Episode 4: How & Why

Mba’e la porte. I’m Paulita and this is Guaraníme. You’ve probably been hit with a lot of doubts about Guaraní, about your ability to learn it, or about it being worth it. So in this episode we’re going to step back and take a look at the big picture. The how and the why you’re going to do this. Then for vocab we’re just going to throw out 10 fun phrases you can start using right away.

I took my recorder to go talk to my buddies Sasha and Mateo about their experience with Guarani. Both of them have been studying the language since they arrived and are pretty much conversing full time in Guarani. (Listen to the podcast for their tips.)

I think they said it pretty well, but just wanted to say, not knowing Guarani sucks. I sit there while people are telling jokes, all laughing. Day in, day out. It sucks.

For a while I used to get mad because Paraguayans wouldn’t speak Spanish around me. But Spanish is not their language, Guaraní is.

Even if my Guaraní is never perfect, knowing a little and continuing to learn it is fun. I can yell back at creepy guys on the street when they say creepy things to me in Guaraní. I can chat with little old ladies sitting on their porches, and when I do, they giggle and go ‘Oh’ and clap their hands. Don’t you want to make little old ladies giggle and clap?

It boils down to the fact that if you know Guaraní, your time in Paraguay will be more fun.

Ok, so that covers the Why, Now let’s move onto the how. From my experience and some Googling, here are those 10 tips to help you learn Guaraní.

1. Find a buddy. Find someone else in this whole wide world who is also trying to learn Guaraní. There’s actually a Facebook group called Guaraní. Go there and hunt for someone. This will give you someone to practice and comiserate with. It will also keep you from quitting. You can write each other little Guarani emails.

2. Make flashcards. I take a 3x5 card from the life supply my family sent me. I fold it in half lengthwise then widthwise, then cut it into four. You can also just use paper. I write the Guaraní word on one side and the definition on the other, old-school style, and make endless stacks. That photo I use on my podcast is my stack of flashcards piled up next to my guampa, the cup used for drinking terere. I think I have about a million. Go through the stacks, quizzing yourself, from both sides of the card. This way you keep track of each word, and you know it won’t leave your stack until you’ve learned it.

3. Get all the parts down. I recently learned that a different part of your brain activates when you hear a word than when you see it, so you’ve got to get these words all up in every part of your brain. That means thinking about hearing, speaking, reading and writing. Though, ok, no one’s going to kill you if you never learn to read or write in Guaraní. For me, unfortunately, I learned that I’m a visual learning. People tell me words but, until I write it down, it just flies though my head. So the cards work for me. But I also make sure I’m actively listening and making myself try new words, so that the words don’t just become letters on a card, but sounds in my mind as well. Also, if you get bored doing one thing, like reading flash cards, you can change to something, like listening to the podcast again or yelling at stray dogs in Guaraní, so that you can be less bored but still be working on your language skills.

4. Work with mnemonic devices. Get a picture in your mind when learning a word, or make up a funny litte pun story. Make up a dirty joke about it, whatever makes you laugh and makes the word stick. This can get tough because Guaraní is so different from anything your brain has every heard before. I mean, what kind of device am I going to use to remember that myaky means wet? You have to get pretty creative. Whenever I think of it, I’ll try to share the ones I use.

5. “Never despair, but if you do, work on in despair.” That’s one of my favorite quotes by a guy named Edmund Burke. Even if the frustration inside you says that you’ll never learn Guaraní, there has to be some part of you that knows that if you just learn 3 words a day, you’ll be able to speak Guaraní in a year. And you will be awesome. (1,000 words, by the way, is how many they say you need to get by in a language.) So every time you catch yourself saying, I’ll never learn Guaraní, go study for 10 minutes. If all is lost, take a day, eat some ice cream, then keep going. If I can learn Guaraní, with frequent bouts of despair and all, anyone can.

6. Start speaking as soon as you can. Prepare to be laughed at. After a few times, the laughter will stop, conversation will begin. I still remember the first time I said something in Guaraní and it wasn’t like, "Ha ha, Paulita said something in Guaraní." I had said I’m going to eat lunch, and they just said, “Ok, jajotopata.” And I was like, “It works!” This also helps you attach Guaraní to real life, helps you realize that this really is just normal every day speech for some people in the world, the people you now hang out with.

7. Don’t be mad at Guaraní. Don’t ask Guaraní, why Guaraní, why? Why are you so complicated? Why do you have so many little rules? Why do you make my throat hurt? We don’t ask why, we just ask how. Sometimes you will come across something, and it will just freak you out. When I found out about the existence of the subjunctive tense in Spanish, I was mad for 6 months before I accepted it and sat down to learn it. I probably could have had it down in two months if I had used my pissy energy for studying. If something is making you mad or frustrated, you just have to say, I’m not going to learn that today. You might have to listen to the podcast again in a few weeks, or read the lesson over and over. That’s ok. If you can’t seem to get past something, ask someone else to explain it. It might just be that you need to look at it from a different angle. You just have to accept Guaraní for what Guaraní is, a crazy little language that’s almost nothing like English, and decide to learn it or not. If it feels hard and frustrating, that’s because it is hard and frustrating, but so are a lot of things worth doing.

8. Get a local tutor. This can be a professor that you pay, that you might even be able to get Peace Corps to pay for, if you´re a volunteer, or this could just be your little host brother that you pay with lollypops. Either way, you’re working with someone in the community, showing that you’re hard-working, and giving others around you a sense of responsibility and pride in your learning their language.

