmet by saying:
- I want helmet please. Wampaye kaske….
- Peace – Amahoro (just adding it here as it is my favourite sounding Kinyarwanda word)
- Airport – Ikibuga cy’indege
- Bicycle – Igare
- Car – Imodoka
- Taxi – Tagisi
You should also know what UMUGANDA means: Umuganda can be described as community work. On the last Saturday of each month, communities come together to do a variety of public works. This often includes infrastructure development and environmental protection. Rwandans between 18 and 65 are obliged to participate in Umuganda.
Shopping Phrases in Kinyarwanda Language
Shopping on markets or small local shops in Rwanda is another place where some basic Kinyarwanda might help. Unlike in Tanzania, you will mostly see all products labeled with prices and you will get the same price as locals. No need to bargaing, which was kind of refreshing and saved me lots of energy.
- How much it it? -Iki nangahe?
- Water – Amazi
- All fantas, coca colas and fuzzy drinks are called soda
- Fanta includes:
- Fiesta… blackcurrant
- Orange….. Orangé (French accent)
- Coca….. Coca-Cola
- Citrus….. Sitro
- Mirinda….. Mirinda
- Beer….. Bière… French borrowed
- Local brew – Iragwa
- Coffee… Icayi kya kawa
- Chocolate….. Shokola
- Bread….. Umugati
- Bananas – Imineke
- Eggs – Amagi
- Passion Fruit – Marakuja
- Avocado – Avoka
- Pineapple – Inanansi
- Soup – Isupu
- Lighter – Ikibiriti
There is a funny anecdote about how I learned the word lighter in Kinyarwanda. I am a smoker (yeah yeah I know its not good for my health) and I loose my lighters all the time. Once in Musanze, I came to local shop, asking for lighter in English. Staff obviously didn’t speak English or maybe they did but their English was very poor, I had no idea how to say it in French. The shop lady goes in the back of the little store and she brings me a bulb:) I was amused and called my local friend over the phone to explain her what I need, not a light, but a lighter. Afterwards he sent me text with the Kinyarwanda, so I knew for the next time.
- Cheers! Dusangire Karyohe
Obviously you will not become a Kinyawranda expert by reading this post, but I hope some of the phrases will be useful during your travel in Rwanda, hopefully not those for moto taxi!