Learning the Language of Tonga
English is widely spoken in the island, but conversing with the mother tongue is always appreciated to immerse with the local culture. If you’re in the country, here are some phrases and greetings to learn. Photo credit: Asso Myron
`Oku ou Ako Tongan! Learning the Language of Tonga
Tongan is the official language of Tonga and considered as one of the oldest and conservative Polynesian languages in the South Pacific. The mother tongue is akin to Samoan, Maori, and Hawaiian although it uses more glottal stops and long vowel sounds.
English is widely spoken in the island, but conversing with the mother tongue is always appreciated to immerse with the local culture. If you’re in the country, here are some phrases and greetings to learn.
Greetings and goodbyes
It’s always fun to learn and speak basic Tongan phrases. Give it a try and greet a local with a good hello!
Mālō e lelei
You’re bound to hear the words mālō e lelei when you’re around the country. The words mean, “Hello!” In literal expressions, it’s a way of saying cheers on good health.
Mālō e lelei ki he pongipongí ni
If you want to top the day with a good morning, greet your friendly Tongan guides and hosts with mālō e lelei ki he pongipongí ni. It also means cheers on being healthy and good this morning.
Fēfē hake? ‘Sai pē, mālō,’
‘How are you?’ ‘I’m fine, thanks, how about you? That’s how our conversations go through every day! If you want to ask how are they also, you can add ‘koe’ after asking, ‘Fēfē hake.’
Mālō ‘etau lava ki he efiafí ni
It’s past noon, which means, ‘Good afternoon!’ if you want to greet your Tongan friends after lunch, a little ‘mālō ‘etau lava ki he efiafí ni’ would do you good.
Mālō ‘etau lava ki he poó ni
If you want to greet someone a ‘Good evening’ or ‘Goodnight,’ here’s what you need to tell them.
Politeness and pleasantries
Respect is an important virtue instilled in every form by the Tongans. Learn how to communicate the same appreciation by saying the following.
Mālō / Mālō ‘aupito
Express your gratitude with thanks or a thank you very much! When someone says thank you, you should reply lo malo which means, “You’re welcome.”
If you want to say the magic word, you say, “Please!” In Tonga, you say, “fakamolemole.”
Meanwhile, if you want to be excused, you say, “Excuse me,” or kātaki in Tongan.
If you want to send someone your ‘best wishes,’ you say ‘ofa atu.
Ko hoku hingoá ko Phineas. Ko hai ho hingoá?
Starting a conversation will be much better if you introduce yourself and ask for the recipient’s name. In this case, ‘ko hoku hingoá ko Phineas,’ means, ‘My name is Phineas.’ ‘Ko hai ho hingoá?’ means, ‘What’s your name?’
You’ll be making a lot of friends at Tonga everyday, so, it’s good to equip yourself with basic Tongan local exchanges.
‘io = Yes
‘ikai = No
Ta inu kava? = Shall we drink kava?
‘Alu ki kolo = I am going to the town.
'Oku ou 'alu ki fale koloa = I am going to the store.
‘Oku fiha? = How much? (asking for a price)
Ha’u ’o kai! = Come and eat! Tauō ’o ’eva! = Let’s go for a walk!
Tongan language is widely spoken by communities in Australia and New Zealand as well. There are about 200,000 native speakers of the Tongan mother tongue.