KIRIBATI 1.0: I MIGHT BE CRAZY. OFFICIALLY

When in 2017 I started learning Marshallese, most of my relatives and friends were … a little surprised, to put it mildly. Because who on earth would want to learn Marshallese??? Well, I would! What is more, I would also want to learn Hawaiian and – wait for it – Kiribati; which, I guess, officially makes me a crazy person.

So yes, I have begun yet another language adventure. Kiribati, Gilbertese, te taetae ni Kiribati – it sounds rather wonderful, doesn’t it? I don’t really care what other people say; I am extremely excited that I can at least try to learn one more foreign tongue, especially one as beautiful and fascinating as Kiribati.

Now, the fact that Kiribati is a beautiful language was never the reason why I chose it. I honestly don’t know why I decided I would start learning Kiribati and not, say, Tahitian. Maybe it’s because I am quite interested in the country’s culture. Or maybe I just realize that in a few dozen years I may not have the chance. Climate change is real; people migrate to other places; languages are dying out. You have to be aware that at some point in the future the world as we know it will no longer exist. I certainly am aware of that, which is why exactly 13 days ago I started my Kiribati journey.

It has not been easy. As I am also learning Marshallese and Hawaiian, I had to make sure I would have time. Learning always equals less free time. But that’s ok with me, because I know that the reward will be sweet. So instead of watching TV, I grab one of my textbooks and try to memorize all the rules and vocabulary the authors think I (and other learners as well) should know.

I have taken it slow. One new lesson per month is my plan. Perfectly feasible. I hope that by not rushing I will learn everything better, make fewer mistakes, and – most importantly – forget fewer things. Especially that Kiribati is the most challenging of all three languages I am learning. The words are a bit harder to remember. However – being an optimist – I believe that it will get easier with every single day. I just need to get used to all the double letters and lots of n’s! I’m starting to suspect that this is the most frequently used consonant in the Kiribati language. And I even know why. I have found out that it occurs so often because it is a linking particle as well as a genitive marker. Whatever that means. I’m telling you in case you’re curious.

What I like about te taetae ni Kiribati is the way it sounds. Have you ever heard someone speaking Gilbertese? It is surprisingly melodious. But then again, all Pacific languages are. At least to my ears. Perhaps it’s the fact that they are not “popular” and thus so rarely heard around the world. We usually find novelty attractive, don’t we? Unfortunately, there are very few places where you can listen to Kiribati. If you live far away from where people speak the tongue (like yours truly here), you have no choice but to turn to your old friend – the Internet. Which, in this case, is not extremely helpful. Don’t bother searching for videos or podcasts – they are practically non-existent. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that for a language learner, it’s very bad news. Yet again, I will have to get by with whatever is available. Welcome, obstacle number one! (Shouldn’t I be already used to it???)

I wonder, I really do, how much I will manage to learn in one year. Will I be able to make a sentence? Will I know something more than “Ko na mauri” or “I marurung”? Will I feel comfortable enough with the language to continue? Or will I want to quit because it will turn out impossible to learn? I don’t remember asking myself these questions when I was starting my Marshallese and Hawaiian adventures. And that means only one thing – te taetae ni Kiribati will be quite a challenge. Thank goodness, I like challenges. They make life so much more interesting.


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