Peru Travel Blog

Learning the Quechua Language for Peru Travel

Written by: Kevin Groh

Person in a white hat and a rainbow colored shawl standing with arms outstretched in front of Machu Picchu words Learning the Quechua Language

So, you want to visit Peru and fully prepare for your trip to South America. Travel experts say that one of the best ways to prepare yourself for your trip is to learn as much as you can about your destination.

You more than likely will research Peru. What you choose to learn about the country will revolve around what you enjoy doing when traveling. For example, suppose you are a traveler that enjoys doing tourist and group sightseeing tours. In that case, you may research the different sites and companies that offer local tours.

On the other hand, you may prefer to learn about local culture and avoid tourist attractions. Research things off the beaten path and look into visiting places that the locals tend to go.

Regardless of what type of “visitor” you are, doing research will surely help you plan ahead. This can help you decide what you want to do once you arrive at your final destination, Peru.

Travelers are different. Some people only enjoy international traveling as a way to put another stamp on a passport. Others see visiting a new country as an opportunity to learn new things, see new things, and surround themselves in a new culture.

One of the best ways to engulf yourself in a new culture when traveling overseas is by learning the country’s local language that you are going to visit. Learning a new language has many positive factors. Learning a new language will change how you travel.

This article will focus on those who are getting ready to travel to Peru, things to know, and learning the Quechua language, one of Peru’s original and endangered languages.

Peru

The Republic of Peru is a country found in South America. It is located in the western part of the continent and is known for being rich in history and culture. You are reading this article because you are either thinking about or are about to travel there. With so many exciting things to discover, we can say that you are making a fantastic decision.

In 2020, Peru was on the list of the 20 best countries to visit. The country has a little of everything for everyone. It fits the bill for all types of travelers. No matter if your idea of a vacation is to sit back and relax, or you are more an adventurous type, Peru is the perfect location for you.

Boasting some of the best hotels and resorts in South America, Peru is ideal for individuals and families. The variety of activities you can do in Peru is almost endless.

From exploring the Amazon to visiting the architectural wonder known as Machu Picchu, you will never be bored. If you require more physical activities, there is also hiking and water rafting.

If adventure to you rests more on cuisine and tasting new delicacies, you will consider Peru exciting. The possibilities are endless and will surely make your vacation a once in a lifetime experience.

Languages Spoken in Peru

If you are going to Peru, you may decide to learn the local language. Many people automatically assume they should brush up on or learn Spanish. Although Spanish is one of the official languages, if not the primary language of Peru, there are several Chilean languages that many locals speak.

Like some other countries in Latin America, Peru has a distinct characteristic of being a country that has several languages. It is stated that Peru may have as many as 72 languages and local dialects. Most of these languages are dialects that were passed down from the original inhabitants of Peru.

Quechua is one of these languages.

Peruvian woman with a brown hat making a quilt

Some Common Quechua Words

If you are heading to Peru and your trip is around the corner, knowing Spanish is beneficial, but knowing a little of Peru’s original and language of native Quechua speakers is terrific.

Here are a few phrases and words that you need to know before your trip:

  •       Hello, how are you? : Allianchu
  •       I am fine: Allianmi
  •       My name is: Sutiymi
  •       Goodbye: Tupananchiscama
  •       Cheers / Bon Appetit: Khali lla Kachun
  •       Thank you: Sulpayki

These phrases are just a little taste of Quechua, but they are essential to know. Whether you’re attending the Inti Raymi Festival or just want to feel a little better connected, taking time to learn some Quechua phrases and participate in language exchange is beneficial and fun.

Ready to learn more about the dominant language that many local Peruvians speak?

What is Quechua, and Who Speaks it?

Quechua is an Indigenous language spoken by people from South America. It was the native language used by the Inca Empire. The language, also known as Runa Simi, is made up of 46 dialects. The definition itself means “language of the people.”

The dialects that are part of the Quechua language family were inherited from the ancestors of the region. They are mostly used by people who reside in and around the Andes Mountains.   

The Andes Mountain expands across several South American countries. These countries include Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile, and Bolivia.  Because of this, Quechua, and the several dialects in the Quechua language family, are spoken by several countries.

For many years Quechua remained a language that was mostly taught and used solely for oral communication.  When speaking, the sounds are derived from the sounds the indigenous people would hear in the natural habitat around them.

It is estimated that more than 8 million people around the world speak a form of Quechua. Learning variations of Quechua before visiting Peru will not only give you an insight into the country and its people, but it will allow you to enjoy and experience Peru in a different way.

Where in Peru do They Speak Quechua?

Quechua is spoken in many parts of Peru. It is, however, more heavily used in certain regions. There is a large population of Peruvians that speak Quechua in both the coast and central highlands of the country. Many others use Quechua in northern and southern Peru.

Altogether, it is said that Peru alone has over 3 million people that speak Quechua.
The people speaking Quechua in each of these areas have their own variation of the language.

Different Variations of Quechua

Quechua dialects are not only spoken in Peru but also in many other countries. The variations of the Quechua language do not only depend on the country.

