I started on January 6th. It all began wonderfully. First lesson of Stephen Trussel’s “Communication and Culture Handbook” – check! Second lesson – check! Third lesson – erm … wait … what? … I don’t understand … I have to look this up in the “Grammar Handbook” … damn … nope, it won’t be that easy.

So yes, it has not been easy. Ladies and gentlemen, the Kiribati language is a challenge. A huge / enormous / tough / difficult / major (choose whichever adjective you prefer) challenge. But it’s a challenge I’ve been enjoying.

Naturally, I wish it were less complicated. I wish I could go through the lessons like I was walking in the park. Well, not going to happen; and that’s actually something I had known even before I decided to take this particular language up.

It may have been a mistake on my part that I began with “Communication and Culture Handbook”; I probably should have looked at the grammar book first. You see, learning greetings or other basic phrases doesn’t really require any knowledge of grammar. But when you suddenly get a dialogue with sentences that are 3 kilometres long and words that you cannot translate and you feel that nothing makes sense, you just know that you have to dig deep. I failed at lesson number three, which was supposed to familiarize me with ways of talking about age.

In case you’re wondering, I now know how to ask for age. “Iraua am ririki?” (“How old are you?”) is the basic question. I had to search for it in the “Grammar Handbook”, because the dialogue in the “Communication and Culture Handbook” does not mention it. It does, however, mention other questions: “How old is he?”, or “How old is this boy?”, or “How old is Karianako now?”. Very useful if you are acquainted with the basics. I wasn’t. That’s why even translating individual words didn’t help. So that was when I did what all learners would do – I decided to go ahead with “the rules”.

I opened my notebook – my Kiribati grammar notebook with all the colourful notes I made – and I began at the very beginning. Sounds and spelling – not everything’s clear but check! Dialects – check! Intransitive and transitive sentence order – check! Interrogatives – this will take some more time. Not because it’s awfully difficult, but because there are quite a few things to ingest. Especially if you are learning how to make questions before you have learnt how to make affirmative sentences.

I’m taking small steps. Really small steps. I’m focusing on grammar. I do exercises on a regular basis, trying to memorize all the new words that I come across. And of course I never forget about making my own sentences, as it’s the best way to actually learn a foreign tongue. I can, for example, say that I am not ill – “I aki aoraki ngai” (I hope that’s correct!). I can say that I am fine – “I marurung”. I can say (well, at least I think so) that I will work – “I na mm’akuri ngai”. Not bad, huh? Taking into account I’ve been learning the language for only three months.

Nevertheless there is one thing that’s been worrying me a bit (just a bit). I am afraid that without someone’s help, it will be nearly impossible for me to learn Kiribati. Sure, I can take my time; I don’t have to hurry; I can commit to memory the whole textbook. But if you don’t have that absolute certainty that what you are doing you are doing right, it’s rather hard to move forward. Because in language learning, confidence is a must. Without it, you won’t achieve anything. I am aware of this. That’s why I will do whatever I can to gain that confidence. I am prepared to struggle. Someone once said that confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong. Wise words. I can already tell you that I will make a lot of mistakes along the way; and that I will have a lot of doubts. But hopefully I will find a person willing to correct my errors and clear my confusions. Because learning Kiribati is so much fun! I don’t want to give it up. I won’t give it up!


  1. Hey, I speak kiribati! I spent two years there and I absolutely love the people, and I was feeling kind of (second) home sick if you know what I mean so I was going through twitter looking at anything having to do with kiribati. If you need help I can definitely help you! I also know a ton of native English speakers that also are fluent in kiribati, as well as a ton of Kiribati natives that are fluent in English, so hit me up!


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