Runa Simi, the "People's Tongue", Language of the Andes

Here are resources I have found helpful for learning Quechua, Runa Simi, Language of the Inca, focusing on Southern Quechua IIC, spoken in the Sacred Valley region.

Why Quechua?

When I went to Peru in the fall of 2013 to begin study with my Andean teacher, I had a dream while we were camped at Lake Pomacanchi ("Seven Pumas/Seven Inka Elders of Power"). In it, the spirits requested that I learn Quechua. 

What is Quechua? Who Speaks it?

"Runa Simi", "People's Tongue", (Quechua) is the indigenous language of the Andes spoken by almost 9 million people. It contains the energy and heart of the culture and Andean Cosmology practice. When I got back to the states after my first trip to Peru, I began looking for resources.

Here are some of the helpful resources I located for learning the Cusco/Cuzco dialect of Quechua, also sometimes seen listed as "Southern" Quechua.

Patience in all things, especially learning a new language!

Rich Expressive Texture

The Quechua language is extraordinarily expressive. Most of the sources here list mundane definitions and translations, and are focused on giving us roots from which to build on our expressive capabilities. For your Andean practice purposes, think broader, bigger, deeper and more profoundly! These will get you started, though :-) My understanding of Quechua now is at a qaqha level at best, *maybe* at a kallau level if I'm lucky. I'm learning every day and making new connections constantly. Poco a poco, as-asllamanta, "little by little." 

Examples of the expressive capability of Quechua:

chimpachinakuy  "for one to go to the other side of a stream, being helped by the offered hand of the one staying behind, and then offering his or her hand to help the other person across."

aparichimpullawaychehña! Please bring it to me right away (addressing more than one person) lit. carry-please-make-in this direction[Please bring]-it-just-to me-[command marker addressing more than one person]-right away!

-Judith Noble and Jaime Lacasa, "Introduction to Quechua: Language of the Incas." 2nd edition, p. 3.

Quechua, or Runa Simi, is multi-layered and has different levels of meaning, just like everything else in the Andean Cosmology :-) For instance, the word, paqariy means 'to be born; to spring; to sprout; dawn' -- so paqarina is a spring, the place where energies are born out of the Pachamama. Likewise, our paqariy energy center is analogous to the root chakra, the energy center from which much of our being springs. Paqariq pacha is the pacha of dawn, the birth of the day. Think poetically. Quechua is a language of poetry. You get the idea :-)

I have found it useful to triangulate definitions to get at deeper meanings and not take any one definition or source as gospel. Unless that source is a paqo from the Andes :-)  Meanings, spellings, and usage vary quite a lot from location to location; try not to lock yourself into any one way of thinking or speaking. 


Quechua is still mostly a spoken language and not a written language. It is only since the 70's and 80's that spelling has begun to orthogonalize: spellings and pronunciations vary quite a bit from place to place.

"As was mentioned before, the Quechua language had no graphic writing system, and therefore no alphabet. Spaniards, the first to transcribe Quechua with Latin letters, and other subsequent student of the language had to devise a graphic system to represent its sounds. Today there is no universally accepted alphabet, and individual writers often are found to have created their own. Further complicating the spelling issue are the pronunciation variations found in different regions and among different speakers of Quechua. this contributes to the great variety that can be found int eh way in which Quechua words are written.

Quechua is first a spoken language rather than a written one and, as indicated above, variations in pronunciation can be heard."

-Judith Noble and Jaime Lacasa, "Introduction to Quechua: Language of the Incas." 2nd edition, p. 4.

Another example: on the Forvo page, thunder, q'aqlla, is spelled 'k'ajlla' although the pronunciation is the same. As you can see, these spellings are incredibly different.

Here is a scholarly article about efforts to unify and preserve this indigenous language. The full text is downloadable as a PDF.

Be patient and keep looking, and use your ears, and use your noggin!

Take what works for you, then add to that as time goes by. Let me know when you find other fantastic Quechua resources out there! 

Sonqoywan Munayta Haywashayki! (Sending love to you from my heart!)



