Learn Some Bislama

About Bislama

With a population of only 252,763 people speaking 113 diverse languages, Vanuatu is the most language-dense country in the world. Bislama is the English-based pidgin used across all 83 islands and is the nation’s common language, allowing people of different traditional (or ‘kustom’) languages to communicate easily with one other. As a consequence of Vanuatu’s colonial history, English and French are also widely spoken across the country and together with Bislama are the republic’s three official languages.

Early forms of Bislama began in the western Pacific during the 19th century as a simplified means of communication between islanders and European traders. The name ‘Bislama’ itself derives from the Portuguese bicho do mar meaning ‘small sea creature’. In French it was known as biche la mar, meaning ‘small sea slug’. Throughout the western Pacific, a lucrative trade developed during the mid 1800s for this Chinese delicacy – the pidgin that developed in these situations drew its name from the object of the trade.

Bislama was developed during the 1870’s and 1880’s in the ‘blackbirding’ era when thousands of Pacific Islanders were transported to work on plantations in Australia and Fiji. Many of them came from Vanuatu. Coming from many different islands that each had their own local languages, a form of pidgin English was developed that combined English words with the grammatical structures of the Pacific region. This pidgin allowed communication between the local indigenous people as well as with plantation owners, European traders and settlers. By 1906 the practise of Islander labour was banned in Australia. When the recruits were returned to their islands in the early 20th century, their pidgin language inevitably went with them. This new language became widespread and is the origin of the widely spoken pidgin languages of Oceania, including Bislama in Vanuatu, Tok Pisin of Papua New Guinea and Pijin of the Solomon Islands. It found its place in Vanuatu life, mixing with the existing pidgins and jargons, local tradition languages and European languages, especially English. The result was a language unique to Vanuatu – Bislama.

Although a visitor should have no trouble communicating in English in Port Vila, (English is far more prevalent than French throughout the archipelago), to the adventurous traveller wishing to trek further afield, an understanding of Bislama is essential. Bislama will deeply enrich your experience of Vanuatu and offers the possibility of visiting almost any island in the country.

This introduction to speaking Bislama is a basic starting point – if you wish to further develop your language skills, please consult some of the more detailed resources listed at the bottom of this page.

Lanem Bislama!

Pronunciation


Bislama is similar in pronunciation to English, the reason being that the majority of words found in Bislama (around 85%) are derived from English. The other 15% come from a melange of Melanesian and Polynesian languages as well as some French and Portuguese.

Vowels
ias the 'e' in 'me'
eas the 'e' in 'bet'
aas the 'a' in 'afternoon'
uas the 'oo' in 'good'
oas the 'o' in 'hot'
aeas the 'igh' in 'sight'
eaas the 'ea' in 'clear'
oaas the 'oo' in 'door' or the 'oa' in 'boa'
uaas the 'ore' in 'shore'
aoas the 'ow' in 'town'
oeas the 'oy' in 'boy'
eias the 'ay' in 'bay'
Consonants
gas the ‘g’ in ‘gang’
ngas the ‘ng’ in ‘gang’
chas the ‘ch’ in ‘chop’
jas the ‘j’ in ‘juice’
yas the ‘y’ in ‘you’
ras the ‘r’ in ‘red’, but with the tip of the tongue raised
p/bThese English consonants are often not distinguished in Bislama.
t/dThese English consonants are often not distinguished in Bislama.
k/gThese English consonants are often not distinguished in Bislama.
mbThis consonant has no true English equivalent. Pronounced m+b (two sounds together)
ndThis consonant has no true English equivalent. Pronounced n+d (two sounds together)

Basic Phrases


Get started with the essentials!

HaloHello
Halo tufalaHello (two people)
Halo trifala/olgetaHello (three people)
Halo olgetaHello (more than three)
Olsem wanem? I gud?How are things? OK?
I gud nomoJust fine
Tangkyu tumasThank you very much
PlisPlease
GudmoningGood morning
GudnaetGood night
Nem blong mi…My name is...
Mi wantem sum…I want some...
Yu go we?Where are you going?
Yu kam we?Where did you come from?
Mi stap go long…I am going to...
Mi kam long…I've come from...
Lukim yuSee you later
TataGoodbye
Mi no saveI don’t know
Yu save?Do you know?
Kwik, kwiktaemQuickly
KwaetQuiet
Karem wan _ i kamBring me an _
Wet smolWait a minute
Hareap plisPlease hurry
Mi glad tumasI am very happy/pleased

Language Difficulties


These phrases might help you get out of a tight spot when travelling.

Yu traem talem bakegen.Could you please repeat that?
Yu traem talem bakegen slo lelebet?Could you say that again more slowly?
Sore, be me no save (Bislama yet).I’m sorry but I don’t understand (Bislama yet).
Sore, be me no save tumas Bislama yet.I’m sorry but I only understand a little bit of Bislama.
Yu save tok tok long Inglis?Do you speak English?
Yu save Inglis?Do you understand English?
I gat samwan long ples ya wi save Inglis?Is there anyone here who understands English?
Olsem wanem yu save talem … long Bislama?How do you say … in Bislama?
… i stret blong talem … long Bislama?Is … the correct way of saying … in Bislama?

First Encounters


Some phrases when meeting new people.

