Learning Kinyarwanda.

This post is about the 2nd month of our service in Rwanda. See the previous post here:

Painting in Rwanda.

The second month of Peace Corps training was very difficult. Long days of brutal language training kept us mentally and emotionally drained, and then we would go home to our host families where they would continue to try and cram more language and culture training into us.

It was a 45 minute walk into town, which had one of the most beautiful views we had ever seen. We got to know some of the people we would walk by in the village of Kibanza. That walk was the highlight of our day.

The view on the road from Kibanza to Gacurabwenge.
The view on the road from Kibanza to Gacurabwenge.

Once we got into town, we went into a tiny room with two or three students per language trainer and studied language for 8 hours. The room barely fit 3 people, it was hot, and it didn’t smell pleasant. Sam, our teacher, was great but a bit malodorous. Rwanda doesn’t really have dry-erase boards. Even in the classrooms they use chalkboards and old bits of mattresses as erasers. In our language training we used flip chart paper… about a zillion sheets of flip chart paper.

Learning Kinyarwanda
Learning Kinyarwanda.

Kinyarwanda is a very difficult language. It has 16 “noun classes” which means that everything fits in one of 8 categories that each have their own prefix if it is singular and another if it is plural. For example, umu and aba are prefixes for humans. Umunyamerika means American, and Abanyamerika means Americans. For thinks like animals the noun prefixes are iki(sometimes igi) and ibi. So igisimba means monster, and ibisimba means monsters. Those are 4 of the noun classes. There are 16. Confusing enough? Now let me tell you about conjugating verbs. This is how you conjugate the verb kugaruka which means to return.

I return (every day): ngaruka

I am returning: ndagarutse

I will return (today): ndagaruka

I will return (tomorrow or later): nzagaruka

I returned: nagarutse

At this point in training we want to bash our brains in. Then, they drop a bombshell on us. Infixes! An infix is like a prefix but in the MIDDLE of the word! They are like pronouns that say it, he, there, and so on. Of course, there are 16 of them. One for each noun class.

Ndagukunda: I love you

Ndamukunda: I love him/her

Ndabikunda: I love them (but they are things, not humans)

So by the end of training, we all have some degree of PTSD. Even the mention of flip charts or noun classes give us little emotional breakdowns.

After 3 months of training we have an oral exam. To go to site and begin Peace Corps service we must get a score of intermediate low or higher. What happens if you don’t pass? You win the grand prize of three additional weeks of language training!

The second month of training was probably the most challenging month we have ever experienced. The combination of culture shock, intense training, and complete lack of privacy were psychologically exhausting.

3 thoughts on “Learning Kinyarwanda.

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