Smartphone Apps

*** Eurotalk Quechua  (iTunes store as "uTalk Classic Learn Quechua") Native Speakers - Useful for Pronunciation. This is a great little app that's part of the uTalk series. As far as I can determine, it focuses on the Cuzco dialect, which is what many paqos and other people speak in the Sacred Valley. The eurotalk.com/us/ web site has much more.

The app has 9 segments:

  • First Words
  • Food
  • Colors
  • Phrases
  • Body
  • Numbers
  • Time
  • Shopping
  • Countries.

Each section has 4 parts:

  • Word Practice - list of clickable words with Native speaker audio
  • Easy Game  - matching game
  • Easy Game+ - tougher game
  • Hard Game- tougher game still

Word Practice gives you a list of phrases/words in English and Quechua, and there are TWO native speakers speaking the word. There is also a "snail" icon that slows down the pronunciation. I love this app. It's quick, and I can easily review with the word lists and games. It's invaluable for pronunciation.

Glosbe Dictionary app for iPhone and Android phones. On-the-go app version of the on-line Glosbe dictionary, below. Free. Download from your customary app store and install. Enter "quz" for the dictionary code for Cusco Quechua.

Quechua by PromPeru. This little app is my second go-to. It also has word lists and Native speakers saying the words. There is some discrepancy with days of the week from other sources, though. 

Anki - see Flashcard Apps below.


On-Line Quechua/English Dictionary

*** https://glosbe.com/en/quz/.  This is another go-to for me: Glsobe has a huge number of language databases, all user-input, so beware. I generally try and correlate an entry here with other dictionaries (listed below) just to make sure that the meaning is sound. Note that there is another quechua dictionary: qu.  The "quz" dictionary is specific to Southern Peru, Cusco and the Sacred Valley region.


Paper Dictionaries

Diccionario Quechua by Laura Ladron de Guevara de Cuadros. If you can find this, it's a decent resource, but it might be dated and/or inaccurate. English/Spanish/Quechua. Again, I triangulate all definitions with other sources when possible. There may be other dictionaries that are good, too, but this is the one I have and know and use. My Spanish is at a restaurant-ordering level, so the dictionaries in only Spanish/Quechua aren't so good for me :-/

Quechua Qosqo-Qollaw textbook (see below). I also consult this dictionary quite a bit. I'm more confident in this one since it is written by two native Quechua speakers who are linguists. Although, some Spanish-origin words have crept into this book, too, like "amigu", which is clearly "amigo" from the Spanish. Once you have a feel for the language, you can usually detect these non-native intrusions pretty easily; Quechua has a structure and feel like no other language I've encountered. Plus, the letter 'g' is just not used in Quechua. Here is a link to the order form PDF at Cornell's Latin American Studies Program 



Flash card apps

Anki. My hands-down favorite. Main app is on your computer, and there are mobile apps for phones and tablets that sync with your database that is hosted on-line at your Anki account (for free!). Anki uses intelligent spaced repetition to ensure that you really learn the words. It is simple to use and set up. It can get really complicated, but you can ignore all of that. I found this list of 625 essential vocabulary words for learning a foreign language: https://fluent-forever.com/the-method/vocabulary/base-vocabulary-list/ and built my cards from that. I built simple cards with words and pictures/clip-art from Google to help me remember the word or concept. I recommend building your own deck of flash cards. Building your own cards is the first form of study. I use this every day almost. 



*** Kawsay Vida by Rosaleen Howard is an excellent resource, if at a high level. Great for pronunciation, listening, and excellent grammar tool. This is a Mac and Windows compatible program that comes with an installable CD and book of instruction. It is mostly for Bolivian and Ecuadorian Quechua and it has a section on Southern Quechua that is excellent. Tiny videos of Native speakers with a Quechua transcript and English translation. After a video finishes playing there is an "analysis" button which gives each word broken down into grammar particles and suffix. Each piece is clickable which brings up a window to show you what that piece means. I've learned a LOT from this program. I mostly use it to listen to with my eyes closed so that I can begin to hear the cadence and word-parts. I bought this on Amazon. Love. Native Speakers - Useful for Pronunciation.