Wanem nem blong yu?What’s your name?
Nem blong me …My name is …
Hemi fas taem blong mi long Vanuatu.This is my first time in Vanuatu.
Mi bin long Vanuatu bifo.I’ve been to Vanuatu before.
Mi laekem Vanuatu tumas.I really like Vanuatu.
Yu bin stop long (Vila) hamas yia nao?How long have you been in (Vila)?
Yu blong wanem aeland?What island do you come from?
(Ale) Yumi go wokbaot?Let’s go for a walk.
Mi; Mifala i go wokbaot.I’m/we’re going for a walk.

Number


In Bislama there is no difference in form between singular and plural nouns. i.e. there is no equivalent of the -s plural ending of English, for example dog, dogs. Plurality is indicated by ‘ol’ which precedes the noun.

Examples opposite.

womanwoman
ol womanwomen
olgeta womanall the women
jifchief
ol jifchiefs
olgeta jifall the chiefs
wan1
tu2
tri3
fo4
faef5
sikis6
seven7
eit8
naen9
ten10
twante20
fefte50
wan handred100
tu handred200
wan taosen1,000
wan milyan1,000,000

Family/Age/Nationality


Yu gat hamas pikinini?How many children do you have?
Wanem nem blong (ol) pikinini blong yu?What is/are your child(ren)’s name(s)?
(Ol) pikinini blong yu i gat hamas yia?How old is/are your child(ren)?
Mi mared finis.I’m married.
Yu gat hamas yia?How old are you?
Mi gat … yia finis.I’m … years old.
Mi/Mifala kam long…I/We come from…
OstreliaAustralia
Niu SilanNew Zealand
FranisFrance
AmerikaAmerica

Getting Around


Get around the islands of Vanuatu with these invaluable phrases.

Mi wantem go long maket/postofis.I want to go to the market/post office.
Yu save wet long mifala?Can you wait for us?
Yu save wet smol?Can you wait for a little while?
Yu save kam bak long …?Can you come back at …?
...medel dei...noon
...fiftin minit i ronem siks...quarter to six
Hamas long go long …?How much to take us to …?
...haospetal...the hospital
...skul...the school
...epot...the airport
Praes ya i gokam?Is that a return price?
Mbae bas/taksi i pas long rod ya?Will a bus/taxi come along this road?
Mi save singaot bas long ples ya?Can I catch a bus from here?
Go moa lelebet.Just go a little bit further.
Tan raet long ples ya.Turn right here.
Tan lef long ples ya.Turn left here.
Go antap.Go up the hill.
Stap long plus ya nomo.Pull over here.

Food


The pidgin word for food common across Melanesia is kae or kae kae. As well as functioning as a noun, kae kae also serves as the verb ‘to eat’.

One of the best things to do as a visitor to Vanuatu is to wander through local markets, tasting local specialities such as Lap Lap, fish curries (fis kari) and a plethora of fresh tropical fruits and veggies.

Mi save traem smol long hem?Can I try some of this?
Hemi smel naes.That smells beautiful.
Kae kae ya i numbawan.The food is excellent.
Hem i gud.I like this.
Hemi winem narawan.This is nicer than the other one.
Mi fulap tumas; Hemi winim mi.I’m full.
Mi no save kae kae wan samting bakegen.I can’t eat another thing.
Tangkiu tumas from gudfala kae kae.Thank you so much for the lovely meal.
Tangkiu tumas from ol had wok blong yu.Thank you for all your hard work.
Yu kukem samting ya long hot ston?Did you cook this in the hot stones?
Yu gat garen?Do you have a garden?
Garen blong yu i stap we?Where is your garden?
Yu gru wanem long garen blong yu?What do you grow in your garden?
Mi save lukem garen blog yu?Could I see your garden?

Traditional Vanuatu


fasin blong waetmanin the ways of the white man
fasin blong blakmanlocal custom
Yufala i gat kastom store blog pleis ya?Do you have any traditional stories about this place?
Yu save talem mi store long hem?Are you able to tell me the story?
Mi wantem save moa.I’d like to know more.
Mi save go long kastom ples ia?Can I visit this cultural site?
Yu save takem mi i go long ples ia?Can you take me to this place?
Mi save karem foto?May I take a photograph?
Wanem ol samting i gud sapos mi mekem?What things should I do?
Wanem ol samting i no gud sapos mi mekem?What things shouldn’t I do?
I gat sam ples we i no gud sapos mi go long hem?Are there any places I shouldn’t go?
Hemi olraet sapos mi go long ples ia?Is it OK for me to go there?
Hemi olraet sapos mi lukem samting ia?Is it OK for me to look at it?

Further resources

We have only covered the basics here. For more detailed explanations of Bislama grammatical structures, vocabulary and other goodies, make sure you have a good look through the resources below. We are indebted to Lonely Planet’s Pidgin Phrasebook and Darrell Tryon’s Let’s Talk Bislama – Evri Samting Yu Wantem Save Long Bislama Be Yu Fraet Tumas Blong Askem (Everything You Wanted to Know About Bislama but Were Afraid to Ask) – A Traveller’s Guide to Vanuatu Pidgin for the information contained on this page.

Bislama – Wikipedia

Bislama.org

Bislama Handbook – Live Lingua

Bislama Language Audio Training Course by Language Recall on iBooks

Bislama: An introduction to the national language of Vanuatu on Amazon

Pidgin Phrasebook – Lonely Planet

Let’s Talk Bislama – Evri Samting Yu Wantem Save Long Bislama Be Yu Fraet Tumas Blong Askem (Everything You Wanted to Know About Bislama but Were Afraid to Ask) – A Traveller’s Guide to Vanuatu Pidgin – available on Amazon.com