Kichwa From Zero

Today is quite an important and exciting day for me. Today I start a new language project: Kichwa!

I have been living in Ecuador for three months now and I have decided the time has come to start working on Kichwa, the indigenous language spoken by 2.5 million Ecuadorians. I am happy with my Spanish and I know that it is going to go on getting better the longer I stay immersed in life here. That I can write that last sentence for me is a huge deal. I hated learning languages at school and I had virtually given up all hope 7 or 8 years ago. That I feel confident enough to take on this new challenge really makes me realise how far I have come in that time. Embarking on a third language is taking me into the uncharted waters of polyglottery (albeit very much in the shallow end).

And over the last 2 years of working on my Spanish at LingQ I have got a much better idea about how to go about learning a language. For my Kichwa this can be reduced down to:-

  1. Study phrases/sentences not words. (oh the time I wasted over the years with one word flashcards.)
  2. Focus on reading and listening skills.
  3. Play with the language and enjoy the journey (all those grammar exercises at school, no wonder I hated it.)
  4. Don’t worry, don’t try to be perfect.

Apart from the obvious disadvantages that it is not related to Spanish and English and that there is very little material available, there are some big advantages for me: I don’t have to learn a new script, it is fairly phonetic, the grammar is blissfully regular and (above all) I am surrounded by native speakers. So today I started classes (in Spanish - I will be learning Kichwa entirely through my second language), said hello to the present tense and sentence structure, and this afternoon I’ll get an SRS system up and running.

Let the adventure…begin!

Kichwa Resources

On the assumption that someone somewhere will find this useful (maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow…) I will keep updated here a list of resources I find along the way. This isn’t going to be a long list because there isn’t much out there. But that probably makes the list more valuable, not less.

  1. Dictionaries, translators and reference

Translators: has some other resources as well as vocabulary and phrase lists.

Spanish-Kichwa Dictionaries:

A spreadsheet with English and Spanish translation of different Quechua languages and dialects including Kichwa:

A spell-checker for LibreOffice (alpha pre-release version, but seems ok):

An Anki deck compiled for a UCLA Quechua course, using Unified Kichwa:

  1. Online courses

Two youtube kichwa courses:

Online course with audio samples and some short stories:

  1. Reading material

The Very Hungry Caterpillar in Kichwa!

Wikimedia Incubator - a small selection of Wikipedia articles in Kichwa.

Ecuadorian state media in Kichwa. Lots of articles here with Spanish version.

Monthly periodical in kichwa from Otavalo:ñay-Kawsay-53.pdf

Ministry of education book of short stories and legends in Kichwa with Spanish translation.

Father Sun, Mother Moon. Book in paralel translation Kichwa, English, Spanish.

Recipe book in 3 languages:

Some school books:


seems interesting. Good luck!

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Kichwa, huh? Interesting.^^

Good luck :slight_smile:

Thanks, I only wish there was a way I could use LingQ for this. But I don’t think there is even an online dictionary. Old school.

Strength to your elbow. Keep us in touch with how you get on!

Thanks, will do :slight_smile:

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Wonderful! Sounds exciting!

First week of Kichwa.

Well it has been an exciting first few days. Had 8 hours of classes, giving me a very clear introduction to the grammar. This turns out to be delightfully simple, logical and regular. As is the spelling. So the main challenges will be acquiring the vocabulary (since beyond “llama” and “puma” there are no familiar words) and getting used to hearing the words.

To this end I’ve set myself up with Anki and found a couple of basic audio courses online to listen to. The biggest problem is there is very little written material to use. There are one or two children’s stories and the odd blog entry, but Kichwa is dwarfed online by it’s southern cousin Quechua. And that is a tiny speck on the internet compared to Spanish.

But because I need to read to learn, I am starting by noting down all the example sentences we are given in our clases and the (corrected) sentences that I write, and imputing them into LingQ. The odd result of this lack of reading material is that I may be writing a lot more in Kichwa than I initially did in Spanish, which is probably no bad thing. I’ve started using the Esperanto slot for Kichwa as I really want to harness LingQ’s ability to notice patterns, and also I find the Known Words stat really motivating - even if right now it is only 23 words. But you’ve got to start from somewhere!

Feeling optimistic at this stage. Discovering that the grammar is straightforward has put the wind in my sails. Full speed ahead!


Great to read this optimistic post

Thanks! I find the encouragement from other language learners here really helpful. One of the things that keeps me pushing on…

Sounds exciting. I finished reading a book in Spanish a few months ago called ‘El cóndor de la pluma dorada’. It tells the history of the Incas, while making it entertaining as a novel. I almost started learning Kichwa when I put the book down!

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Many thanks for your update! It‘s very interesting to follow your project. I didn’t know that there was a difference between kichwa and quechwa. BTW where are you living in Ecuador?
Looking forward for the next update. Wish you all the best!

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love languge,enjoy yourself,you will get it.祝你好运!

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Thanks! This is really a question for the linguists but as far I understand it Quechua is a language family of three or four distinct languages. The difference between the languages is sufficient to make them unintelligible (perhaps the best comparison would be with local variations of Arabic). The Arabic comparison is also probably helpful because (as I understand it) it expanded as a lingua franca commercial language and later under the Incas as the administrative language. Within Ecuador Quechua is spelt Kichwa as of 8 years ago when they simplified and unified the spelling, and threw out a lot of Spanish-derived letters.

Since you know Spanish you may find this interesting: learning Kichwa has immediately helped me understand the use of Ecuadorian Spanish. They have two particles -ku and -llu that can be added to almost any word. -ku gives the word “cariño”/affection and -llu is synonymous with “nomas”/just. Both of these are used extensively. To peninsula Spanish speakers Ecuadorian Spanish can sound strange, with diminutives used a lot more (perrocito, cafecito, abuelitos…) and every other sentence ending with “nomas”. The phase that sums all of this up perfectly is the wonderfully Ecuadorian expression “aquicito nomas”!

And I’m currently living in Quito, surrounded by volcanoes!

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It is a great language! But I think you definitely need to have access to native speakers if you want to do anything with it, because it is mostly an oral language.

It might be a good thing not having reading material, after all you are there. Very interesting thread, thanks for sharing .

You’re probably right. Although I’m a big visual learner, so it is also quite a challenge.

I have read that our visual side may be a matter of habit, when we are kids we depend on our hearing more. Could you get some natives to record some tracks for you to study on ? That would be so cool ! And how is the pronunciation ?

You’re right, definitely a habit, although I think I developed it during childhood by being an introverted little boy spending days on my own reading :wink: …my aural memory is awful. Unless I’ve seen the word written down I forget it instantly. I’m hopeless at remembering people’s names for example. My mind is so visual that when I hear a word I recognise, my brain often remembers where on the page I last saw it, and if I listen to a podcast twice, I get flashbacks to exactly where I was when I first listened to it!

It’s good idea though. I might also try and record my classes.