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Tok Pisin: The Foreign Language You can learn in a matter of days

Tok Pisin: The Foreign Language You can learn in a matter of days

When Europeans first started visiting Papua New Guinea in the early 1800’s, they discovered multiple languages spoken within the different tribes. In fact, today there are estimated to be approximately 800 different dialects within Papua New Guinea. So how to communicate with the native people? How to trade or teach Christianity?

In other Pacific Islands, Europeans learned the local language, but this was impossible in Papua New Guinea. As a result, they used simplified English and lots of mime. Many Melanesians picked this up easily enough, but because of their limited exposure to the language, they learned mainly vocabulary, but not grammar. Enter Tok Pisin – a form of Melanesian Pidgin English.

Tok Pisin is still spoken today – it’s one of three national languages in Papua New Guinea – and it allows people of different tribes to communicate effectively.



If you’re travelling to Papua New Guinea, it’s well worth knowing a few key phrases, or knowing how Tok Pisin works. Here’s a (very) quick rundown:

  • There aren’t as many consonants in Tok Pisin as there are in English. The consonants used are: b, d, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w and y. The vowels are the same as in English.
  • Tok Pisin uses the “s” sound instead of “sh” – therefore “shell” becomes “sell”.
  • “f” becomes “p” – therefore “finish” becomes “pinis”.
  • “r” does not come after a vowel – therefore “work” becomes “wok”.
  • At the end of a word, “g” becomes “k” and “d” becomes “t” – therefore “pig” becomes “pik” and “road” becomes “rot”.
  • The above means that different words in English can become the same word in Tok Pisin. For example “hat” can mean “hat”, “hot”, “heart” and “hard”.
  • To indicate something is in the future, the word “bai” is used. This comes from the word “baimbai” which is derived from the English saying “by and by.” Eg. Bai me givim mani (I will give money).

Here are some examples:


Tumora  -  Tomorrow
Kaikai  -  Food
Toktok  -  Talk, speak
Welkam  -  Welcome
Gutpela nait  -  Good evening
Husat nem bilong yu?   -  What is your name?
Plis  -  Please
Tenkiu   -  Thank you
Tenkiu tumas  -   Thank you very much
Mi wok nau   -  I’m working now
Yu wok   -  You worked
Mi lukim dok  -  I saw the dog
Bikpela haus  -  Big house
Tripela dok  -  Three dogs
Em I ritim buk  -   He is reading a book
Mi katim frut  -  I am cutting fruit

You’ll be amazed how quickly you’ll be able to decipher simple sentences with just a basic grasp of key words. And it’s a lot of fun working it out! A little bit of learning and a lot of lateral thinking and you’ll be speaking Tok Pisin in no time! And if you’d like to try out your new talent in person, check out the cruises going to Papua New Guinea. For example, we have Silversea Cruises’ voyage going to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia in June 2018. This luxury expedition, small ship cruise leaves from Cairns and arrives in Darwin. To find out more about this cruise and others going to Papua New Guinea, click here.