9. Do today’s work. Don’t let your mind wander to how you didn’t study yesterday, or how you’ll never get past this part. Just do today. They don’t welcome little kids to kindergarten and say, This will take you 12 years. They just say, This is the letter A. Just get what you need done each day, inch along from where you are, and soon you will have climbed Mt. Guarani.

10. Start now. Oh look, you already did. Good for you.

Ok, so, let’s just a little fun for the love of Pete. Today we’re just going to go over 10 things that are just fun to say in Guaraní. No big gramatical concepts, just stuff you can start using immediately. I’ll pause after each new word for repetition.

The first is E’a. It’s just kind of like a gasp or like “Oh!” in Guaraní. Like if I told my host mom, I ate 15 empanadas for lunch. She’d say “E’a!

This next is like a the nicer version of a cuss word, kind of like saying poop instead of the sh*t. It’s Nde rasóre. I’ll let you figure out the cuss word and what it means on your own. This is used like the Guaraní version of “Darn it!”

The next phrase is che ra’a. You’ve got the che, which in this case means “my” and ra’a means son. A lot of times I hear it more like “che ra.” Anyway, people use it, mostly between men, kind of like “man”. You’ll hear this a lot with Nde rasóre. “Nde rashore che ra’a.” Or it could be combined with E’a. E’a che ra’a. The other day I heard a terrible story on the radio, and the announcer ended it with “terible che ra’a.”

Another good one to follow up with Che ra’a is Nahaniri, which means “no.” People just use “no” as well, but nahaniri is kind of like more for emphasis. Like when a little kid picks up your camera, you can say, “Nahaniri che ra’a.”

And if you know how to say “No,” now we got to throw in there yes. It’s a good one. The word is “Héẽ.” We’ll be going over nasal stuff in the next episode. It’s just really fun to say. Once you know it, you’ll hear it all the time, when one person is talking, and the other’s just leaning back saying, “Héẽ, Héẽ,” like, yeah, yeah.

The next is like “let’s go!” And it’s the ñande form, that inclusive we, of to go. You’ll remember that the Ñande form is usually going to start with that ja- sound. And if “I go” is aha, let’s all go is jaha. So whenever we’re all waiting around to head out somewhere, one person usually stands up and says Jaha! It’s one of those words that is so universal, volunteers use it amongst themselves all the time.

This next one you’ll use a lot. I know I did. It was one of the first things I learned in Guaraní. The word is Nantendei. This means “I don’t understand”. When I lived with my first family, every time I said this word sparked about three minutes of laughter and the repeating of “nantendei” followed by more hoots of laughter. I got used to it.

Next and nearly as important is the Ndaikuaái. This means “I don’t know.” Sometimes it’s used alone or you can put the “Che” in front of it, “Che ndaikuaái”. I started using this with my current host family, and for months they found it hilarious to just walk around shaking their heads and saying ”Ndaikuaái. Ndaikuaái.” I got used to it.

Then there’s the word for “Ok,” which is Oĩma. The parts literally break down into “It is already.” Or it could also mean that something is ready. Oĩma. Ready. So like when you’re trying to negotiate for a house to rent, and you’ve already talked everything out and all there is left to do is shake hands, you can say, “Oĩma.”

There’s another word you can throw out to mean finished. That’s Opa. When you’re all done washing your clothes, you can lift up your hands and huff and say, “Opa.” A lot of times you’ll hear this combined with the ending for already, -ma. “Opama.” Is kind of like, Finished already.

  1. e’a: Oh! (gasp)

  2. nde rasóre: Darn it

  3. che ra’a: my son, used between men

  4. nahániri: no

  5. heẽ: yes

  6. jaha: let´s go

  7. ndaikuaái: I don´t know

  8. nantendei: I don´t understand

  9. oĩma: ready

  10. opa: done

1. What’s the word for “Oh!”

2. How do you say, “Ok!” or “Ready”

3. How do you say, “I don’t understand,” using it with the word for “I”.
Che ndaikuaái

4. How do you say, “Let’s go!”

5. How do you say, “Finished!”

6. What would you say if you slammed your finger in the door?
nde rasóre

7. What would you say if someone asks if you want to drink terere (hint: this is always Yes)

8. What would you say if someone just walks up to you and starts speaking in Guarani?

9. How do you stop a kid from picking up your camera?

10. What’s the phrase meaning “my son” that you use kind of like “man.”
Che ra’a

Ok, now we’re going to move on to the Review. You might need a t-ray break in between.

1. Yes, I will go to Paraguay.
Heẽ, ahata Paraguaype.

2. Let’s go to Paraguay.
Jaha Paraguaype.

3. I already finished all my pizza.
Opama che pizza.

4. My pizza’s ready.
Oĩma che pizza.

5. You’re all making pizza already.
Peẽ pejapoma pizza.

Now we’re switching to the Guarani first...

6. Che ha’uma che sushi.
I ate my sushi already.

7. E’a, che ha’u nde pizza.
Oh, I ate your pizza.

8. Jaha Paraguaype.
Let’s go to Paraguay.

9. Nde rasóre!
Darn it!

10. Opama
All done!

1 comment:

  1. I have read that in Guaraní, you use "Asuncion" to refer yourself to the country Paraguay and "Paraguai" to the capital city Asunción, but I'm not sure if this is dependent of the region.