This article was written by Chelsea Lee Smith, as part of a series of posts introducing the country of Papua New Guinea to children. Find all of the posts in this wonderful series on Multicultural Kid Blogs.
Helping children become comfortable with people who speak other languages is a great step towards preparing them to interact with people of other cultures.
If you have never had to communicate with someone who does not speak your language, it can feel very awkward for the first time. Having courage to communicate – even when you have to keep trying and trying in order to get a simple idea across – is a wonderful skill for everyone to practice. Imagine young children having this experience during childhood, how confident and comfortable they would be interacting with people of all languages when they are teenagers and adults!
Learning and practicing phrases from new languages can help children get used to trying to say new words. You do not have to learn the whole language to have a meaningful experience! Just learning a few basic phrases is a great step towards language and culture appreciation.
One interesting fact which you may not know is that Papua New Guinea (PNG) is arguably the most linguistically diverse country in the world. With over 850 languages spoken, it is an incredible place to go and experience language diversity! According to this site, there is one language per 215 square miles!
When I visited PNG for the first time a few years ago, my husband and I were running a basic family health initiative. We were on a small volcanic island called Kar Kar, which we reached by boat from Madang. We were surprised upon arrival to learn that even on the island there were two local languages (not spoken anywhere else in PNG), plus Pidgin and English! So we spent half the time learning a couple phrases from one local language, and then the other half learning a completely new language. What an experience in language appreciation!
The official languages of PNG are Pidgin (an English based creole), English, and Hiri Motu. However English is only spoken by a very small percentage of the population (estimated 1-2%) and Hiri Motu becoming less and less common. So if you are wanting to brush up on a few popular phrases to use in Papua New Guinea, it is probably best to learn some Pidgin.
Here are some English phrases and the translation in Pidgin, more formally called Tok Pisin. Since the language is based on English, you may like to play this game with your child: say the word in Tok Pisin and then ask them what they think it means. You both may be surprised at what can be picked up if you listen carefully!
How are you? Yu stap alrait?
Fine. Stap alrait, tenk yu.
What is your name? Nem bilong yu wanem?
My name is… Nem bilong mi…
Nice to meet you. Gutpela long bungim yu.
Here is the translation of a popular Bahá’í prayer (“O God! Guide me…”):
O God, soim rot long mi. Lukautim mi. Mekim mi i kamap olsem lam i lait na sta i lait tru. Yu Gat Strong na Yu Gat Pawa.
I hope you had fun learning a bit about language in Papua New Guinea! To check out the other posts which will give you some more background about the Papua New Guinea (including pictures of children!), read the other posts in this series.
Chelsea is the mother of two boys ages 2 and 4. She is passionate about the education of children, specifically supporting mothers and teachers with materials that can will empower children become change agents in the world. She has several blogs, her newest being Moments a Day.