*** eurotalk (uTalk) http://eurotalk.com/us/ has a whole page of Quechua language learning products which are modeled similarly to their smartphone app. I am using Talk Now and Talk More Quechua programs. These programs are structured similarly to the smartphone apps also produced by eurotalk. The lamentable exception is that you don't get to see the list of phrases to choose from; you must listen one by one and scroll through rather than being able to hear one desired phrase. All words and phrases are spoken by native speakers, one male, one female. Talk More has many greetings that I've not seen in other sources. There is also a recitation of the Quechua Alphabet, which is a first for me. Talk Now and Talk More are a bit more advanced, so it is helpful to have some Quechua under your belt before turning to these. The smartphone apps are an excellent place to begin. Recommended.



I find that ALL of these books help me understand what I'm hearing and reading.

*** Quechua Qosqo-Qollaw Trilingual Textbook for Classroom Instruction, Grammar, and Dictionary by Luis Moratorium Pena and Luis Morato Lara. I found this at the Cornell Latin America Studies department web site and ordered Level I and Level II. I've had it since I got back from Peru in 2013, and it's taken me this long to get beyond chapter 1! The Quechuaprimer.pdf found on-line at incaglossary.org at the very bottom of Appendix A helps IMMENSELY with deciphering and understanding this textbook. The textbook is clearly an adjunct to classroom instruction and is not intended to be used standalone, but I think it can be done. NOTE: some of the words in this text are of Spanish origin that have crept into the language over the last few hundred years. Adolfo uses ONLY Quechua words when describing ceremony and concepts. When I've used one of these words, he will say, "that's a Spanish word; use [Quechua word] instead."   Here is a link to the PDF order form for publications at Cornell's Latin American Studies Program.

*** Introduction to Quechua, Language of the Andes 2nd Edition by Jaime Lacasa and Judith Noble.  There is an audiobook companion which contains all of the numbered model sentences spoken by native speakers. Note that the book itself contains hundreds more examples than the audiobook supplement provides. This looks to be an excellent adjunctive resource, provided that you have others to draw on as well. The book consists of thousands of versions of useful phrases and greetings. It is not a grammar reference; for that, use the Quechua Qosqo-Qollaw textbook.  There are usually pure Quechua versions, too. Those are not included on the audiobook supplement. There is a ROBUST grammar section, including extensive tense conjugations. There are also  Quechua/English and English/Quechua dictionaries at the back of the book. The Quechua/English dictionary gives definitions for some suffixes, which is just golden. Most phrases are broken down into grammatical particles like this: Ch'isi-kama "evening-until" making it simpler to locate and understand the language pieces, most of which are in the dictionaries. The really great thing about this book is that it contains endings I haven't found elsewhere, and it also contains more robust descriptions of the endings that it does contain. It also lists several common language variations that we might encounter. Note: There are some Spanish-origin words mixed in to the phrases, especially in the greetings, which are basically Spanish greetings and not Quechua ones.

Lonely Planet Quechua Phrasebook is an excellent little pocket book if you have some basics. It's got grammar, dictionary, helpful phrases, and some history.



Huarochiri Manuscript by Frank Salomon and George L. Urioste. The first known transcription of Inka beliefs from the first generation of Conquistadors in the 1500s before there was too much syncretism between Catholicism and Andean Cosmology. VERY interesting. Not from the Cusco region, but there are intersecting beliefs here, and much interesting info about Wakas and about Pachakamaq, the creator being. I have not had a chance to ask Adolfo about some of the concepts presented in this manuscript yet. I'm curious to know! 

Rituals of Respect by Inge Bolin. Dr. Bolin is an Anthropologist who studied the highland culture of llama and sheep herders in Chillihuani, Peru. She was adopted into a family as a godmother (huge deal) and lived with them at intervals over several years. Lovely descriptions of intimate ceremony, and lots and lots of Quechua terms with a glossary at the back. 

Growing up in a Culture of Respect by Inge Bolin. Dr. Bolin's look at child-rearing philosophy in the Peruvian highlands. Also another lovely book with resources and glossary galore. 

