GAME: Sai ke tau ‘ilo

Game Saiketauilo.png

An important feature about our Tongan culture is our value of Tauhi vā (keeping our relations close).  However as our extended families grow and move further away it does get harder to keep in touch. It is important to take advantage of the times that families do get together to bond and keep those family ties strong. So here is a great game to connect reminisce and laugh and will defintely bring all generations closer by sharing stories.

We gathered for Fathers day and played this last night and there was plenty of laughter and emotional tears at times reminiscing of loved ones not here. And the best part of it all was the younger generation who were glued to their seats listening to all the stories rather than in their rooms on the devices. So when you have a captive audience take advantage of it and tell them all the stories of life in Tonga, explain cultural concepts behind the stories you share.

The saying “sai ke tau ʻilo” is a typical saying you will hear often meaning ʻgood to know’ often said in a somewhat sarcastic way.


  1. Gather the family around.
  2. You have to share a story that perhaps no one knows or only a few people know of. It can be of your childhood, a memory of your parents, grandparents. Memories of life in Tonga. A story of a current or past life challenge and how you overcame it.
  3. If a quarter of the family eg 3 people already know the story they will call out “sai ke tau ʻilo” then you must share another story.
  4. Good for you to start off the game to show the others how it is played.
  5. Ensure that everyone shares a story big or small. May take a few rounds for the quiet ones to share but thats ok.
  6. Taimi vaʻinga ē (Time to play!)

5 Reasons your children are not speaking in Tongan

5 reasons why your child is not speaking in Tongan

I read a great article on Multilingual living and decided to put together a TOP 5 REAONS why your children are not speaking in Tongan. In my own experience with my children these are the 5 top reasons why they were not speaking in Tongan. So you want your children to speak in Tongan but you are finding it very challenging. Consider these 5 reasons as to why or what is holding your child back. Same reasons here apply to anyone learning the Tongan language not just children.

1. Ongo fiemālie (Feel comfortable):

Do your children feel comfortable to speak the language? Are they continually getting told off to speak in Tongan by you the parent or grandparents? Do they get ridiculed for their speaking or lack of speaking abilities at school, by friends, at church. You need to encourage them and make them feel comfortable and it starts at home. As an example, I tried to give them positive experiences by reading the English bedtime stories in Tongan. I would also make my kids laugh with silly songs I made up for them.

2. Ngaahi tohi mo e naunau he lea faka-Tonga (Resources)

Do they have access to a wide range of learning materials in the Tongan language. This will continue to be a problem as there are no (in my opinion) interesting books or learning material in the Tongan language for children. Keep an eye out for the ebook (The Hungry little mouse) coming out soon on youtube.

3. ʻOku fakahā kita? (Exposure)

Are your children being exposed enough to the Tongan language. There may not be enough reading resources for children but they can listen to the language. There are plenty of digital radio programmes, Tongan songs and Tongan news all on youtube. While youʼre doing chores at home, play it in the background.

4. ʻOku fakalata? (Is it enjoyable?)

Is speaking in Tongan enjoyable for your children. Do they find it interesting or difficult and boring? Play games using the Tongan language will help make it enjoyable. Play cards, find items around the house, sing songs.

5. ʻOku i ai ha fiemaʻu? (Is there a need?)

Is there a need for them to speak in Tongan. Do they have grandparents or parents that can speak to Tongan to them? Are they part of a Tongan speaking Congregation? Are they in a language class that they need to speak in Tongan? Will they be visiting Tonga anytime soon?  If they see no apparent need to learn they will find it more difficult.

Did you find this useful? let me know.

Tongan bible verse: Mātiu 7:7-8

Matthew 7:7
Matthew 7:7

A great tip to learning Tongan is comparing bible passages in English & Tongan. Kids learn Tongan by reciting bible verses and hymns durnig Faka-Mē or White Sunday in May which is a great way to pick up vocabulary. Here is a visual of a well known bible passage Matthew 7:7-8. Simply compare the verse and recite by heart and you will add to your vocabulary. For more Tongan bible passages share and let me know you like them. 

  • Kole = Ask
  • Kumi = Seek/ find
  • Tukituki = Knock

Tongan kisses for the new year

Ko e hā ʻa e ʻuma faka-Tonga pea ʻoku ai fēfē? Ko e ʻuma faka-Tonga ʻoku tatau mo e ʻuma fakananamuʼ, ʻoku faingofua pe ʻene ai ka ko e ngaahi meʻa eni ke manatuʻi. 

  1. milimili kilimi ke namu lelei ʻa e mata kihe taimi fakafeiloaki
  2. ʻumaʻaki ʻa e kouʻaheʼ
  3. pea mihi pē ki ha taha ʻoku ke vaʻofi ʻaupito mo ia

What is a Tongan kiss and how is it done? It is also known as the sniff kiss, it is quite easy to do but you must remember several things.

