Imagine: you’re visiting Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, or Papua New Guinea. You know you’re going to get by in any of those countries using only English or, in case of Vanuatu, French. But wouldn’t it be great if you could say a few words in the local lingo? Just think about it. And when you decide I’m right, here’s a book that may help you.

“Pidgin Phrasebook & Dictionary” is yet another publication by Lonely Planet that focuses on the native tongues of Oceania, which is highly commendable considering the general lack of interest in those languages. But is the book itself also worthy of praise?


The phrasebook concentrates mainly on the creoles spoken in the Melanesian countries of Vanuatu (Bislama), Solomon Islands (Pijin), and Papua New Guinea (Tok Pisin); but it also mentions those used in the Torres Strait Islands (Yumpla Tok) and Australia’s Northern Territory (Kriol).

It is organized by language, and each chapter is divided into several smaller sections. A country map followed by an introduction, a nicely-prepared pronunciation guide, and a set of grammar rules can always be found at the very beginning. Most of the remainder of the sections (Meeting People, Getting Around, Food, Time & Dates, Emergencies, Numbers, etc.)  are dedicated to vocabulary. They offer plenty of useful words and phrases, helping you feel at ease in a foreign land. What is more, thanks to the cultural insights (very interesting!) you’ll be able to better understand each country, its inhabitants, and their ways of being. You will be more respectful and less judgemental, which will definitely enhance your travelling experience.

Ease of use

Just like other phrasebooks in the series, this title is extremely user-friendly. Its pocket-size format (93mm x 140mm) makes it easy to carry, so you can always have it with you – no matter where you go (store, market, hotel, restaurant, beach, etc.). And taking into account that these are Pacific creoles we’re talking about, this phrasebook will most probably be your only source of reference (yes, you can forget about dictionaries here).

The comprehensive index, colour-coded pages, and a very intuitive layout prove to be invaluable for finding all the needed information on the go. You don’t have to think: “Which section covers ordering food and drinks?” or “Where was that useful phrase I saw earlier?” – you just know. You know exactly where to look for certain things. Which really comes in handy, especially when you – or people standing in line behind you – are in a hurry (yes, yes, I know – no one is in a hurry in the Pacific). Let’s be honest, you don’t want your search for the right word to take forever. By the way, to make the phrasebook even more convenient to use, the creole words and sentences are given in colour, so they stand out and are more easily remembered (if you also want to learn something).

Would I recommend it?

I certainly would. I’m sure you have already noticed that I’m a big fan of Lonely Planet’s Pacific Phrasebook series (for the lack of a better name), but that’s not without reason. No other publisher has come up with the idea to create a phrasebook, let alone phrasebooks, dedicated to the native tongues of Oceania. Lonely Planet did it – for the first time in the 1990s! And you know what? They did it really well.

Compared to the “South Pacific Phrasebook” (also by Lonely Planet), this one seems to be much more detailed and focused on linguistics rather than cultural information. Which, of course, is not a surprise if you look at the number of languages each book covers: the “Pidgin Phrasebook & Dictionary” – five, the “South Pacific Phrasebook” – ten.

Now, what I like best about this little book and what I think is especially worthy of notice are the grammar sections. Together with the pronunciation guide, they form a really nice addition to vocabulary and conversational basics. Travellers may not be particularly interested in them, but people who are (seriously) thinking about learning one of the creoles will definitely appreciate this feature.

All in all, buy this phrasebook if a) you are going to Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, or Papua New Guinea, because it will help you tremendously and b) if you’re considering studying Bislama for example, because you’ll get a feel of the language.


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