When Condors Call: A Novel of Peru also by Inge Bolin. Haven't read this yet, but it's next in the pile :-)

Andean Codex by J.E. Williams. I have this but have not read it! Thom tells me that it is excellent. 

Masters of the Living Energy: The Mystical World of the Q'ero of Peru by Joan Parisian Wilcox. Excellent. Great glossary and wonderful practices!



http://www.andes.org/q_index.html  Basic Quechua lessons and first vocabulary at Andes.org

http://www.incaglossary.org/ Enormous Quechua glossary and history/cosmology site curated by Patt O'Neill. Excellent resource. Also note that many of the specific words that our teacher has given us over the years are not here. There are some conflicting definitions for some words on this site from other sources. Appendix A contains an excellent pronunciation guide.

**** http://www.incaglossary.org/Quechuaprimer.pdf by an Anonymous contributor, titled "Quechua Basics for Mesa Carriers (Version 7)" copyright 2003. This is one teeny tiny link at the bottom of Appendix A. I have printed and bound this for my own use, it's so handy. It gives

  • Origins
  • Spelling and Pronunciation
  • Spelling Discrepancies
  • Conjugations (past, present, present-ongoing, future, imperative, and 'plusquam perfect', a tense that describes actions in the past whose existence or importance was not apparent at the time)
  • pronouns
  • possessives
  • a basic list of verbs (yay!)
  • question words
  • some basic suffixes that can help you unwind and unravel some of the more obtuse sources.

There is also a page or two of flowery phrases that might be useful in your mañakuy.  This is one of my essential go-tos for unlocking the language. Thank you, Anonymous!

https://forvo.com/languages-pronunciations/qu/  "All the words in the world. Pronounced."  Well, maybe not all. For this site, you must already know what it is that you are looking for. There are no definitions, and plenty of alternate spellings, only pronunciations. Be crafty, my friends! Native Speakers - Useful for Pronunciation

http://salkawind.com/blog/  Oakley Gordon, Ph.D. A lovely blog with useful practices.  He has distilled the practices into a teeny book, The Andean Cosmovision


See also poetry of Wilbert Pacheco Alvarez in the YouTube section below






Some of these can be streamed via YouTube




Renata Flores is an artist who sings contemporary songs in Quechua -- some of these have Quechua subtitles - turn on CC in your YouTube view -- others have lyrics in Quechua in the "show more" link

Wilbert Pacheco Alvarez is an artist who writes and speaks Quechua poetry to music. His videos have subtitles built-in.


Quechua Phrases for the Khuya K'ipu (Misha) Carrier



Rimaykullayki, Pachamama!
"I greet you (somewhat formal, most common greeting), Pachamama!"

Napaykullayki, Tayta Inti!
"I greet you (somewhat formal), Father Sun!"

Rimaykullayki, munasqa yachacheq!
I greet you (somewhat formal), beloved teacher!

Tupaykullayki, Tawantinsuyu!
I greet you (somewhat formal), Four Regions (the World)!

Rimaykullankichis, Apukuna!
"I greet you (somewhat formal), Apus!"

Ch'ukllachakuytaqa munakunipunim!
I love camping!

Ñoqaqa kani [insert your full name], wawariki.
"I am [your full name], your Little One"

Ñoqa-qa [insert your birth city,state,country]-pi paqari-q ka-sha-ni.
"I was born in [city/state/country]"



Chaskiway! Chaskiway! Chaskiway!  
also Chaskiy! Chaskiy! Chaskiy!
"Receive me! Receive me! Receive me!"



Sonqoywan Munayta Haywashayki! 
"Sending love to you from my heart!"

Apu Ausangate, phukurimushayki kukata sutikipi! 
"Apu Ausangate, I blow this coca [k'intu] to you in your name!"

Apu Ausangate, machula, ñoqa kay k'intuta haywarimushayki!
"Apu Ausangate, grandfather, I offer to you this k'intu!" 

Pachamama, ñawpa, ñoqa kay k'intuta haywarimushayki!
"Pachamama, oldest, I offer to you this k'intu!"



"Until we meet again!"