Kinyarwanda- The Language of Rwanda


Since I dabbled in Kinyarwanda on my trip to Africa, I only find it fitting to share the basics of the language on here as well. Unfortunately, it seems that there are absolutely no to very few options out there for learning Kinyarwanda. Even in the ipod App store, which has endless supplies of language learning apps (free and $) for other languages, I could only find one, single application geared towards Kinyarwanda. Beyond that, I’ve found a few blogs along the way that share a few key phrases, but that’s it!

So here is a very brief list of Kinyarwanda resources, as well as my own short summary–

Kinyarwanda in the national language of Rwanda and is also spoken in eastern DRC and southern Uganda. The words are pretty basic to pronounce (mwaramutse, ubufaransa, nzaza ejo)….well relatively easy, so it is pretty easy to pick up words quickly.

“Mzungu”, for instance, means “white person”, and was called out everytime any of us was spotted in the streets of Kigali. Funny enough, turns out this phrase originally meant “one who moves around”  or “those who wander aimlessly” in Swahili. Of course, when we were told this in Kigali, we were told it meant “one who runs in circles,” so we assumed they all thought we were crazy foreigners running all over the place. Turns out this meaning doesn’t really come from our crazy antics but instead was a description of the first traders and merchants to arrive in Africa who were constantly traveling. I suppose that does make more sense. Well, regardless of whether we are fast-moving travelers or just crazy high-energy mzungu, we heard that word shouted out as us often enough to quickly recognize and remember it.

Another word to watch out for is “oya“, which means “no.” Not to go into details, but when someone is shouting “oya, oya, oya,” they are saying, contrary to what I thought at the time, “no, no, no,” and not “oh yea, oh yea, oh yea,” in a weird accent. So be wary of that one.

Beyond those, I have retained “Nda shaka amazi akonje // I would like cold water” as well as the basic hello, goodbye, how are you, thank you, and good evening: “Muraho, murabeho, amakuru, murakoze, mririweho.”   So I’m not much of a conversationalist. But I do get very thirsty.


For a comprehensive list of Kinyarwanda phrases and words: 

Some more random phrases, but also the priceless gem- “Don’t give me muzungu’s price.”


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