In fact, a speaker of one Quechua dialect may have difficulty communicating with a speaker of another, even if they reside in the same country! Although some Quechua words are the same, it will depend on which variety you are speaking.

Because of all these variations, Quechua and the different dialects that make part of the Quechua language were long ago divided, classified, and labeled. These classifications stand today and help distinguish one dialect from another.

Notebook and pencil on a table

Why Should You Learn Quechua?

There is no question that if you want to gain the most of a trip to Peru, you should try to learn the language. Although Spanish is spoken by most Peruvians, learning Quechua, the language of the ancient people of Peru will enrich your trip. It will give you access to people and places you may not have had contact with otherwise.

Even if you only learn a few words or phrases, it will allow you to speak to some local people. Maybe you can strike up a conversation with an older farmer selling goods in the marketplace or your boat driver on the Amazon. You can learn invaluable things by just walking and talking to the locals.

It also may surprise you, but most locals are happy to see visitors or tourists attempting to learn the local language. This is especially true about a language that is so deeply rooted in the country’s history and the people. Saying a few Quechua words will show that you did your homework about where you are visiting.

What is the Best Way to Learn Quechua?

Just like many other languages, you can learn Quechua in many different ways. It would be best to determine how much time you are willing to put in and then decide which is the best method for you.

Each person learns differently and at their own pace. One thing to keep in mind if you are learning the language in preparation for travel is to give yourself enough time to do so comfortably without feeling the need to rush.

Another essential factor to keep in mind is that how you look at learning a language may impact how you learn it. Meaning, if you make the activity fun, instead of seeing it as burdensome, you will enjoy it more. Make learning the Quechua language the first adventure that you are having for your trip to Peru.

The two most common ways people learn languages are immersing in the language and culture where they are spoken and taking classes. Determine which is better for you, or maybe you will decide to do both. Essentially, you cannot go wrong with either.

Immersing in the Culture

One of the best ways to learn any language, no matter if it’s the Quechua language or any other, is to fully immerse in the culture. That may prove easy or difficult, depending on where you live and what resources you have around you.

There are several ways to do this from the comfort of your home and before even traveling. Some of the ways to immerse in Peruvian and Quechua culture before visiting Peru are:

1.   Listen to Radio Stations

You can listen to radio stations that are broadcasted in Quechua languages. Today, listening to radio stations online is common. Listening to the radio will make you accustomed to the sounds and language of the Quechua people.

2.   Read Newspapers and Publications

You can learn about the current events and local activities in Peru by finding and reading publications such as newsletters, magazines, and newsletters. You will get a chance to learn the language while learning about its people.

3.   Watch and Listen to Movies, Music, and Videos

Another great way to immerse in a culture and learn a language is by listening to music or watching something. Watch a movie, TV episode, or a video that features people speaking Quechua languages. Entertainment is always a fun way to learn for both young and older students.

4.   Join Local Organizations

Joining a local or online organization is another great way to learn more about a country, its people, and its language. If you live in an area with many Peruvians, see if there are any local clubs or organizations. These clubs hold activities that can perhaps help you practice speaking Quechua.

5.   Find Local Peruvian Restaurants                                                                                       

Becoming a regular at a local Peruvian restaurant may also make a world of difference in learning Quechua. You will not only learn about local cuisine before heading to Peru, but you may even meet people who already know Quechua or want to learn like you. Go ahead and strike up a conversation with the waiter – khali lla kachun!

6.   Contact the Peruvian Embassy

Your local Peruvian embassy is another wonderful place to learn more about Peru and its languages. Embassies usually feature activities and even classes to promote social and cultural understanding. Contacting the Peruvian Embassy may be a great starting place for many.

Take Classes

The most traditional way to learn a language is to take a course. Despite the various ways available to learn a language today, this true and tried method remains. Language classes are usually offered both privately or traditionally, with many students in a classroom setting. 

You can look to see if language classes are offered in your town or surrounding towns. Of course, if you live in an area with many people who have emigrated from Peru, a local Quechua course may be easier to find.

With the internet, you can look into online courses that are becoming more and more popular. Several online companies offer lessons for those that want to learn Quechua. Look into it, and you can get a head start on it today!

If in-class learning is more your cup of tea, do some research to see if any places offer classes for those wanting to learn. Again, what you find will depend on where you live.

A great way to learn Quechua, even if you live someplace that doesn’t have a massive Peruvian population, is by looking into either private classes or a conversation partner.

With this method, you only need one person to commit to giving you the time to allow you an opportunity to speak and learn one on one.  

If the person that you find is not a teacher, as in the traditional sense, they may still be a conversation partner. You can practice speaking with them.

Remember that practice makes perfect. It is essential to get as much exposure to the language as possible and then practice, practice, and practice. In no time you will sound like a native Quechua speaker.

Peruvian woman with a red hat on smiling

Level of Difficulty

Now that you have decided to learn Quechua or at least one or more variations of the language, the next question is – how difficult is it?

Some people find that learning the Quechua language reasonably easy. Others may have more difficulty. In general, the language is not as complicated as some modern languages that we all speak today.

