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Latin America

Postcard from Cochabamba, Bolivia

DW Akademie project manager Linda Vierecke is supporting local radio stations in Bolivia. Most of the stations broadcast in indigenous languages. Right from the start Vierecke knew she would have to learn one of them.

Linda Vierecke explores Quechua with the help of teacher, Daniel Cotari (photo: DW Akademie).

Linda Vierecke explores Quechua with the help of teacher, Daniel Cotari

I've just spent three hours learning Quechua. I like this Andean language - there are no irregular verbs, no difference between the personal pronouns for 'he' and 'she', and 30 percent of the words are of Spanish origin. The syntax is also pretty clear although the word order is different from German, my mother tongue.

"Noqa wasipi kasani" which means "I'm in the house" literally translates as "I house in am".

A staff member at Colomi’s local radio station, which broadcasts in Quechua (photo: DW Akademie/Linda Vierecke).

A staff member at Colomi's local radio station, which broadcasts in Quechua

For the past five months, my family and I have been living in Cochabamba, a Bolivian city some 200 kilometers from La Paz. We'll be here for two years in total while I'm working on a joint project organized by DW Akademie and the German development organization, GIZ. Called "Pro Periodismo", the project focuses on strengthening the region's local radio stations.

It's easy to get by in Spanish here in Cochabamba. It's spoken everywhere, at the shops, at the market and at the kindergarten. The national media also write and broadcast in Spanish.

But when you travel just 50 kilometers outside of Cochabamba, you find yourself in Quechua territory. One third of Bolivia's population - some three million people - speak Quechua, which is also one of the country's official languages. So it was obvious from the moment I arrived that I needed to learn Quechua.

Runasimita qillqaytam munani. - I want to learn how to write Quechua.

A voice for village communities

Colomi potato market (photo: DW Akademie/Linda Vierecke).

A bit of Quechua helps when shopping at the Colomi potato market

One of our project partners is Cepra, a center which offers training for more than 70 small, local radio stations spread across the country - some are located at 4,000 meters above sea level, others in the tropical lowlands, and many others in between. Most broadcast in the indigenous languages of Quechua, Aymara or Guarani. The stations aim to give the villages a voice. They are often the sole source of media information in the area and the center of community activity. It's about "noqayku" or the inclusive "we".

Quechua has two different words for "we". The word "Noqanchej" includes the person speaking and the one being spoken about - but excludes the one being spoken to. For example: "Mom, we (my sister and I) just had breakfast." The other Quechua word for "we" is "Noqayku", and includes everyone, including the person being addressed. "Mom, can we (my mom, my sister and I) leave now?" I find Quechua a clever and practical language.

Radio with a passion

Colomi potato market (photo: DW Akademie/Linda Vierecke).

Potatoes originated from the Andes region in South America. A large variety still grows in Bolivia, and come in different shapes and colors

Only a few of the project participants are trained radio journalists, none of them has a university degree and some come straight to the station after working in the fields. But many of them have years of radio experience. My job is to provide additional training in formats such as interviews, debates, feature reports and news. It is important to get across that journalists are more credible if they report in a balanced, objective way.

¿Maypi kasanki? - Where are you?
Radiupi kasani. - I'm at the radio station.


My Quechua teacher Daniel Cotari says that it takes about eight months to learn the language. I only have three more weeks before the workshops get underway but I want to be able to say in Quechua - without cheating - that my name is Linda and that I'm a trainer.

Luckily I can do the rest of the workshop in Spanish.

Kosa pacha. - Well done.

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