When you learn a new language, you need both vocabulary and grammar to convey a message. As they go hand in hand, you can’t concentrate your attention on one and neglect the other. I have already reviewed Stephen Trussel’s “Communication and Culture Handbook”, which focuses on words, phrases, and expressions. Now it’s time to review the second volume in the course, “Kiribati: Grammar Handbook”.
You have probably noticed by now that the two books form a complementary set. They are intended to be used together to – as the author writes – get a good basis in the Kiribati language. So if you are familiar with the first title, you will surely be interested in this one too.
The textbook contains 40 lessons. It starts with an overview of sounds, spelling, and dialects. After this short “introduction”, the author presents the rules of grammar. Beginning with the word order, he explains all the basics: from WH-questions, imperatives, negatives to nouns, numbers, pronouns to adjectives, verbs, and tenses.
For the most part, the lessons are a few pages long. They are very straight to the point, with no lead-ins whatsoever. All you get is the grammar theory and a short set of exercises to quickly test your knowledge. There is an answer key “at the end of the book”, but only to the written exercises.
The handbook ends with interesting appendices (higher numbers – old system and numeral classifiers), the aforementioned answer key, and a comprehensive index. It also has nice illustrations, just like the other volume in the set.
Ease of use
This title is not available as a whole book, as was the case with “Kiribati: Communication and Culture Handbook”. This means that each lesson is a separate website page, which is both convenient and not at the same time. On the one hand, you can choose a lesson, click on the link, and voilà! You don’t have to waste time scrolling down the .pdf file. But on the other hand, if you’re an old-school learner who prefers to use a physical copy, you’ll be disappointed, because it is really hard to print the lessons out. First and foremost, you would have to do it one-by-one (which would take ages). Second, some of the lessons are in HTML format, others in .pdf. A real mish-mash, isn’t it?
Another drawback to this textbook – in my humble opinion – is the order of the lessons. If you know nothing about the Kiribati language, you may get slightly disoriented at the beginning. To give you an example here, the author introduces you to questions even before you learn how to count. I will say that’s somewhat odd, but of course you may disagree.
What I really like is the way Stephen Trussel explains the grammar. Everything is easy to understand, especially that for every Kiribati sentence there is a word-by-word translation, which is truly fantastic. The learning-friendly layout directs attention to the most important points, making them much more memorable.
Would I recommend it?
Yes, I would. You won’t find a better textbook on the Kiribati language. No, sorry – you won’t find any textbook on the Kiribati language. So if you want to study it, this is your option.
Now, this is not to say that the book is bad. It is not! It covers what I think is a big chunk of grammar, letting you learn the basics really well. Of course, it wasn’t originally created for self-study (the author writes on his website: “(…)while it can certainly be used for self-study, the activities associated with the lesson dialogues will often remind you that they were developed to be used (by Peace Corps Volunteers) in a classroom setting, with a native instructor, and with all the social and cultural resources of Kiribati available for the outside activities.”), so you may find some lessons more challenging than others. Nevertheless, with a bit of will and persistence, everything can be achieved.
The author’s handwritten notes appear on a few pages, some sentences / words are crossed through, but I don’t think this is much of a problem. We must remember that the material available online (both “Communication and Culture Handbook” and “Grammar Handbook”) is scanned from Stephen Trussel’s personal copies. And it is pure kindness on his part that we may use it completely free of charge.
To sum up, Stephen Trussel’s handbooks are definitely worthy of your attention. Even if they are not perfect, they give you a chance to learn the Kiribati language. And that is, well, priceless!