Betty Ellen Cox and Gakuba Faustin
Kinyarwanda is a rich language with many words having similar meaning, yet
fine shades of thought. Two words may be translated by the same English words
and yet they may not be used interchangeably. So strive to ferret out the
exact meaning of words. Also, remember that each Kinyarwanda word does not
have an exact English equivalent, and likewise, do not expect to find a
Kinyarwanda equivalent for each English word.
Listen carefully even when you do not understand. Learn your pronunciation
from an African, not a European. From the beginning, spend time daily
with an African, reading or trying simple conversation, with him (her)
correcting you. Kinyarwanda is a tonal language, which means that variations
of pitch of voice, as well as length of syllables, will completely change the
- A. The vowels:
- a is broad as in far
- e is almost like a in hay
- i is almost like ee in bee
- o is almost like o in obey
- u is like oo in food
- B. The consonants:
- d, f, g, h, k, m, n, p, s, t, v, w are pronounced practically the same as
- b has a very soft sound with the lips barely touching, unless it it
preceded by m when it is quite hard. It does not have the rather explosive
quality that it has in English.
- c always has the sound of ch as in church.
- j has a very soft sound, like z in azure.
- l is used mainly in words of foreign origin. However, in many books where
one might expect ri, li is written. But the sound is that same
as for r (see below).
- r has a slight trill sound, as if you tried to say d, l, and r at the same
time. The tongue should just flip against the roof of the mouth.
- y as in you. (In combination with other consonants, see below). It is
never a vowel like y in baby or by.
- z as in zone
- bw is pronounced bg, and even written bg in some older
books. Be careful not to put a vowel sound between these two letters.
- nn When this occurs in a past stem it is pronounced rather as if there
were a slight i after the n's. It has been described as ning
(as in sing). This should be practiced many times with an African.
- rw is pronounced as if there were a soft g between the r
- ry also has a slight g sound between the r and y,
but not very strong.
- ty is difficult to describe. It must be learned from an African.
- sw or sy -- there is a slight k sound between the letters.
- by, cy, dy, jy, shy -- these are all special sounds which must be learned
from an African.
- q and x do not exist in Kinyarwanda.
These lessons have been prepared in view to a person's spending a day on
each lesson. Some lessons may require more than a day's study. The lessons
are only a guide to study. You will learn many words that are not included