So you are a Pacific Islander or a person of Pacific descent. You speak English or French. Or both. Or maybe even Spanish, German, or Japanese. But you don’t really speak the language of your ancestors. You know a few words, you can form a sentence or two, but you are not fluent. Does this description sound familiar to you? Are you this person? If the answer is “yes”, read on.
There are dozens of reasons why people should learn foreign languages. However, for you – a Pacific Islander – Samoan, Tongan, Marshallese, Fijian, or Bislama are not really “foreign languages”. These are your languages; languages spoken in your homelands, used by your relatives; languages that carry your cultures. Why is it, then, that more and more of you – dear Pacific Islanders – are slowly losing interest in them? If you will allow me, I would like to tell you why the native tongues of Oceania should be important to you, and why you should seriously consider getting to know them.
It will keep you connected to your culture
It is an undeniable fact that language is an intrinsic part of culture. It constitutes a linguistic representation of certain values, traditions, beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts. It is a way of maintaining one’s identity and sharing it with other members of the community. To put it simply, it is a strong link – a bridge, if you will – to a person’s roots. When you speak your people’s language, you will never forget where you come from. You’ll have a sense of belonging; you’ll feel that you’re a part of the group. And this awareness – that somewhere out there is someone like you – is priceless.
You’ll understand your culture better
Language provides insights into culture, so having a good knowledge of your native tongue will let you gain a better understanding of the islanders’ ways of being. You’ll be able to decode what’s hidden behind each word or phrase and catch the ancient pearls of wisdom left by your ancestors. English won’t ever capture the real essence of Fa’a Samoa or Anga faka-Tonga – only Samoan and Tongan will. Plus, it’s quite exciting to read a book or listen to a song and know exactly what message the author wanted to convey. Don’t you agree?
You’ll be able to communicate with your relatives/friends/fellow Islanders
Even if you live in Australia, New Zealand, the US, or any other country in the world, you probably still have some family members or friends back in the islands. And they don’t necessarily have to speak English. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to talk with them? Listen to their stories? Laugh at their jokes? Interacting with other people in your native tongue brings a feeling of togetherness that comes from shared identity as one ethnic group. You may have never met before, or maybe you have just a nodding acquaintance – it doesn’t really matter. Because if you have a native language in common, it makes you…family.
It will give you a distinct advantage on the job market
Yes, I know – Pacific languages are not particularly sought after by employers. But in the places with vibrant Pacific communities, a good knowledge of such language – especially mixed with extensive cultural expertise (which you, as a Pacific Islander, have!) – will surely be a huge asset for any person looking for a job. Interpreters and translators, for example, are needed in a vast array of sectors – healthcare, education, legal, social care being among them. Not only may you end up doing something you’ll really enjoy but also – or rather most importantly – something that will be beneficial to a lot of people.
You’ll help to keep your native tongue alive
The rule is simple: if a language is to survive, it needs speakers. There are quite a few endangered tongues in the Pacific – mostly the small ones, the existence (or non-existence) of which is hardly even noticed. However, taking into account that all the Oceanic languages have a relatively small number of speakers, it may soon turn out that Tuvaluan, Niuean, Tokelauan, Cook Islands Māori, or Yapese will also be facing extinction. So learn your native lingo, pass the knowledge on to the next generation, and be proud that you have helped keep one more Pacific language alive.