The choice of what language to use for what purposes and in which contexts is never easy to make, especially in a region with over 1000 native tongues and two major intrusive ones. On the one hand, there are English and French – the global languages of opportunities and the future; on the other, there are the local vernaculars – the languages of culture, heritage, and the past. Imagine that they all share the spotlight. Wouldn’t that be great? But how to achieve it?
There’s no denying that in today’s globalized world, linguistic diversity is more and more difficult to maintain. In Oceania, the native languages have been superseded by English and French – tongues considered more useful, more cosmopolitan, and – for some people – more important than Tokelauan or Chamorro for example. However, since language is a manifestation of culture, knowledge, beliefs, customs, and traditions; Tokelauan, Chamorro, and all the other tongues of the Pacific, simply must be cherished and preserved. Believe it or not, there are ways to do it.
Cultivating your mother tongue at home is the easiest to realize, as you are not dependent on anyone and anything. Especially those living overseas should make sure to give the same amount of attention to both the language of their ancestors and the language of the surrounding community.
Speaking to your relatives in … (Tahitian, Chuukese, Tuvaluan, etc.), learning vocabulary, creating your own sentences will work magic. Sooner or later you will become fluent. You can start with simple commands (“Can you please bring me…?”) or by naming the objects around you. You can read books, poems, or even create your own stories. You can listen to music – songs are a great way to memorize new words. If you are a parent, encourage your children to do all these things and support them in this endeavour. Just remember – whatever you do, make it fun! After all, you’re using “your” language.
Multilingual education is a challenge for everyone involved: policymakers, school personnel, students. The use of two (or more) languages as media of instruction is difficult – not impossible but difficult – to execute for various reasons. This does not mean, though, that multilingualism can’t be celebrated in the classroom. It can and even should be! Let’s focus on the immigrant countries here (bilingual education in the Pacific states is a topic for another day)
Encourage students to introduce themselves in their mother tongue and maybe teach their classmates a few basic words. Let them talk about the country their family comes from – customs, traditions, practices, beliefs. You can also listen to music or, if possible, watch a movie in that language.
Ask your teacher if you can do a lesson on languages. Bring from home books, films, music to present to your classmates. You can also prepare some words in your native tongue that don’t exist in English / French as well as a few proverbs or interesting idioms – getting to know them may be (will be!) super fun for your friends.
At a country level
Promoting languages at a country level will mean different things in different countries. While the Pacific Island nations should focus on exposing the vernaculars and making sure they receive proper attention on a day-to-day basis, the immigrant countries ought to simply acknowledge their existence and support local Pasifika communities in their efforts to maintain their mother tongues.
Pacific Island states:
In order to preserve the native languages of the region, the governments should ensure they are used in everyday situations. The languages ought to be present everywhere: from public institutions to churches to workplaces and schools. They should also appear in the media – hearing the tongues on television or the radio, and seeing them in newspapers will strengthen people’s belief that Samoan, Tongan, Palauan, Bislama, or Drehu are indeed important and needed.
Host countries ought to start by promoting the immigrant tongues in the wider society, so they are not regarded as low status. It can be done by extending the language use into key public language domains: governance, education, media, to name but a few; and organizing various community events (such as Pacific Language Weeks in New Zealand).