Let’s face it, there are very limited resources available for learning Oceanic languages. A few textbooks and dictionaries, a couple of academic publications (which you won’t understand unless you are a linguistics professor), some free-to-use online materials that can basically teach you how to say “Hello” and “My name is …”. That’s all. Not a lot, right?
You may therefore imagine how difficult it was for me to find a decent coursebook that would guide me through the intricacies of Marshallese grammar. Just when I was starting to lose hope, I discovered Peter Rudiak-Gould’s “Practical Marshallese”.
This 248-page textbook contains 102 lessons, each with a main grammar point and a short vocabulary section. They are organized in ascending order of difficulty, which means that the easiest and, at the same time, most useful material can be found at the very beginning.
The first few lessons introduce students to the letters and sounds of Marshallese, some basic phrases, words, and rules you simply need to understand before moving on. Besides learning how to greet someone or apologize, you’ll get to know the tenses and soon you’ll be able to construct your own sentences. If you study these lessons carefully, your language skills will be good enough to let you get by in many situations.
The author ensures that going through the whole coursebook will acquaint you with all of the useful grammar – “all” and “useful” being the operative words here. As you probably know, it is never possible to learn to speak a foreign language fluently just by studying it. To achieve the proficiency level you have to practise, converse with the natives. Nevertheless, this book is a great start.
On the last 35 pages you’ll find a sizeable glossary of about 1500 Marshallese words and their English definitions. You can’t, however, treat it like a mini-dictionary, as the words are not arranged in alphabetical order but in order of usefulness.
Ease of use
I have to say that “Practical Marshallese” is unbelievably student-friendly. Everything from pronunciation to grammar to vocabulary is not only well explained but also presented in the most manageable and lucid form possible. Let me give you an example here. Every single Marshallese phrase contained in the book is translated into English. But Peter Rudiak-Gould took one step further and added a word-for-word translation, which tells you what each word in these Marshallese phrases means. Thanks to that, you can understand the principles of grammar much better. Absolute beginners (like me) just couldn’t ask for more.
The organization of the textbook is also excellent. The lessons are numbered and additionally briefly described in the Table of Contents, so you’ll have no troubles finding the desired topic. It is especially useful when you want to go back to previous sections and revise what you’ve already learnt.
Would I recommend it?
Absolutely! Actually, word on the street is this is the best textbook available. I must say I wholeheartedly agree with this opinion.
Even though this book was originally written for the WorldTeach Marshall Islands program volunteers (it has been used as an official language manual since 2004), it is now available to any person willing to study the lingo – for free. All you have to do is visit the author’s website and download the textbook. It’s that simple. And I’m positive you won’t regret doing so, because this publication has virtually no flaws.
The only drawback I could find – a very minor drawback – is the lack of practice exercises which would allow you to test your knowledge. But don’t worry, because there are sample dialogues included in some of the chapters that may help you with this matter – at least to a certain extent.
And what do I like best about this book? The language and pronunciation tips. They make learning Marshallese so much easier! Especially if you study on your own and don’t always have someone around to correct your mistakes. Plus, these pieces of advice are simply interesting, as they explain various differences between English and Marshallese and as a result show how Marshall Islanders perceive the world. If you are fascinated by this particular aspect of language (I am!), you certainly won’t be disappointed.
Peter Rudiak-Gould created a very solid textbook. It is visually pleasing, clear and concise, and – most importantly – learner-centered. In other words, it has everything you need to start speaking Marshallese.