You would think that you don’t need a phrasebook if you have constant access to the Internet. You want to know how to say “Hello” in any given language, and your very cool uncle Google will always be there to help you. But imagine that one day you wake up in some faraway place (the remote islands of the Pacific, perhaps?) and your Internet connection no longer exists. What then? Then you might encounter a problem, unless you have a good old phrasebook as your companion.

There are not a lot of books that contain useful words and phrases in the Pacific languages. Actually, I managed to find only three: all published by Lonely Planet. Today I’d like to focus on the most comprehensive one, the “South Pacific Phrasebook”.


This little book comprises ten native tongues of the South Pacific: Fijian, Hawaiian, Māori, Niuean, Rapanui, Rarotongan Māori, Samoan, Tahitian, Tongan, and Drehu. It also mentions other languages spoken in the region: Fijian Hindi, Pacific French, Spanish, and the local versions of English that are used by New Zealanders, Norfolk Islanders, and Pitcairners.

Generally, each chapter is dedicated to one language and is split into several sections. Always expect to find a map of a particular country or territory, a short introduction, a pronunciation guide, and lots of common expressions any tourist may need (Meeting People, Getting Around, Food, Times & Dates, Numbers). Some of the chapters include additional sections, such as Health, Festivals, Celebrations, Music & Dance, Myths & Legends, or Family & Social Structure. They provide readers with a great deal of cultural information, so that their chance of committing a cultural faux pas is reduced to minimum. Plus, all these tips and hints are immensely interesting. They let you immerse yourself in the fascinating world of the Pacific Islands even before you go there.

Ease of use

This phrasebook is truly tourist friendly. First of all, it is pocked-sized, which means you will have no trouble fitting it in the tiniest of your bags. And, believe it or not, this is extremely important, because when you’re travelling you definitely don’t want to carry around hefty books. In this case size does matter – the smaller the better!

In addition to being conveniently sized, the phrasebook is also very easy to navigate. The detailed index lets you find exactly what you’re looking for in literally a few seconds. It’s a crucial feature, especially when you have to do a quick search. You want to know how to greet someone? The Meeting People section will give you a bunch of ready-made expressions. You need to buy some local food? The Food section will be your guide. And if you get lost (not really possible in the Pacific, but let’s assume it may happen) the Getting Around section will surely help you find your way back home. What is more, all the “Pacific” words and phrases are written in green, so they stick out from the rest of the text and are immediately noticeable. You won’t even have to worry about proper pronunciation – the book’s got you covered.

Would I recommend it?

Definitely and wholeheartedly yes! Although the phrasebook is not perfect, it’s the only one of this kind on the market. So kudos to Lonely Planet for having thought about the Pacific Islands and all the people who may want to travel to this absolutely amazing part of the world.

As mentioned above, the book is not ideal. It is a phrasebook, meaning its main focus should be on the languages it presents. But that’s not really the case with this title, I’m afraid. Quite honestly, it is more about Pacific cultures than languages. Now, don’t get me wrong here. All these cultural facts make a wonderful addition, as they give you a better understanding of the region. However, some of them are completely unnecessary (for example information on traditional Fijian homes or The Tale of The Flying Fox) and, in my opinion, should have been replaced by more useful language expressions.

Everything else about this phrasebook is superb. Not only does it come in handy during travels, but it’s also an excellent introduction to Polynesian and Melanesian tongues. If you take the time to study the book thoroughly, you’ll have a chance to learn quite a bit! The authors’ lucid explanations will provide you with a solid foundation of language knowledge. Maybe you’ll even go a step further and try to master the chosen lingo?


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