  1. put on some lotion to smell nice when you greet others
  2. kiss using the cheeks
  3. then sniff only with someone who you are close with

Most of us are quite familiar with the Tongan kiss by the way our parents, grandparents and elderly greeted us. We Tongans use it as a sign of affection. While I may have once thought it an awkward greeting in my teenage years I now embrace it fully and greet my children no other way. Its origins must be ancient going back to our South-East Asian roots, as they also greet this way. It is also similar to the Māori greeting known as Hongi. While they greet using nose to nose, we Tongans use cheek-to-cheek. The significance of the sniff to the Māori people is that it symbolises the breath of life, breathing in the mana of the person you are greeting. Knowing all this, gives you a whole new perspective on the ʻuma faka-Tonga.

Tips in sharing the tradition of Tongan kisses with your children:

My children use to run away every time their grandma said it was milimili kilimi time. Since Iʼve explained to them the following tips they quite like receiving kisses in the Tongan manner.

  1. milimili kilimi is for smelling nice when you greet people.
  2. ʻuma faka-Tonga is how Tongans show affection
  3. mihi is how we really show affection for the people we love.
  4. mihi/ hongi is the breath of life
  5. When someone like grandma sniffs it is their way of sharing their mana and well wishes with you

The limits of my Tongan language

The limits of my language

The goal for my blog in 2014 is to make learning the Tongan language easy, fun and shareable for you all in this digital age. Like climbing a coconut tree the view is better from the top but we can only share as much as we know. The limits of my language (ie my understanding of the Tongan language and culture) is the truly the limits of our own world. For parents who are fluent in Tongan please do not limit the view of your children. For those trying to improve, join in the conversation via our socail media page and let us broaden our horizon’s together.

End of year presentation: speak Tongan at home


Tongan Language School (Sydney) presentation Day
Reciting the words to Tolifisi at the Tongan Language School (Sydney) presentation day 2013


The school year has ended with our presentation day last saturday. It was a heartwarming day here in Sydney with the words of our guest speaker still resonating with me. The guest speaker Albert Vella who is the President of the NSW Federation of Community Language Schools, talked about the need and importance of speaking Tongan at home.  What is the point of going to Tongan School and learning but not speaking it at home. So that is my new years resolution to be mindful of how much English I actually use and to increase the use of my Tongan at home.

Ko e ha ‘aonga ako lea faka-Tonga kae foki ki api ‘o lea faka-palangi! What is the use of learning Tongan but returning home to speak in English!

As a student and a mother I am eternally grateful to the teachers, and helpers who have dedicated their time to sharing their knowledge to us who aspire to learn and improve our Tongan. My 7yo daughter has relished the experience of the past year so much that she won the most-improved prize award. She has a new found confidence in speaking the language more at home. All I need to do is support that and limit my English so 2014 be good to me and letslearntongan 🙂

Lea faka-Tonga! Speak in Tongan!

Lea faka-Tonga

There is a rule in my house. Lea faka-Tonga!  For the most part my kids and I do speak in Tongan. But like most kids nowadays if they are not encouraged to speak the language they will not. My 7yo daughter was speaking Tongan regularly before primary (elementary) school but now has to be prompted. Hence Uncle Sam’s message. A friendly reminder to my kids and myself. ‘Oku ou fiema’u ko e ke ke lea faka-Tonga! I want YOU to speak in Tongan!

Print it out, laminate it, use it and share it.

Thanks for reading Hema 🙂

5 Tips learning Tongan for beginners

5 tips learning tongan

Here are 5 tips for those who want to learn Tongan as a foreign language or those wanting to improve their language skills. Learning Tongan does not have to be a chore. Follow these tips, and you will soon discover a beautiful rich language and culture.

  1. Immerse yourself. Ideally spending a good six months in the Kingdom would be the best place to learn Tongan. Otherwise immerse yourself within your local community (family, church, online) and simply LISTEN. Fanongo kihe u ngaahi lea. Listen to the sounds all around. With your family, at church, songs played on radio, programs on tv, or youtube. Listen for the sounds, the tone, the reflections in their voices. 
  2. Imitate. Remember how children first learn to speak. They copy the sounds they hear. Ma-ma, Te-Ti (Mum, Dad) are usually the first words they speak.
  3. Know key phrases. ‘Ikai mahino – I don’t understand. Koe ha ‘ae lea fakaTonga ki he … ? What is the Tongan word for …? Know some key phrases and words will help you learn quicker.
  4. Be a student.  Take notes and ask questions. Be inquisitive like a child. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. That is all part of the learning process. 
  5. Have FUN. Learning anything new is always easier when there is some fun involved.

Write a lunch note of ʻofa

Lunch note for my 7yo daughter
Lunch note for my 7 yo daughter

Kidʻs love to receive notes. Even better when it is a surprise. Try writing a note in Tongan and leave it in your kids lunch box if they are old enough to read. As you incorporate more Tongan words into your childrenʼ vocabulary and/ or yourself, they will soon learn to love speaking in Tongan. You could expand this to suit your circumstance. The possibilities are endless.

The picture above was a note I wrote for my eldest daughter. It was her first day back at school today. She started year 2 or second grade. I have noticed she is speaking a lot less Tongan since beginning primary (elementary) school. So I try to incorporate more of the Tongan language where ever I can for her.

I wrote a little note ʻofa atu = love to you. I thought she might have problems reading it but the love heart gave it away. Her reaction after school was worth all the effort

Tu’a ‘ofa atu