For example, Quechua, unlike some other languages, does not classify words by gender. It also does not have irregular verbs or nouns. This does not mean, however, that the Quechua language does not have any rules. The rules are not the same rules that you are used to.

How Long Will it Take?

Although correct that Quechua may not be a difficult language to learn, it is still a new language. It cannot be taught or learned overnight. When learning a new language, you must give yourself time.

One thing to keep in mind about Quechua is that there is no similar language to help speed your learning. For example, some people find that when they learn a language, there are similar words or meaning to a language they already know.

Nonetheless, it is safe to say that once you begin learning the language and give it the time needed, you should be able to say a few sentences in a week.

Quechua the Language

Quechua has been the spoken language of many in South America for over 600 years. Its roots stemmed from the Inca Empire and transcended from there. It remains the original language of many in Peru.

If you would like a taste of the real Peru, learning Quechua is the way to go. There are some key points to keep in mind when learning and using the language, however.

Nouns and Adjectives

Nouns and adjectives will be pretty easy once you learn the word for each object. Nouns will have no gender distinctions as in some modern languages.

Adjectives are still seen as words that modify or describe the noun. They will usually be found in front of the noun.

Plurals

In case you want to buy more than one item of something, you will need to be able to form plurals in Quechua.

To form the plural of a word in Quechua is relatively simple. Just as in English, where for the most part adding an –s will form a plural, in Quechua, to create a plural, you must add the suffix –kuna.

Verbs

As someone interested in learning Quechua, you will be happy to know that all Quechua verbs are regular verbs. That’s right; there are no irregular verbs that you will have to study or memorize.

Irregular verbs are sometimes the most challenging element of learning a new language. Not having to worry about this is a definite plus.

Structure

Another aspect to keep in mind regarding verb usage in Quechua is where to put the verb in a sentence.

As most people wanting to learn Quechua dialects, you are probably used to the oral and written structure taught and used in modern languages. The rule for these languages is that the subject goes first, then the verb, and then the object.

As opposed to these Latin based modern languages, a sentence in Quechua will be in this order:

Subject–Object–Verb

Again these little nuances are essential to know. They will make you sound more legitimate when speaking Quechua. They will also assure you that the person you are talking to understands what you are trying to say.

Pronunciation

After learning some of Quechua’s grammatical elements, it is now time to look at some other important factors when learning a language. One of these factors is pronunciation.

Pronunciation has to be one of the most critical elements when learning a language, and Quechua is no different.

The language uses only 3 vowels and 14 consonant sounds. It is relatively simple when it is compared to other languages.

An important thing to keep in mind when speaking Quechua is where to place the primary stress or intonation. In most Quechua varieties, because a suffix is usually used, the stress or intonation is placed at the end of the word where the suffix is.

When learning a new language, you want to sound like a native speaker, so it is important to pronounce the words correctly. Practicing speaking and watching movies or listening to music can help you learn how to correctly pronounce Quechua words.

Blue notebook and pencil on a blue background

Written Form

During your trip, you may want to write a few words or even read a few words in Quechua. This may not be as easy as speaking the language, but it may be nice to be able to do it.

For many years, Quechua remained what it originally was, a spoken language. Today, Quechua is the formal and official language of several countries, including Peru.

When writing or reading a language, you will need to know the alphabet of that language. The Quechua alphabet, as it stands today, is mostly based on the Latin or Roman alphabet.

Since there are several dialects with the Quechua language family, the number of letters in each dialect may vary. There are, however, a few core letters that are commonly used by all the different dialects.   

Another element that you may want or need to know to communicate with fellow Quechua speakers is how to write or say numbers. 

The following are the numbers 1 – 10 in Quechua II (Spoken in the southern part of Peru):

  •       One — Huk
  •       Two — Iskay
  •       Three — Kimsa
  •       Four — Tawa
  •       Five — Pichqa
  •       Six — Suqta
  •       Seven — Qanchis
  •       Eight — Pusaq
  •       Nine — Isqun
  •       Ten — Chunka

There are some rules to keep in mind when writing or saying numbers in Quechua. To write multipliers of ten, use the multiplier digit, then the word ten. For example, twenty (20) would be written as Iskay Chunka.

To form numbers in the hundreds, you must first know that the number one hundred is pachak in Quechua. To create numbers in the hundreds, you will follow the same rule used for tens. Use the multiplier digit, then the word for one hundred. For example, three hundred (300) would be written as kimsa pachak.

Final Thoughts on Learning the Quechua Language

Learning a language before traveling is always exciting and serves as a preview of your upcoming trip. Learning Quechua may be more than opening doors to a better vacation. It will most likely be like opening a time capsule that allows you to take a glimpse of the past, all while you enjoy the adventures of today.

Although an ancient language of the Inca Empire, the future of this original language is bright. At one time thought to be a dying language, the vital part that it plays in history and the lives of those in Latin America is being recognized.

Today, the language is thriving. More and more people are showing an interest in preserving it and giving it its long-overdue respect. If you want to learn a language before your trip to Peru, by all means, learn Spanish if you like, but if you decide to learn Quechua, you will not regret it.

Learning the Quechua Language for Peru Travel

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